With a 4-1 vote at Tuesday’s regular meeting, Creston town council took a step toward water metering by approving two recommendations — but meters likely won’t be coming anytime soon.
“Our system is growing, not significantly or quickly, but it is growing,” engineering manager Colin Farynowski replied when Coun. Jim Elford asked when they could come into use. “The economics could change, but it’s probably years off.”
In his report to council, Farynowski recommended that the town defer a decision on universal water metering until water loss data is improved and the water master plan is updated to reflect future infrastructure requirements, and that council direct staff to update the water rates and regulations bylaw to require new and upgraded water connections to be made ready for meters.
In a meeting led by Coun. Jen Comer as acting mayor, Couns. Elford, Joanna Wilson, Karen Unruh and Joe Snopek voted in favor of the recommendations.
“To me, saying, ‘Let’s put something into the bylaw,’ when we’re only building three houses a year looks like political lip service,” said Coun. Kevin Boehmer, who made the dissenting vote.
The decision came after Farynowski presented a water meter assessment, which detailed potential costs and revenues, water usage levels, risks and options.
Water metering, he said, has three purposes: tracking supply and distribution, creating equitable cost recovery and encouraging efficient water use. It offers environmental (reduced water use), social (equitable distribution and ability to influence water bills) and economic (deferred or eliminated capital projects) benefits.
Metering could be accomplished remotely, using meters equipped with radio transmitters.
“We don’t have to worry about access to houses,” Farynowski said. “We can do it from the curb.”
While it has benefits, it also has a cost: an outlay of $2,787,730 to purchase and install the meters — 200 for residential capacity, and over $8,000 for larger lines — as well as remote reading equipment and software. Depending on whether federal grant funding is available to cover some or all of the cost, voters may decide if the project would proceed.
“It depends on costing, but definitely at first blush, there would be a referendum,” said town manager Lou Varela in response to a question from the gallery.
Based on estimates from Environment Canada and the US Environmental Protection Agency, metering programs have reduced water usage by 20 (as in Kelowna and Vernon) to 60 per cent, with savings coming from changed behaviours, leak repairs and plumbing fixture retrofits.
For Creston, estimates include a 15 per cent savings in residential water use and 10 per cent savings in other sectors — not as high as other communities, taking into account that the Columbia Brewery uses 25 per cent of Creston’s water and already has voluntary measures in place.
That could result in an estimated annual cost savings of $49,433 (see chart below), but for those savings to be realized, the operating cost of the Arrow Creek system would have to be reduced by $0.45 per cubic metre (1,000 litre) for the volume of water saved.
“You either have to reduce the operating costs by that amount or have someone else willing to pay for what you’re saving,” Farynowski said.
The most effective way to see savings would be for the capital cost of meters to come from a source other than the town. If the town covers the entire cost (see chart below), estimated savings over 20 years with a reduced water cost will see a negative return of $3,374,256. On the other hand, the town paying only 17 per cent would result in a savings of $30,837, and no expense by the town would see a return of $728,265.
The reduced consumption could also allow a capital project — in this case, Well No. 4 — to be put off five years, from 2030 to 2035, one of the biggest benefits of metering. Any cost benefits would have to be realized during the meters’ lifespan of about 20 years.
Even without metering, Creston residents have reduced water consumption by about 17 per cent since 2010, and population growth has slowed. That could push the Well No. 4 project beyond the 20-year period.
“There has been talk about metering for years, so this really makes it clear that our water conservation is excellent,” said Wilson.
“That takes some of the cost benefit out of the equation that larger centres may have,” said Farynowski. “We don’t have to force people to start conserving water.”