After two hours of debate Monday night, city councillors in Thunder Bay postponed a decision on delivering water to rural homeowners.

It’s the latest delay in an issue that has some complex legal problems.

Rural resident Bill Scollie said the city will not save money by cancelling the water delivery service.

Bill Scollie

Thunder Bay rural homeowner Bill Scollie makes a deputation to council regarding water delivery. (Jeff Walters/CBC)

Scollie and his neighbours rely on the deliveries when the well runs dry. Scollie said the fee for the water makes it look like the city subsidizes the service, but he feels it doesn't.

"The majority of the cost of a load of water carries an administrative factor that is very, very large. If cancelled, will the cost change the next day? It will not,” he said.

"My idea of the cost is not putting an administrative charge to that because that is not going to change the next morning, the next year, the next decade."

Liability concerns

But Councillor Andrew Foulds said he doesn't see it that way.

He said ratepayers for delivered — or piped — water should pay the full price.

"Why haven't we implemented that model of full-cost recovery across the board so the costs are equalized? I just simply don't understand that."

Even with all of the concern about price and fairness, it was an opinion of the city solicitor that got councillors on edge.

She said councillors could be held personally liable if any water delivery contaminated drinking water.

City staff wants to get rid of the service because of liability concerns.

But Coun. Trevor Giertuga said the service has been provided for 25 years with no issue — and added the private sector could overcharge homeowners when their wells runs dry.

"If the demand is there and these companies have all these calls coming in for water delivery, and they don't have the time … they're just going to charge more,” he said.

A report from city staff notes it subsidizes the cost of the water delivery by about $70,000 per year.

So far, about 400 water deliveries have taken place this year.

The decision on keeping or scrapping water delivery will be delayed until the spring.

Other Thunder Bay council news

Council has:

  • Approved $20,000 in cost changes to construction on the completed Cameron Street Bridge.
  • Approved more than $1 million to buy 58 new defibrillators for Superior North EMS and the Fire Department.
  • Approved the Youth Services Advisory Committee plan to develop more youth centres. The cost will be about $700,000 per year more than the city is currently spending. The committee will now be disbanded, as their work is complete.