Keep climate change money flowing, environment committee urged

Ottawa city councillors approved nearly $800 million in annual spending on garbage, water and the environment on Tuesday, but still came under fire from residents who say the city isn't devoting enough attention to combating climate change.

Ottawa committee OKs nearly $800 million for water, garbage, recycling, forestry

Knoxdale-Merivale Coun. Keith Egli proposed directing any annual Hydro Ottawa dividend above $20-million toward community energy projects. (CBC)

Ottawa city councillors approved nearly $800 million in annual spending on garbage, water and the environment on Tuesday, but still came under fire from residents who say the city isn't devoting enough attention to combating climate change.

The City of Ottawa plans to spend $77 million in 2019 to run its garbage, recycling and compost programs, up $2.5 million from the 2018 budget. 

It also expects to spend $403 million on drinking water and sewage services, as well as managing rain run-off. That's $21 million more than last year, paid for mostly through water bills.

Because the city has so much infrastructure to maintain — thousands of kilometres of water mains, two drinking water purification plants and a sewage treatment plant — it also comes with a hefty capital budget: $264 million for 2019. 

The City of Ottawa has more than 100 wells at the Trail Road landfill to capture the harmful greenhouse gases that garbage emits. The 2019 budget includes another $2.25 million to expand that capture system. (Michel Aspirot/CBC)

Pitch to stop using plastic

However, most of the residents who paid a visit to city hall to weigh in on the draft budget for the standing committee on environmental protection, water and waste management had climate change on their minds.

Groups including Ecology Ottawa questioned the paltry $150,000 the city plans to spend on its centrepiece strategy to move to renewable energy, known as Energy Evolution. That money will be used so staff can finish a major report listing potential projects by year's end.

I fully embrace your sentiment that we're sitting on a ticking time bomb and no one's panicking.- Coun. Riley Brockington

"I fully embrace your sentiment that we're sitting on a ticking time bomb and no one's panicking," agreed Coun. Riley Brockington. "And when we have $150,000 invested in Energy Evolution, it's insulting."

Some residents also came with their own pitches, such as asking the city to lead by example when it comes to getting residents to ditch plastic water bottles.

Eric Schiller, a water engineer, urged the city to do like Montreal and Prince Edward Island and promote its own cheap, tasty tap water. He asked councillors to ban bottled water from vending machines at city buildings once contracts with beverage companies expire.

"This is the capital of Canada. This will send a message. Please do it," he said.

Hydro dividend for energy projects

The City of Ottawa receives $20 million in an annual dividend from Hydro Ottawa. Knoxdale-Merivale Coun. Keith Egli Egli proposed any amount above that go toward community energy projects.

Last year, such projects received one-third of that surplus, or $633,000, while the other two-thirds went toward fixing roads.

Given the city has allotted several million dollars extra to resurface roads in 2019, committee chair Scott Moffatt said it makes sense to use an energy surplus on energy projects.

Coun. Scott Moffatt received support to ask rural residents to pay an extra 9.8 per cent for managing storm water, slightly less than planned. (CBC)

Slight cut to rural rain fee

Years after the storm water management fee was imposed, Moffatt acknowledges his rural residents still consider the fee a "four-letter word".

His colleague, Osgoode Coun. George Darouze, even proposed changing the fee's name to better reflect what it covers: building culverts to help handle storm run-off.

Storm water fees were set to increase in 2019 by 10.8 per cent, or $4, for residents not on the city's water system.

Moffatt was keen to keep the increase in the single digits. He received support to see it rise 9.8 per cent, which would bring in $404,000 less than planned.

Still, Moffatt believes rural residents get good bang for their buck. The city collected $1 million last year through the storm water charge, and yet the four rural wards received nearly $13 million in new culverts, he said.

The draft environment budget still must go to full council on March 6 for approval.