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Move to tiered water rates in Abbotsford considered, but rejected – at least for now

Abbotsford and Mission have managed to cut consumption rates dramatically

Although billing water at different rates depending on the season could help boost conservation efforts and potentially reduce the need for Abbotsford and Mission to tap other sources, consultants for the city recommended last year against immediately implementing such rates in favour of tweaks to existing conservation programs.

Since being told they were in danger of running out of water a decade ago, Abbotsford and Mission have managed to cut consumption rates dramatically. That allowed the two municipalities to take a more measured approach toward finding a new source, and made residents’ decision to reject a proposal to tap Stave Lake look prescient.

With the two communities now considering the long-term future of their water system as part of a new master plan, consultants for the Abbotsford Mission Water Sewer Commission considered whether tiered and seasonal rates should be implemented as part of a wide-ranging program to further encourage residents to limit their water use.

But while such a program had the potential to delay the need to boost the region’s water supply, the commission was also told that it risked creating both “extraordinary burdens” for some customers, while introducing a high level of risk if decisions on how to proceed with a new source assumed dramatic cuts in demand. The report instead suggested taking a less-dramatic approach to water conservation that could be scaled up as needed. Rebates for low-income households could also be implemented as required.

The Urban System report was used as part of the planning process to construct a new collector well to boost the city’s water supply by 25 megalitres, at the cost of just under $60 million.

The consultants told the commission that introducing such rates would result in “greater reductions in shorter time frames.” Aspiring towards such a “low-demand scenario” would require other initiatives like reuse/recycling rules, enforcement of business and agriculture regulations, continued education and universal water meter introduction in Mission. Such a wide-ranging program had the potential reduce per-capita water consumption by more than one per cent each year and help delay the need to expand the region’s water sources.

But while choosing such a direction was tempting, the report cautioned that “not all conservation programs are cost-effective and some may cause extaordinary burdens on customers to achieve the targeted consumption rate.” Doing so would also require political will, the report says.

That’s an acknowledgment that such rates could significantly boost water bills for heavy residential users, including families and homes with many residents. Going with the low demand scenario could also could also result in future source decisions carrying “extraordinary risk if advanced [consumption] targets are not met.”

A subsequent technical memo prepared by the commission laid out the plan chosen instead, which focuses on boosting social marketing, requiring appliances in new buildings to meet low-efficiency targets, and refining a residential rebate program. It also includes a strategy for a “gradual transition to tiered rates for different customer classes.” The report suggest a high threshold linked to “obvious excessive use” first be considered when starting with tiered rates.

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