Require residential water metering
The City of Vancouver could expect to achieve about a 20 % reduction in water use if residential meters were installed. However, the average water bill for single and two family homes would increase by about 30 %. These costs are related to the installation and maintenance of the meters and to the fact that the majority of the cost of water is related to the filtering and distribution infrastructure - the cost of which remains the same regardless of how much water is used.
In other cities where water meters are used for billing, people have a better understanding of their water usage and are motivated by potential savings to adjust their usage patterns to conserve more water. In Vancouver residents of one and two family dwellings are billed a flat rate for water use.
Included in the Draft Greenest City Action Plan.
Janine Brossard commented
I think metering and charging for water is the key. I agree that every household should have a base amount for free depending on the number of occupants. Usage beyond the basic would be billed. My neighbour uses precious water to hose down the laneway a couple of times a week all year long.
Water metering is an incredibly effective means of encouraging conservation. Especially if people can see target consumption rates on their bills. And it can easily be designed to mitigate any negatively impact to low income households.
If you'd like to learn more about water metering, there are several great articles out there, including this one from the POLIS institute at UVic:
Water metering is one of the most effective measures the city could take.
Note: Gwendal's idea (below) has been merged with this one.
"Voluntary Water metering for homes: Include a Water Consumption meter at the shower head too
Not only should we have a whole house water meter. But we could have mini water meters for our showers included in Water saving kits from the city."
Matthew Pattinson commented
I think LB makes an excellent point. High consumers of water can charged some type of overconsumption premium. Also as with HST, there can be rebates for low income families. There are several ways to design a fair metering system.
A point of clarification. Metering is not the same as billing. The city could, in theory, meter water without charging for it. This would allow for a better understanding of what part(s) of the city are using how much, give a better sense of how much we're losing to leakage, and, with new smart meters, residents could see firsthand how much each water-using appliance uses.
Once this information is better understood, then we can start to talk about the possibility of charging for the true cost of water. Like LB says, charges could be based on a volume-based increasing block rate (the opposite of a bulk discount) - this might get at some of the equity concerns expressed by Megan Adam and others. The first X number of litres per person could be free (enough to meet hygiene, cooking and cleaning needs), then the next X number of litres could cost a small amount, then the next X number would be even more. Those using less water may still pay nothing, but those using exorbitant amounts would pay more.
Water pricing doesn't have to be flat rate pricing, it can be more sophisticated. Much like BC Hydro charges one rate for the initial, low consumption, and then when you go over a certain consumption amount, they start charging you a higher rate.
Megan Adam commented
Water-metering disproportionately affects low-income and poor people and shouldn't be instituted in Vancouver. Those who use the most water (swimming pools, large lawns, etc) aren't likely to cut down and in the meantime everyone else has to pay more for less. That's pretty inequitable for a city also aiming to end homelessness (higher utility fees equal higher rents and as Zaelia points out, renters have no control over what landlords do in terms of water conservation and passing fees on to their tenants)
alicia chaa commented
noone should have to pay for water.
Clean Water Working Group commented
Re: Zaelia's point about renters
Multi-family buildings (more than 2 families) have water meters and are charged on a volume basis. This meter measures the amount of water coming into the entire building, not each suite. For most occupants, this cost is incorporated into rent or strata-fees. Only single and two-family dwellings do not have water meters, so it would become an issue if you rented in a single or two-family dwelling and your rental agreement had language about water charges.
Pradeep K.Verma MBBS commented
Once again, it might still be hard to justify the cost of the installation of meters and the administrative costs in order to attain most modest water conservation in an area where water is not a scarce resource. Wisdom would dictate that the resources be allocated to more impactful aspect of cutting GHGs, and presevation of biodiversity the twin of climate change which is actually seriusly ignored by the City of Vancovuer in its planning.
As a renter, I am concerned about talk of water metering. I have little or no control over how things function in my rental unit, and getting landlords to take things seriously and to fix problems is an ongoing challenge. Of course, I can take on the financial burden for some things and fix or have things fixed myself, but this is not fair/practical nor is it a realistic option for a lot of people. Perhaps these issues have been addressed by the "other cities where water meters are used". I think I would like more information before I got on board.
Pradeep K.Verma MBBS commented
Installing water meters is an unwise infrastructure expense and the cost would not be recovered in a meaningful fashion and water waste would still continue given the low cost of water. The sole of altering behaviour is through education and compassion education. People need to start thinking that they share this water with those in Australia and Sahara. Water conservation is not a high priority in Canada on a regional basis. We need to focus more on the consumption reduction and not import water from drought ridden nations through fruits and flowers.