Metering the key to local water conservation but are we willing to pay?

By David F. Rooney

Water metering can be a tough sell when it appears there is no immediate local need for it and it may be even tougher when it means asking tax payers to foot the $3 million bill for it. So what’s a Council to do?

“We are above the national and provincial average when it comes to water consumption,” Sarah Newton, president of the North Columbia Environmental Society, told City Council last week when she presented it with a report, Water Metering: A Sensible Solution for the City of Revelstoke, which had been financially supported by the City and the Columbia Basin Trust.

A 2007 study of water consumption in Revelstoke showed that the average non-metered home consumes 600 litres of water, per capita, per day (lcd). Metered homes — and 22 homes were metered in 2002 as part of an experiment — consume about 33 per cent less water — 400 lcd. Nationally, Canadians consume 385 lcd. British Columbians consume 426 lcd on average. The very act of metering appears to cause consumers to use water more wisely, Newton said when she addressed Council, which was meeting as a Committee of the Whole.

Except in summer, when water is rationed here, there appears to be no immediate need for water metering. But climate change and the retreat of the glaciers ensures that water will become dearer over the coming years and decades

The NCES study suggests that if Council does decide to proceed with universal water metering at some future date it should commence its campaign with a public education campaign.

“As seen in case studies of other cities, people may be reluctant to (accept) universal water metering and education if therefore a very important factor in being able to successfully implement water metering in Revelstoke,” Newton told Council. “Not only do people need to understand the importance of water conservation but they need to metering as an advantage for themselves. They need to see it as a means to lower their water bill as well as to achieve equity amongst the different users.”

Council should also pass a bylaw requiring all new commercial and residential buildings to be metered. The NCES also recommended that homeowners and others voluntarily install meters in their homes and businesses. It said the City should, if it asks people to do this, provide a financial incentive to get them to come forward.

Actually doing this may not be very popular.

“It takes courage for a city council to implement metering when there is no perceived need,” Newton said.

Council may in fact find that courage, but it won’t be this week or even this year. It wants to know all the implications, especially the financial ones. Installing indoor meters in houses could cost $600 per home; outside meters could cost $1,200. The indoor costs could even be higher for some of Revelstoke’s older homes.

Councillors discussed this issue at some length after Newton concluded her submission and, finally, asked Engineering and Public Works staff to analyze the NCES study and report back next year with a set of recommendations.