Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Drip, drip: the sound of water and money down the drain

with 8 comments

Carey Doberstein presents the case for water metering.

Basically the case is made that making consumers pay for the extra $50m that water meters will cost is worthwhile as it will save uncounted costs in expanding infrastructure to meet demand.

I would find that argument more convincing if something was also added about how much water the system itself wastes, but it is true that infrastructure investments tend to be at least an order of magnitude greater than the cost of water meters. It is certainly more compelling than the suggestion that we need to conserve water here because there are shortages of water elsewhere. I am also less than happy with the idea that consumers have to pay more for water to stop them using it so that it can be sold by private sector companies that stand to make vast profits out of what is (or should be) a commonly held resource. It is our water and does not belong to the bottlers or the power exporters – or some future bulk water shippers.

There is also a need to ensure that if we are obliged to pay for metered water from the mains we be allowed to use water in ways that are more efficient, which are currently prohibited by building codes and other municipal policies and regulations. So the reuse of grey water and the collection of rainwater – as well as the use of systems that allow rain water to percolate back into the soil rather than flush municipal sewers and storm drains would be necessary too. Indeed, one of the features of good design that was common to every charrette that I have been to has related to water treatment – which is as important to smart growth as walkability.

Written by Stephen Rees

June 9, 2008 at 8:26 am

Posted in regional government, Urban Planning, water

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8 Responses

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  1. As I commented on the other post, water meters can be used to implement more equitable sewer rates, which can pay for much needed and overdue secondary and tertiary treatment in B.C.


    June 9, 2008 at 8:39 am

  2. [off topic material removed by moderator]

    I stated before the watershed reservoirs can only hold so much water and without snowpack we have a problem.

    We have had downturns economic downturns before and when we have the next one all these fees will be there,were not endless ATMs.

    There is talk where I live about tapping into our lake to transfer water to another part of the district to support many large housing developments.

    I again re-iterate that have you all gone mad! I tell you this no matter what happens with water use,the powers that be will push capacities to the brink and beyond.

    grant g

    June 9, 2008 at 9:05 am

  3. I spent 3 years in germany in the late 60’s . even then a majority of the homes had dual flush toilets and separate lines for potable and nonpotable water. treated, potable was used sparingly. grey water was collected and used for garden and other minor cleaning (barns-equip clean up). in this country and to this day it is rare to find a residence with even a dual flush toilet. I beieve that not only charging for the use of our water, new construction must be legislated to include water conservation products and dual use supply (potable & nonpotable) lines. we canadians believe we have an inexhaustible supply of water and one day we will wake with the realization it just isn’t so.

    rick macleod

    June 9, 2008 at 1:45 pm

  4. I am sorry. I know other places do things differently, but that reflects their situation and not ours.

    Let us merely concentrate for a moment on Greater Vancouver. There are huge volumes of fresh water moving through this region that we do not touch. We collect the water from two of the many watersheds in small reservoirs. These reservoirs are being linked with a tunnel – that project is in trouble, but lets assume they can sort that out. Water use in this region per capita is declining. It has been doing that before the widespread installation of water meters.

    In most years, huge amounts of water are allowed to flow over the dams in our reservoirs during the rainy season. We do not abstract fresh water from the Fraser – or indeed most of the rivers flowing through this region. Up until recently there was very little treatment of either our input water or our waste water. That has been changing.

    I see no reason why we face water shortages here other than cheapskate planning and avoiding maintenance/renewal tasks on ageing infrastructure. In terms of the weather pattern, I think that there will continue to be mainly westerly winds bringing moisture laden air to hit out mountains and cause precipitation.

    Now I may well be misinformed, but I do notice much of the argument I have seen has talked about world issues or even Canadian issues. If someone has information about why it will soon stop raining in Vancouver, we would all love to know about it. And if it does, why we could not start abstracting water from the Fraser and some of the other rivers, treat it, use it, treat it again and then put it back. Just like the sort of places in Europe you reference.

    Stephen Rees

    June 9, 2008 at 2:09 pm

  5. I agree with Stephen here,Vancouver doesn’t have a water problem and the the metering issue, may well be a a future taxation issue.

    We are not Reno or L.A., cities which must conserve water as there isn’t enough, but Vancouver has huge reserves of water, most of it goes from snow-pack to ocean. So what is the problem if we divert some of it to make tea or flush a toilet.

    Could it be that the water metering scare is nothing more than a bureaucratic make work project?

    D. M. Johnston

    June 10, 2008 at 9:20 am

  6. INPUT – Make use of the more than abundant rain falling on our roofs every winter — and most of spring and fall, not to mention a couple of pounding August storms too — on a mass scale could result in limiting the currently wasteful expenditure of taxes on water supply infrastructure.

    OUTPUT – Running grey water through secondary uses (eg. flushing toilets, collection of ambient heat, watering the garden, etc. etc.) and building artificial wetlands, bioswales and detention ponds to receive runoff from every outlet except from the sanitary sewer could result in limiting the currently wasteful expenditure of taxes on water discharge (storm sewer) and sewage treatment infrastructure that currently accepts all runoff from every source.


    June 10, 2008 at 4:03 pm

  7. We certainly need something like this in Richmond to recharge the water in our soil. Currently development is covering entire lots in hard surfaces, which means rainwater just rushes off to the storm drains, and the soil continues to sink as it dries and compresses.

    And much of the storm flow is from streets and parking lots that it is contaminated with all the stuff that drips from vehicles – mostly oil, coolant and transmission fluid.

    Stephen Rees

    June 10, 2008 at 4:15 pm

  8. Wetlands remove an amazing number of contaminants and toxins from runoff in a process called biofiltration. Moreover, if a neighbourhood’s storm sewers emptied into artificial wetlands prior to being directed into the storm sewers or existing watercourses, a tremendous amount of water will percolate into the ground and be detained during storms, therein helping to regulate the flow and avoid floods.

    One of New Orlean’s biggest challenges is now controlling floods during storm surges, the results of which we have seen, of course, after Katrina hit. Apparently the Mississippi delta, one of the largest estuarine wetlands in the world, was drained and filled. It no longer acts as a barrier to the sea for residents of New Orleans.


    June 11, 2008 at 10:02 am

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