Install water meters for all residents, urges Ecofiscal Commission

The Ecofiscal Commission released a report on Tuesday looking at how municipalities can improve fiscal and environmental sustainability of water systems. The first step, they say, is for all residential and commercial users to install water meters.

New report lists meters as first step to improving water conservation and infrastructure

The new Ecofiscal Commission report says installing metres in residential homes encourages water conservation. (Tim Graham)

In most Metro Vancouver municipalities, residents pay a flat rate for water no matter how much they use, but some economists worry the current system doesn't cover the true cost of clean water or sewage services.

The Ecofiscal Commission released a report on Tuesday looking at how municipalities can improve fiscal and environmental sustainability of water systems. The first step, they say, is for all residential and commercial users to install water meters.

"Those who use less should pay less, those who save water, save money," said Dale Beugin, executive director of the Ecofiscal Commission.

"Once you get those water meter systems in, it allows you to start charging on a volumetric basis — charging for your water by how much water you use."

The meters encourage residents to conserve water to avoid paying more, so cities can reduce the cost of expanding their water supply infrastructure by reducing demand, Beugin told CBC Early Edition host Rick Cluff.

Paying the cost

Installing the meters is not cheap.

Last year, North Vancouver City Mayor Darrell Mussatto estimated it would cost between $400 to $1,000 per home to install meters and about $50 a year for reading and billing.

While some municipalities like West Vancouver and White Rock have installed meters, most others have balked at the costs.

Beugin said paying a price for clean water is unavoidable. It's just a matter of time.

"Would you rather pay a little bit more now or a lot more later? I think that's the tradeoff we're looking at," he said. "As we see more droughts and more stresses on supply, there are reasons to put in systems that give people an incentive to conserve water."

Best practices across Canada

The report examined practices across the country, looking for lessons from different cities moving forward with water conservation systems.

In Tofino, B.C., the report notes, the price of water changes seasonally. When water is more scarce, typically during the summer months, it costs more.

Beugin said aligning price with water availability is a further incentive to conserve water during times of scarcity,  

"Cities are balancing this complicated tradeoff of making sure they can meet the demand for their citizens and supply the water their citizens need but also manage their infrastructure," Beugin said. "That gives them some tough choices."

Beugin said he expects to see a more aggressive move towards installing meters and charging per volume of water in Metro Vancouver as stresses on the water supply increases. 

To listen to the full interview, click on the audio link below:

With files from The Early Edition