A household water meter in Rossland.

A household water meter in Rossland.

Rossland abandons water metering; to return to flat rate

Council balks at high cost to upgrade meter service

Rossland residents may soon be paying a flat rate for their water from the city system, after council balked at paying for upgrades to home water meters at its last meeting.

Council instructed staff to begin looking into a flat-rate fee for water delivery, after rejecting a proposal to spend a little under half a million dollars to upgrade the system.

“That’s way too much money” said John Greene, who first raised the issue at the June 12 council meeting. “It doesn’t really cut back on people’s water use and it was so hard make sense of water bills we got.”

The city’s residential water meters were installed in 2006-7, but haven’t worked properly in over a year. They’re supposed to record how much water a residence uses, then transmit the information by radio signal back to the city.

But the automated system failed last year, after FortisBC introduced its own radio-transmitting Smart Meters. Those devices use the same bandwidth as the city water meters, rendering them useless.

With no real-time data to work from, the city’s been estimating resident’s water use from the 1,800 water meters in the system for the last year.

To fix the problem, the city asked for proposals to upgrade the meters. City staff recommended council choose a bid from Corix Water Products. Corix said it could swap a chip in the meters to eliminate the interference.

It was an expensive fix though: the bid came in at $421,703, with an annual subscription on top of that of $25,920.

Councillors rejected the idea of spending that kind of money.

“$420,000 to get a system that was barely working, up to a system that would would for a while — who knows when technology will change again? — was too much,” says Greene. “So the simplest way is to have a fixed cost and bill everybody the same.

“It will be the same amount of money coming in as revenue, but it’s back to the old way.”

Councillor Lloyd McLellan said he was concerned the city could lose access to WaterSmart grants, as that program encourages municipalities to move to water metering. But he also had concerns about the cost.

“Our objective is that the water service pay for itself,” he says. “And with this kind of increase in cost, what level would our rates have to get to?”

Councillor Aaron Cosbey pushed for the flat rate system, saying the city’s attempts to discourage water use through metering had been ineffective.

“You could do WaterSmart through education, through distributing low-flow showerheads,” he says. “There are a lot of things you could do, you could still call it a WaterSmart program, and you could still be eligible for the grants that demand you have a WaterSmart program.”

“The only disadvantage to flat rate is you’re not getting real-time info on water use,” he said. “The only reason that information is valuable is as an incentive to conserve. Let’s spend money on stuff that’s actually effective in getting people to conserve.”

The rest of the council agreed, and unanimously voted to reject the bids for upgrading the metering system. Instead, council directed staff to come up with a proposal to introduce a flat rate for water use that would reflect different usage rates and recover the cost of the system.

It’s an ignoble end for the city’s water-metering project, which saw every home and business required to install meters. The meters were supposed to be the way of the future — provide better information on water use to the city and homeowners, identify leaks in the system and promote conservation.

“I don’t think at the time it was a mistake, after doing it for 10 years we find out it’s not really necessary, and it’s quite an expense to maintain these things,” says Greene. “From a bookkeeping point of view, a flat rate is inexpensive. I definitely think it’s the way to go.”