Ottawa's low-volume water users surprisingly quiet over rate change

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Under proposed water rate change, light users are facing a heavy increase

By Joanne Chianello, CBC News

Joanne Chianello is a journalist with CBC Ottawa. She came to the CBC after a 20-year career at the Ottawa Citizen, where she was city hall bureau chief, city affairs columnist and the city editor. But not all at the same time. You can email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or tweet her at @jchianello.

Of the 10 members of the public to speak at Tuesday's environment committee on the revamped water and sewer bill, only Doug Poulter was — in his words — "one of those low-volume users."

"Under this proposal, I'll be looking at four times what I'm currently paying now," Poulter told councillors. ​

It was somewhat surprising not to hear more from the 28,000 customers who use less than 6,000 litres of water a month: these are the so-called low-volume users and, despite being the most frugal consumers, they would be hit hardest by the changes to how we're billed for water.

And now, they're about to get walloped.

For example, someone who uses just 2,000 litres of water a month would go from spending $8 a month to about $30.

Someone who uses 5,000 litres? The new monthly bill would be $33, instead of $20. (For comparison, the "average" use is about 16,000 litres.)

Focus has been on rural complaints

Instead, we've heard mostly from upset rural residents who aren't on the city's water system, but are now being asked to pay as much as $4.44 for stormwater services.

A homogenous group living in just a few wards, the concentration of these voices can really pump up the volume of your argument.

They packed seven public meetings and flooded their rural councillors' office phones with complaints.

Even Glenn Brooks, the former councillor for the Rideau-Goulbourn ward, showed up at committee to protest the stormwater charge (although the current councillor, Scott Moffatt, more than held his own defending the new changes).

And yet, rural residents have a lot less (if anything) to complain about than low-volume users.

Changes could be coming to water bills

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CTV Ottawa

Changes could be coming to the way the city charges for drinking water, sewer removal and water removal after rain storms.

On Tuesday, the city's environment committee approved a plan to introduce a new rate structure, which includes a fixed cost for water and wastewater maintenance and operations.

City Staff in favour of the new fixed fee said there is a cost to maintaining a water system regardless of how much water is used.

"It's the bare minimum cost of making sure you've got safe, healthy, reliable water any time you turn on your tap, even if you've been away for six months," said Environment Committee Chair David Chernushenko.

The city said more than 85 per cent of households in Ottawa would see a fixed cost of roughly $17 on their monthly bill.

The changes would also see rural homeowners charged a new stormwater fee that will be phased in over four years, starting next year. The fee would come out to about $27 to $54 a year.

It angered many residents who currently have wells and septic tanks and said they should not pay for a service they do not use.

“The water comes across by neighbours property and encroaches onto mine in a heavy spring runoff… so we’re having to soak up water, so we shouldn’t pay anything,” Westley said.

Council must still approve the changes.

City releases draft report on new water billing system

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Chernushenko says first proposal too ‘conceptual’

Jennifer McIntosh, Ottawa Community News

Changes to the way the city bills residents for drinking water, taking away sewage and stormwater won’t be a big drain on the average homeowner's finances, says the city's deputy treasurer Isabelle Jasmin.

The city released its draft report on a new water rate structure on Oct. 3.

For 85 per cent of residents, the new billing system will mean a $2 difference on their monthly bill, according to the city.

The report is the second wave of numbers in an effort to deal with flagging revenues and increasing costs in providing water and sewer services in the city.

The city's environment committee chair Coun. David Chernushenko said more than 800 people provided input on an initial report released back in the spring.

“We promised to take the feedback seriously and come up with a better report,” he said, adding the problem with the first effort was that it was too conceptual.

The sticking point for many of the city's rural residents is being charged despite being on their own well and septic systems. Ultimately they would be on the hook for $2 million under the rate structure change.

At a consultation meeting last spring, Chernushenko said there had to be a balance between a flat rate for everyone, and getting out to every property with a watering can and a metre to see how permeable their property is.

Rural homeowners flooded the consultations, with complaints about the proposal, asking for a more sophisticated system that took into account the different nature of their properties.

'It’s not going to fly'

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Some rural landowners unhappy with discounted stormwater services fee

Jon Willing, Ottawa Citizen

Giving rural landowners a 50-per-cent discount on stormwater fees won’t be enough for some residents who recoil at the thought of paying a new tax to city hall.

The city on Monday released an updated water rate and stormwater fee proposal, which gives landowners a break on stormwater service fees if they’re not connected to city water and sewer services. However, it still means landowners who don’t receive a water bill would have to contribute to the annual $42-million stormwater budget.

Bob Gregory, who owns 10 acres of land outside Dunrobin and has no ditches or culverts on his road, said at first he thought the scheme was an improvement from the first draft last winter. Then he looked at how much in stormwater fees each class of property would pay. He bristled at paying the same amount in stormwater fees as a townhouse and apartment landowner on city services.

“They try to mesmerize us with words and numbers,” Gregory said. “It’s outrageous. The end result is to charge us exactly the same as an urban resident.”

Landowners who don’t receive water and sewer bills would pay a new annual stormwater fee between $26 and $75 on their property tax bills under the proposed restructuring of the city’s billing scheme. The city is proposing to phase in the fee until 2020 to help those landowners slowly adjust.

The city says 32,400 residential properties and more than 5,800 industrial, commercial and institutional properties haven’t been paying for stormwater services since the 2001 amalgamation. Only landowners who receive a water and sewer bill have been paying for the city’s stormwater infrastructure. The city says those parts of Ottawa also benefit from stormwater services and should be forced to contribute to the stormwater budget.

Under the draft plan, single and semi-detached homes connected to water and sewer services would be charged $8.88 each month for stormwater services, which is considered the full rate. Homes in the urban area that aren’t connected to city water and sewer would pay $6.22 monthly, and those without connections in the rural area would pay $4.44 monthly. Agricultural and forested properties wouldn’t have to pay a stormwater fee.