City may charge for bulk water

City staff presented an amendment to its waterworks bylaw that would allow the city to charge one cent a litre for bulk water.

At last Tuesday night’s regular council meeting, staff presented an amendment to its waterworks bylaw that would allow the city to charge one cent a litre for bulk water.

Coun. Surinderpal Rathor took exception, saying he does not think residents on Woodland Drive who are having water shortage problems should have to pay for water.

“I am requesting that the bylaw be referred back to staff to take into account the people that are living on Woodland Drive and the problems they are having,” Rathor said, adding he supports charging for the water, but not to Woodland Drive residents. They are already paying high taxes, he said.

Coun. Sue Zacharias said Rathor’s suggestion didn’t make sense.

“People and businesses in Williams Lake are paying for water. If we’re talking about Woodland (Drive), you could dig a well and you could have water, but you could pay more than one cent a litre,” she said, adding she did not think the city can make a blank policy for some people not to pay for water.

When the city makes exceptions, it creates problems, Zacharias said.

Rathor argued there have been incidents where people have dug wells and had problems finding water.

Woodland Drive resident Martin Sills told the Tribune that before he bought his home he had a well test done and had lots of water.

He doesn’t access the bulk water station because he had a $3,000 personal water reservoir system installed so he and his wife can monitor how much water they have and judge their use accordingly.

“It also allows us to see how much is coming in on a daily basis. Our house has 40 gallons a day coming in, which is a pretty sad situation,” Sills said. “In order to qualify for a mortgage you need four gallons a minute coming in.”

When it comes to the question of whether Woodland Drive residents should pay for the bulk water, Sills argues it’s not about the money.

“I can understand council saying equity rules. I believe in that, but the 11,000 residents have access to city water and we don’t and therein lies the problem. What if there is no water to drill down to?” Sills asked.

My well is already down 320 feet. I could go down 600 feet, spend another $25,000 doing that and still not hit water,” Sills explained, saying the concept that all you have to do is dig a well doesn’t exist.

“The aquifer is dry. The aquifer is dry,” he emphasized.

In the end the amendment to the bylaw received its first reading, with councillors Geoff Bourdon,  Zacharias, Danica Hughes and Mayor Kerry Cook in favour, while Rathor and Coun. Laurie Walters were opposed.

Sills said that through taxes he’s funding schools, roads, the pool, and he doesn’t mind because that’s part of living in a community.

“However, our situation is unique and uncomfortable and the city has to look long term on return of investment that one day Woodland will be Westridge and the city has to prepare itself for that eventuality,” Sills said, adding he thinks the city should borrow the money to fix the problem. Rathor made a second motion that staff come back with options that would provide a provision so that Woodland Drive residents who don’t have water wouldn’t have to pay for water obtained from the bulk station.

The motion was defeated with everyone opposed, except Rathor.

Hughes said issuing an exception might open up a huge can of worms where others come forward with water issues as well.

Planning and operations general manager Geoff Goodall said there are other people within the city limits who are not on the city’s water system such as some residents on Dog Creek Road and Fox Mountain.

Cook left chambers during the discussion of amending the bylaw to exclude Woodland Drive residents, declaring a conflict of interest because she lives on Woodland Drive.

Bourdon chaired the discussion and said it’s no secret that council members have received political pressure over the water issues at Woodland Drive and that council is working on trying to help the situation.

“We had one funding application denied and we’re obviously working on others,” Bourdon said.

The city confirmed Thursday it recently learned its application to the Gas Tax/Public Transit Management Services to fund a water and sewer project for Woodland Drive was rejected because it did not meet the funding criteria objectives which were cleaner air, cleaner water, and GHG emission reduction, as well as the expenditure per capital for the project was too high.