Water wasters watch out

In Whitehorse, watering the lawn or washing the car could get costly. The city plans to introduce residential water meters by 2011.

In Whitehorse, watering the lawn or washing the car could get costly.

The city plans to introduce residential water meters by 2011.

Having Whitehorse residents pay for the water they use is the best way of ensuring a precious resource is used responsibly, says mayor Bev Buckway.

The city’s water-meter plan, unveiled in this year’s budget, is responsible, economical and in line with the city’s effort to become a leader in sustainability, said Buckway earlier this week.

“Largely, our per capita consumption is way above a lot of other communities,” she said.

“We pay to treat all these waters that run through these pipes.

“When you’re in your home and you just turn your tap on and let it run you’re basically wasting water that we’ve paid a lot of money to treat.”

The plan is to install meters in private homes and to allocate a base amount of water to each household. People who exceed the allocated amount will be billed for it, she said.

“What you would have in affect is if you had an elderly person living on their own, they wouldn’t be charged the same amount of money for water that a family of five or six would be using.

“That’s fair, and nobody can say that’s not fair.”

The best way for people to ensure a big water bill doesn’t hit them is to keep an eye on what they use, she said.

“If you don’t want to spend a whole bunch of money on water, then turn your tap off.

“Get yourself a front-end loader to do your clothes washing with, shorten your showers, don’t water your lawn every day for an hour and conserve on water.

“If you want to do all of those things, fine, but you will be charged for it.”

Before meters are installed, the city will engage in a public education campaign to inform people of the importance of water conservation, said Buckway.

According to a 2003 University of Victoria study — Flushing Our Future? Examining Urban Water Use in Canada — Whitehorse has one of the highest per capita domestic water-use levels in the country.

“A survey of 20 selected Canadian cities across the nation shows a significant variation in both domestic and total daily municipal water use per capital,” according to the study.

“In terms of per capita daily domestic use, Charlottetown (156 litres), Yellowknife (164 litres), and Iqaluit (167 litres) were the lowest users, while Hamilton (470 litres), Whitehorse (519 litres), and St. John’s (659 litres) were the highest.”

Excessive levels of water use are leading to infrastructure expansion, stress on the environment and increasing pressure on water treatment facilities to treat water to drinking quality standards.

But the impacts were less severe in jurisdictions with water meters, according to the study.

“This survey found that individual metering and the use of volume-based pricing (where customers are charged according to the amount of water they use) generally corresponded with lower water use,” states the study.

Canada’s average household water use of 326 litres per day is much higher than some other developed countries, doubling the levels of Germany, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands, adds the report.

The Yukon Conservation Society supports the city’s push for water meters, said its executive director Karen Baltgailis.

“This is something that the Yukon Conservation Society definitely supports and it was certainly one of the outcomes of the sustainability charrette that the city put on.”

Participants in last fall’s charrette also suggested implementing a monthly transit utility bill instead of having bus fares and using ground water to take advantage of geothermal heating potential.

“Frankly, I don’t think this will be a very controversial one, at least I hope not,” said Baltgailis.

“Hopefully, people will want to conserve water.

“It takes energy to pump this water out to all these houses so the less water you have to pump, the less energy you have to consume, so it has a positive affect for climate changes as well.”

The city will be using federal, as well as city funds to pay for the installation of water meters, said city manager Dennis Shewfelt.

About half of the estimated $3-million cost of installing the meters will be coming from the city’s share of federal gas tax revenues. The other half is scheduled to come out of city reserves, he said.

But, with the city’s water meters not on the budget table until 2011, the idea is not set in stone, said Shewfelt.

“Right now it’s contained in the projected capital budget.

“That budget is only provisional in nature and it’s subject to formal approval by council.

“Each year council approves a budget, and that budget is for that particular year.”