New Burnaby water metering strategy may see rising costs to residents

City council explores water metering as hot, dry summer looms

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Burnaby is aiming to head off a crisis with a new water metering strategy that will cost residents more money in utility bills. 

By July 1, all new housing will have to have meters installed. With new  provincial upzoning legislation removing single-family zoning across the province, coupled with drought conditions a new reality, the strategy will focus on water conservation, leak detection and billing equity. Existing homes are not going to be affected until a full water metering strategy is completed by the city’s engineering department in the fall. 

Nick Holmes, a Brentwood resident of seven years, fears water metering will significantly add to his monthly costs. 

“With prices going up everywhere, even a one hundred dollar jump in what I pay for water will hurt,” said Holmes. 

Though worried, he said he understands the need to know how much water residents use is important. 

“I’m not saying I’m against it, just sucks that everything else is going up also,” said Holmes. 

Currently how Burnaby charges for residential water use is by a single flat rate. A single-family dwelling pays a flat annual fee of $652.33 regardless of how much water is used. Water metering would change this and fix a price charge per cubic meter used. 

City councillor is behind the move

According to Joe Keithley, Burnaby city council member, the installation of water meters is a matter of “equity.”

“If you have a giant house, a swimming pool, and you’re washing three cars, and you’re watering a huge garden, you pay the same amount of money for your water that the senior citizen that lives in a small apartment does. Is that fair?” said Keithley. 

Keithley said a cautious, yet proactive approach is the correct way to address water usage.

“The thing is the snowpack is not there this year, so we’re not going to run out of water. But if we’re not careful, we’re gonna start running short,” said Keithley. 

Burnaby is one of several cities in Metro Vancouver that has not adopted water metering. 

In its recent budget, the provincial government included $50 million for water metering pilot programs in 21 communities across B.C. 

Vanessa Anthony, a program manager for the Metro Vancouver Water Services Department, said that it advocates for all municipalities to install water metering as it’s absolutely a best management practice.

“If they don’t have meters, they don’t know how much they’re using,” said Anthony. 

Metro Vancouver provides regional utility services related to drinking water, liquid waste, and solid waste to its 21 municipalities and one treaty First Nation. 

Anthony said a big culprit regarding water usage is lawn watering in the summer. 

“It’s close to 40 per cent of water usage,” said Anthony.  

This is why Anthony wants Burnaby to begin metering immediately.

“A typical household may start to use around 15 to 30 per cent less water once a meter is installed,” said Anthony. 

Rates will change habits with adoption

Hans Schreier, a professor in UBC’s land and food systems faculty, is worried about how Metro Vancouver will deal with water use this summer and beyond if changes don’t happen soon. 

“I know it’s politically undesirable, but let’s just bite the bullet because if we don’t do it, we’re gonna be in trouble,” said Schreier.

He sees West Vancouver, a city that adopted water metering in 2007, as a model for how to price accordingly. 

“They charge the very high users a very high amount,” said Schreier.

Water rates in West Vancouver are charged in blocks depending on how much is used, with the highest rate being $3.89 for every cubic meter after the threshold of 180 cubic meters is hit. Therefore, if a lot of water is used, rates are considerably high. 

Even with water metering, he sees flat rates as a big problem if water conservation and drought persist. 

“We pay about $600 or $700 a year, flat rates, so as soon as you immediately stop, and you count for every litre, then you can charge according to science,” said Schreier.

Despite additional costs associated with water metering, Schreier sees optimism in driving down consumption. 

“We use about 240 litres per person, per day. In Denmark, they pay about seven dollars per litre, and their consumption is around 140 litres per person. So we still have lots of room in between,” said Schreier. 

At the end of the day, Anthony has a simple message for Burnaby residents.

“We really encourage everyone to be as mindful as they can about what they’re using their drinking water for.”

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