New Water Meter Tech for Rossland

Sara Golling
By Sara Golling
July 5th, 2018

Special Meeting of Rossland City Council, July 4, 2018, at Rossland Public Library: 10:00 am

Present:  Mayor Kathy Moore, and Councillors Aaron Cosbey, Andrew Zwicker, Marten Kruysse, John Greene; Andy Morel by telephone; absent – Lloyd McLellan.

A dozen members of the public crowded into the small meeting room at the library with Council members and staff. This Special Meeting was called to reconsider Council’s earlier decision to not go ahead with an investment in expensive new water-meter-reading technology at this time, to ask staff to investigate alternatives, including education and a flat rate for water use. This meeting included an information session on water use and conservation, particularly in Rossland, with Meredith Hamstead of Columbia Basin Trust. Hamstead has been coordinating CBT’s WaterSmart initiative.

Moore allowed a lengthy discussion with the residents present, with questions and suggestions. Both councillors and staff members responded.

During the discussion, staff explained that while interference from Fortis Smart Meters was originally suspected of causing the problem with Rossland’s current meter signals, more research indicated that the Fortis meters were not the issue; if anything, the fact that the bandwidth used is common to many devices may have been a factor – but they don’t know why so many meter signals “crashed” at the same time.  The meters still measure water use, and can still be read, but only if the reader goes right up to each meter separately.

Residents had many suggestions, including encouraging water conservation by a pricing structure that provides some incentive (the current pricing structure does not – Cosbey commented that he could triple his household’s water use in a month for less than the price of a beer at a local pub); encouraging xeriscaping, and the addition of water-collection cisterns for outdoor use, and the ability to collect grey-water from, for example, showering, to use on gardens.

Another resident wanted Council to consider the needs of agricultural properties and “ecological projects,” and to encourage soil-building because organic soil stores water much more effectively than sandy, gravelly mineral subsoils.

One resident asked whether other communities with water meters have had the same problem; Hamstead responded that Rossland’s problem with its meters is “unique and extreme and unfortunate.”

Manager of Public Works Darrin Albo noted that the old technology in the current meters is no longer supported, and that the proposed new technology is totally different. It would provide City staff with  much  more information.

Hamstead commented that she wanted to correct a common misconception – that people are “paying for water.”  That’s not the case; she emphasized that “people are paying for the water delivery infrastructure, and the demand that their water use places on that infrastructure.”  In the Council package, this is made clear by the following statement:

“While the Water Treatment Plant filtering system has a capacity of a daily 7,000 m3 production, historical evidence from 2007 indicated that it was efficient only up to 6,500 m3.  As a result of the high demands from that year, water conservation education was implemented through various programs, resulting in a significant drop in usage throughout 2008 and 2009.”   

Hamstead’s presentation to the meeting was highly informative about Rossland’s past patterns of usage, and about the increase in water use as temperatures rise.  Rossland residents may use less water than those in most other Kootenay communities, but, Hamstead pointed out, we’re still “among the worst in the world.”  She noted that our water system is highly vulnerable to climate change.  

She summed up the history of water conservation efforts in Rossland, touched on climate change and climate risk, and addressed the use of metering to help with finding and repairing leaks.

Between 2011 to 2016, Rossland changed to water metering, the City participated in the WaterSmart initiative, and during that time the City was “very, very successful in reducing water demand.”

Currently, leakage and unbilled water use take up about 36% of the water from our treatment plant.

Hamstead addressed the increase in water use with increasing outdoor temperatures. She noted that Rossland’s rate of increase is lower than many other communities, but noted that our lower water usage doesn’t “let us off the hook.”  As the temperature rises, so does water demand, and it rises more in the absence of other controls.

Hamstead noted that water rates in Rossland “are not supportive of change” and the City’s only tool for conservation is water restrictions. Water metering is not being utilized effectively for water conservation, equitable allocation of infrastructure costs, or for sustainable infrastructure funding.

Climate change: Hamstead showed figures indicating that unless humanity gets a grip on climate change – if we continue emitting GHGs as we are now – the global temperature will rise by 4 degrees C., higher than at any time in the past 600,000 years.  In future, what was considered “extreme weather” will be considered normal.

 Hamstead explained that just using water meters is not enough: meters are a necessary but not sufficient part of sustained water demand management.  Rates, education, and restrictions are also necessary – not just for water conservation, but also for long-term infrastructure sustainability.

Kruysse asked, “What’s the policy target we should be shooting for?” Hamstead responded that it depends on our ecosystem supply, and the condition of our infrastructure. She explained that managing leakage helps conserve the infrastructure and reduce the cost of maintaining it.  She said our system is now at least three to seven times worse than it could be.  

Kruysse referred to the City’s lack of financial resources and the large cost of the metering upgrade.  CAO Bryan Teasdale explained that we need the water information from metering, to address the asset management issues.

Greene said, he thinks everyone agrees that water metering is necessary; but that the cost of upgrading is a problem.  Hamming said, “If we want the meters, we have to pay.” She also noted that the City knew an upgrade would be necessary, and there is money in the budget for it, but that the newer technology will cost more than the older technology – and more than was budgeted.

Water and sewer systems are supposed to “pay for themselves” via billing. Ours have never achieved that goal.  Hamming explained that the City has been gradually increasing rates, but has still not reached that balance; and that the whole rate structure will be re-examined.

A resident commented, “The good thing about Rossland is, you’ve got a go-ahead conscience in this town.”

Kruysse stated that “We don’t live in an arid climate, and we have two reservoirs . . . we’re relatively well positioned.” 

Cosbey observed,  “The capacity of the reservoirs is not the issue; the issue is production capacity, and the cost of sending water down the hill.”

Zwicker agreed that having meters is good, but argued that we could use manual meter readers for a year to buy some time, and indicated that he thought the arena would be a better investment of funds.

Cosbey argued that we would not be getting exactly the same result and cited just two advantages of the newer technology; time of day usage information, and real-time info for locating leaks. 

Hamstead commented that meter data is “voluminous” – but to have data collected over a long period manually would result in less useful data that cannot be analyzed in any meaningful way, and having absolute consistency in data collection is crucial. That cannot be achieved by manual collection. It would “neutralize the value of having the meters.”

Kruysse made a motion that Council accepts the tender submission from Corix Water Products Limited Partnership in the amount of $421,701, inclusive of PST and exclusive of GST to complete the City of Rossland’s Water Meter MXU Upgrade, and that Council accepts the annual fee of $25,920 (exclusive of tax), and that Council approves an additional amount of funding required from the Gas Tax Community Works Fund of $147,621.

Speaking in support of his motion, Kruysse cited the importance of reducing leakage more effectively.

Cosbey acknowledged that he had been largely responsible for the previous meeting’s vote against this investment, but since that time he has been convinced of the value of the new technology for system management, and now realizes that the benefit to the community is “huge.” He will be pushing for conservation pricing and education as well.

The motion CARRIED.  In favour: Moore, Kruysse, Cosbey.  Opposed, Zwicker and Greene.  Morel was absent because of telephone failure, but he had indicated his support for the investment earlier in discussion.

Greene then moved that Council directs staff to revise the Water Rate Bylaw for 2019 to 2013to include an account administrative fee to cover the annual subscription fee, and that Council directs staff to revise the Water and Sewer Rate Bylaw and Sewer Parcel Tax Bylaw to realign the fees to their respective fund needs and raising the overall fees by 13% annually to bring the funds out of a deficit balance.

The motion CARRIED with only Zwicker opposed.

The last item on the agenda was Arena safety upgrades required by WorkSafe BC.  Kruysse moved that Council award the 2018 Rossland Arena Safety Improvements to Venture Mechanical Systems Ltd. In the amount of $63,307 plus applicable taxes.

Moore noted that the remainder of the work will be done by the City.  Albo explained that the City will do the construction portion of the work in-house, to save both time and money. Moore asked if it will be open on schedule, and Albo opined that it will be; but he cautioned that the City is still awaiting a further report from the safety authority regarding the chiller.  

The motion CARRIED unanimously.

Cosbey spoke about how the City should go forward with setting a rate structure; Moore noted that she thinks that’s “a conversation for another day.”

The meeting adjourned at 12:22 pm.

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