Over the past several years the City of Nelson has installed water meters in about 80 per cent of all 175 businesses, industries and institutions in the city.
It plans to install the rest in 2020.
But the meters will be used for research, not for billing, Mayor John Dooley told the Star. The goal is to monitor how much water is being lost to leakage through old water infrastructure.
“We want to get a handle on consumption,” he said. “We want to see where we are losing water, or where there is a large amount of consumption, and work with those people to create awareness for the need for conservation.”
City finance manager Colin McClure said metering was able to reduce leakage in one business by 34 per cent, simply by identifying daily water use patterns.
The city’s overall water usage is lower now than 10 years ago, McClure told the Star, because the city reduced leaks by replacing the old galvanized water lines (see graph, which shows a usage decrease of about 13 per cent since 2008).
“Our water usage has dropped significantly even though there has been increased development,” he said.
The meters can be read remotely, so there is no need for the city to access them once they are installed.
A few businesses have resisted or blocked having a meter installed.
So council recently passed a bylaw amendment that would penalize businesses and institutions with a fine of $200 if they block access to installers.
Even though the city says the goal is not to use meters to determine water rates, there are four places where that does happen, and they are the city’s four largest water users: the Selkirk College Silverking Campus, the Nelson and District Community Complex, Kootenay Lake Hospital, and Nelson Carwash. These users pay according to how much they use.
Other businesses are billed according to a number of measurements including the number of fixtures such as sinks and toilets. Schools are billed per classroom.
As for residential metering, Dooley and McClure said the city is not contemplating it.
McClure said it would not save the city any money because its water costs (pipes in the ground on a gravity system with no pumping) are fixed, and are covered by the city’s current water fees.
Asked if metering might save water (as opposed to saving money) by incentivizing conservation, McClure referred again to the statistics on how much water use has already dropped in Nelson, and said it would cost an estimated $2 million to install water meters in all Nelson households.
Another expensive factor, he said, would be “the need to read the 4,000 meters and send out bills on a scheduled basis and the cost to serve customers wanting to pay bills. Currently, we send out one flat fee bill, and in some cases quarterly bills to those who give up the 10 per cent discount.”