By Kevin Werner, News Staff
The declining use of water by Hamilton industries and homeowners is actually good for the city despite the loss of needed revenue to expand the entire water and wastewater system, say city officials.
John Savoia, senior policy advisor, said cutting back on water usage will mean the planned expansion of the sewage treatment plant won’t happen until at least the middle of the next decade, saving the city hundreds of millions of dollars, and even higher water bills for homeowners. Still, the on-going upgrades, including tertiary improvements, to the water and wastewater treatment plant will continue to meet the Remedial Action Plan goals to clean Hamilton Harbour.
Savoia said the drop in consumption rates also means lower operating treatment expenses for the city and an improved environment for the community.
“There is a big benefit (to conservation),” said Savoia.
The city is looking at raising water rates by another four per cent next year. So far, the average Hamilton household is consuming about 202 cubic metres of water, which means an average bill of about $558 for 2013. Savoia said the rate plan officials are expected to provide for next year is based upon the average household water usage at 210 cubic metres for 2014, which would mean an average bill for households of about $604.
He said even though the rates are increasing, people are still using less water, and their water bill is not as expensive as it could be.
Since 2003, an average household water consumption rate was 281 cubic metres. But the downward consumption rate really started to pick up speed in 2007 when the rate was 255 cubic metres. In 2008 the rate was 226 cubic metres, and it has progressively gone down to 217 cubic metres in 2012.
“It’s been a slow, steady, decline,” said Savoia.
He said city officials had planned on a 4.25 per cent increase in 2014, but are now projecting instead a 4 per cent rate hike instead because of the downward consumption trend. The revenue raised will continue to go towards capital projects, including the tertiary improvements for the water and wastewater treatment plant.
Politicians will consider the rate increase in December when water and wastewater staff present next year’s budget recommendations.
Over the last 14 years, the city has continued to raise water and wastewater rates to make the system sustainable and pay for needed capital projects. In 2002, the average water bill was $300, while in 2007 it was $540. The last two years saw water rate increases of about 4.25 per cent each year or $24 per year.
The consumption drop this year has meant a short fall for the city of about $8.9 million in revenue from $165 million in projected revenue down to $156 million.
Even as residents have curbed their water usage, Hamilton has seen a 10 per cent in the increase in the number of households from 119,000 to about 130,000 units. Industries have also slowed their consumption rate of water, either through conservation efforts, or they have simply closed their doors. Their consumption has plummeted from 40 million cubic metres to just over 30 million cubic metres. Savoia said since the 2008 economic recession, the drop for industrial and commercial consumption has been about 22 per cent. The city’s numbers of industrial and commercial customers have remained steady at about 10,000.
Other reasons for lower water consumption include the installation of water metres by the city, completed in 2004, improved conservation methods, better plumbing technology, tougher building regulations and smaller family sizes.