WC129 MarApr2023 - Flipbook - Page 29
Affordability and equity in balance
As municipalities move forward in a post-Walkerton era of
responsibility, protection, and access, there has been much
discussion on how best to do this. After all, any improvements
cost money, which in turn, trickles down to the customer.
Increases in fees, although arguably necessary, also creates equity
issues for vulnerable community members. Are municipalities
equipped to create programs that ensure safe, equitable water
delivery and treatment that includes a fair utility rate structure?
How do municipalities balance affordability and equity with the
true cost of water in their rate designs?
Fernandes recalls the City of Toronto’s water rates increase in
response to the repair backlog in Toronto’s plants and piping.
Nine per cent over nine years, with the increase being directed specifically to capital renewal (versus operations directing),
provided Toronto with the opportunity to improve their water
infrastructure. With the rise in water rates also came a focus on
equity, with payments based on income and reduced rates for
those who would otherwise be unable to afford the increase.
While no one eagerly looks for increases in their monthly bills,
for Fernandes the need for additional income to deal with aging
infrastructure was essential. “I think this is the key,” he says.
“You need the decision makers to understand that we either do
something now or we kick this problem down to our children
Toronto is not the only governance model seeing successes.
Waterloo also ranks well, as does Halifax, which has “a separate
corporation that reports to a provincial regulator on setting their
rates and making sure that things are seen properly,” says Haller.
“You’ve got a place like Edmonton that’s created a corporation
that not only serves their area, but also other communities
around Alberta, Saskatchewan, and even into the U.S. and is a
Vassilakos notes that while these larger cities have more money
to work with, thus access to innovative technology and newer
methods of improving water delivery, smaller communities just
don’t have that luxury. A solution to that: smaller municipalities
piggybacking onto larger communities’ projects. In Stratford,
when the opportunity presented itself to join up with a neighbouring project they got on board, taking advantage of a project
they might not otherwise have been able to do themselves. “I
think that when we talk about joint procurement, some municipalities getting a little more creative in how they go out for
projects would really help.”
Pushing against limitations
What are the primary limitations to municipalities successfully
closing the infrastructure gap in the water sector? Is it political
sentiment, lack of financial capacity, lack of knowledge,
For Fernandes, it’s all of the above. “The first thing to start
WAT E R C A N A D A . N E T
with is a state of good repair backlog. What do you truly need?
Then you can define a financial structure to be able to take care
of that state of good repair backlog. Then you can go to the
decision makers and say, ‘Listen, here’s what we need to do.
Here’s what the impacts are. We need to raise water rates.’ It’s a
stage process. Education is a part of it. Having the councillors
understand that if we don’t do things now, things are only going
to get worse.”
Vassilakos agrees, adding, “I would say that it’s also a little bit
of council training. In most municipalities in Ontario, they’re
part time: It’s not a full-time job. Yet when you think about the
complexity of even just the three–water, wastewater, and stormwater–the complexity of that alone is really quite high.”
Bureau adds that councillor training (or lack thereof ) can be
a “double edged sword,” putting a councillor in a position where
they may feel unequal to the task, thus reluctant to take risks
with new innovative ideas and technology. “The education part
needs to be quite strong to counter that effect.”
With education comes the ability to effectively explain to the
public the rationale behind increasing water costs. As Haller
points out, if you know what your priorities are, then you are in
a better position to go forward.
With more left to say, but little time to expand, the experts
had some key parting thoughts on how to improve the way
Canadians value water.
For Haller, it’s about public buy in: “Without the public
involved, you’re not going anywhere. I think if you can build that
understanding, appreciation at the public level, they will support
the councilors who are getting more and more educated.”
Vassilakos focuses on flexibility and willingness to take on
those big challenges. She says that “anything complicated will
have a complicated solution, but there’s always a solution, and
that it’s also iterative. What we’re going to do today might be a
little different than what we’re going to do 10 years from now
because of technology or emerging threats or things that are
different and that the public should be okay with flexibility in
what we’re doing.”
Bureau reminds us that perceived value equals cache: “Close
to half a million Canadian don’t have access to water today. The
value of water right now is minimal. We don’t pay for it and
therefore it has no value and it’s not cherished. Value needs to
equal cost. Right now it’s far from that. So, education, public
awareness in long-term investment is the way to go.”
And Fernandes sums up the talk, ending on an inspirational
note: “Just talking about all these issues is fantastic because it
brings to mind what we need to do for the future and how we
need to go ahead with replacement of infrastructure, with reducing water loss, and with expanding; pushing the plant expansions
down the road.”
WATER C AN ADA • M ARCH/APRIL 2023