The District of Squamish is one step closer to water metering.
Last month, municipal officials presented a new water billing structure to Committee of the Whole. The system combines a flat rate that all users pay, as well as a variable consumption charge based on the size of the water connection to one’s home or business.
“It’s as equitable as possible without having a water metering program,” said Jenni Chancey, the district’s infrastructure engineer, adding that a four-inch pipe connection can deliver 12 times the water as a one-inch connection. “It’s the next best thing.”
Over the past two years, municipal officials have worked to ensure that industrial, commercial and institutional organizations in Squamish have working water meters and are charged accordingly, the engineering report noted. But single-family and duplex homes are billed through a flat-rate system.
One of the problems with the current system is smaller-sized customers subsidize the larger customers, Urban Systems consultant Ehren Lee said.
An average single-family unit in Squamish consumes 30 cubic metres of water per month, with approximately half of that going toward irrigation, he said. Without gardens, small commercial business often use less water than households.
As a result, the new system will likely decrease water rates for small business, Lee said.
“The larger customers who have larger connection sizes would probably see an increase,” he said, adding that no rate structure is completely equitable, especially when it is not metered.
Coun. Ron Sander questioned whether the type of business should come into play on water rates — a barber shop vs. a retail store, for example. New homes often have two-inch water connection for fire protection, he added.
“I think that should be properly addressed,” he said.
Trying to figure out how much water different types of companies use would be a step backward, Chancey said. That idea is more consistent with how the district currently bills for water and it’s problematic, she said.
Coun. Doug Race questioned whether secondary suites would be included in the billing system. Chancey replied that billing would be based solely on the size of the water connection.
Although a large chunk of the population would prefer water metering, the operational component of such a system is tricky, she said.
“We don’t have the staff or program in place to start usage,” she said.
The new system is a step in the right direction, Coun. Patricia Heintzman said. Studies show that water metering lowers consumption, she said, noting that water metering will likely be on council’s table in the not-too-distant future.
Staff aim to have the new water rate bylaw approved by council and ready for use during the 2013 billing period.