New Westminster considers water metering for homes

Water restrictions in the summer of 2015 may have been the tipping point for New Westminster to consider introducing a water-metering program.

New West Environmental Partners has been lobbying the city to implement a voluntary water metering program for single-family homes.

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“They are currently on a flat-rate pricing system,” said Andrew Murray, a member of the local environmental group. “They looked at this eight years ago and decided not to move forward. Cost was one of the reasons. A lot has changed in eight years. Our climate has changed. We just came off the driest summer in the recorded history of our province.”

On Monday, city council approved a recommendation from its environment advisory committee to consider a water conservation program that includes universal water metering and voluntary implementation of water meters in single-family homes. In addition, the city will also consider increasing enforcement of water conservation when the summer water restrictions are in place.

“We are looking for water conservation, and water metering delivers that. People only have to pay for what they use under a water-metering pricing system,” Murray said. “The evidence clearly indicates that for those who are prudent with their water use on water meters, they save a considerable amount of money on their water bills annually.”

According to Murray, 87 per cent of Richmond residents who switched to water meters had “considerably” lower water bills.

“Frankly, the savings are in the hundreds of dollars in some example,” Murray said. “That’s the problem with flat-rate pricing system – it doesn’t reward those who conserve water.”

New Westminster Environmental Partners’ hope is that the city will begin implementing a voluntary digital water metering program for existing single-family homes in 2017 and make water meter installation mandatory for construction of all new single-family homes, including major renovations.

“Staff will now need to look at best practices around the region, they will talk to Metro Vancouver and come up with the most cost-efficient way to implement this program,” Murray said.

While many Metro Vancouver cities are moving to water metering, Murray said it could soon be something done across the region.

“Last year drove home just how serious the problem can become,” he said. “We are calling for implementation of this in 2017 but we are also asking the city for a stepped up, more coordinated enforcement during the water restriction period this year.”

According to New West Environmental Partners, the Conference Board of Canada stated in 2011 that un-metered households in Canada use 376 litres of water, compared to 229 litres per person in metered households.

“It’s a win for the environment, it’s a win for single-family homeowners that appreciate the value of water and conserve it in their homes,” Murray said.

A report from the environment advisory committee stated that a previous report indicated there would be a “notable financial implication” to expand water metering to single-family lots, but staff are prepared to re-examine various technologies, potential consumption reduction, cost structure, implementation strategies, conservation programs and enforcement opportunities. The report pointed out that Metro Vancouver announced it will soon be undertaking a study on residential water metering for the region to help cities that are considering conservation programs.

Mayor Jonathan Cote said the city looked at the issue of water metering back in 2008, but given the issue of water conservation and the drought condition from the summer of 2015, he belies its time to revisit that discussion.

“In the past eight years, a number of municipalities have more actively started setting up water metering. I think the next step for council is to start to get some more information, really understand what’s involved, what are the implications and what are others cities doing with respect to water metering,” he said. “I think the time is right for us to reconsider what we were looking at back in 2008.”

While council hasn’t made a decision on the matter, Cote said there’s an openness to the concept. He said the city would like consider a program that’s done on a voluntary basis.

Jim Lowrie, the city’s director of engineering, said Metro Vancouver is looking at water metering holistically across the region, so the city will work closely with regional staff.

“Some have done it on a voluntary basis, some have done it mandatory and some are doing it as new buildings come along,” he said of other cities. “There are different approaches. Each has its pros and cons and everything else. We will be looking at it probably in the next few months and be bringing a report back to council in that timeframe.”

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