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 Cette adresse e-mail est protégée contre les robots spammeurs. Vous devez activer le JavaScript pour la visualiser. 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.

Focused budget consultation on cycling, transit, social agency funding gets big audience

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New format eschewed general discussion on budget for more curated conversation on 3 topics

An unusually high number of people showed up to a budget consultation meeting on Thursday night. (Joanne Chianello/CBC)

By Joanne Chianello, CBC News

More than 130 people poured into City Hall Thursday night for a budget consultation on social issues, boasting a larger attendance than the combined audiences of all the other public meetings held so far this budget season.

Indeed, it was the best-attended budget consultation in recent memory, likely because of a new format that eschewed the usual general discussion about the budget for a more curated conversation on three specific topics: affordable transit, increased funding for social agencies and improving safety for cyclists and pedestrians.

The meeting was hosted by five inner-city councillors: Rideau-Rockcliffe Coun. Tobi Nussbaum; Rideau-Vanier Coun. Mathieu Fleury; Capital Coun. David Chernushenko; Somerset Coun. Catherine McKenney; and Kitchissippi Coun. Jeff Leiper.

They took turns introducing a specialist who spoke briefly on each topic, after which participants discussed the issues in small break-out groups at round tables set up in Jean Pigott Hall.

Although it will take days for councillors' staff to organize the ideas generated during the meeting, some high-level requests included the introduction of a low-income transit pass that costs — at a maximum — the same as a community pass (about $42 a month), an additional $500,000 added to the base budget for social agencies and speed-reducing measures such as photo radar, physically raised intersections and roundabouts.