Hearings began Monday to determine whether or not Halifax Water will be permitted to charge customers nearly 30 per cent more by this time next year.

The utility is asking the Utility and Review Board to allow two increases – one this summer of 11.2 per cent and another in April 2014 of 16.7 per cent.

The proposal has already sparked outcry from businesses and landlords. But Halifax Water maintains the fees must go up.

"We’ve got a lot of pipes under the streets that are in very, very bad shape," said James Campbell of Halifax Water. "We’ve got lots of other aging pumping stations and waste water infrastructure that needs to be turned around."

Not only is the infrastructure old, but new federal regulations are adding to the urgency of upgrading the system.

"We can’t just keep passing on this legacy of failing infrastructure onto the next generation. We’re the ones who are using it. We’re the ones who’ll be paying for it."

A number of intervenors are expected to present their opposition to the rates during the hearing this week. Olands Brewery and Nova Scotia's consumer advocate are among those against the increase.

Halifax Water speaks first

The hearings opened with a presentation from the Halifax Water Commission. Without the increase, General Manager Carl Yates said the utility faces "significant operating deficits and mounting non-compliance."

Yates also signalled the commission was willing to look at gradually phasing in the new rates.

But Bill Mahody, the consumer advocate, said Halifax Water needs to do better.

"The consumer advocate concludes that the Halifax Water's efforts at cost control and reduction fall well short of rate payers expectations," he said.

Cathie O'Toole, the finance director for the utility, said operating expenditures are being held below inflation.

Five days of hearings are scheduled to discuss the rate increase, including a session for public comment Tuesday night where 11 people are expected to speak.

Tuesday afternoon, Oland Brewery will convene its own expert panel to oppose the water commission.

With files from Paul Withers