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By Anne Fnlay-Stewart

 

Owen Sound's water infrastructure dates back to the 1880s. Today the value of the assets in the existing water and waste water systems is $172 million or an investment of approximately $25,000 per customer. The last few weeks have proven just how valuable that infrastructure is to our quality of life.

In 2000, seven deaths and many more illnesses in Walkerton were attributed to contaminated water. The inquiry that followed made 93 recommendations and the province responded with several pieces of legislation including the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Water Opportunities Act. The former includes quality standards, chemical levels, training of operators and licensing requirements. The latter legislation and its unfolding regulations are intended to ensure that water services are maintained and improved to ensure that future demand can be satisfied. As a condition of our licence to operate a municipal water system, the city must create plans that include maintaining and replacing infrastructure, risk assessment, conservation, and a sustainable financial plan to pay for it all.
Like a large majority of Ontario municipalities, Owen Sound charges a base fee and then meters water use and charges for consumption. Because 42% of water is used outdoors, the base charge helps compensate for reductions in consumption revenue in dry years. Presently the base fee is $23.70 for the average residential service, plus $1.32 for each of the first 110 cubic metres consumption. The wastewater charge at the moment is equal to the water charge, on the premise that what flows in, flows out.

Council approved a plan today that would provide for sustainable support of our water and wastewater systems until
2020. Based on a typical household use of 225 cubic metres, an annual increase of 2.5% on water and 3.5% on wastewater will be two to three dollars a month. The rate increase was only approved for one year, and will be revisited as the costs of this years repairs become fully known. The abnormal charges are already at $280,000 and may easily go as high as $500,000 according to Director of Operations, Ken Becking.

Becking was updating council on the frozen water services, while crews were working on today's broken main on 10th Street. Of the 305 reported losses of service, 240 have been restored or given temporary fixes. Frost is still 8 to 10 feet into the ground, and there is no saying how long residents in the risk zones will have to keep running their water. The senior management team will be meeting to bring options to council for fair and equitable billing those who have lost service.

After thanking Works staff for their tireless commitment and residents for their patience and care for their neighbours, council unanimously passed a resolution to request the province provide financial assistance for this year's repairs, and instate and fund a program for future contingencies.

 


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