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West Shore might see sharper water-bill rise as water sales don't meet expectations

Nov 06 2012
Water-quality manager Stewart Irwin at the Sooke Reservoir. 

Water-quality manager Stewart Irwin at the Sooke Reservoir.

Photograph by: Darren Stone , timescolonist.com (file)

Your water bill is likely to go up next year, but by how much depends on where you live.

In most areas, the average water bill for homeowners is estimated to go up only slightly - about $4.44 a year - as a result of a change to the wholesale water rate to be considered by the regional water-supply commission this week.

The regional commission sells water wholesale to municipalities, who set their own retail water rates. Typically, municipalities pass on wholesale increases to customers.

But users in the West Shore, including Langford, Colwood, View Royal, Sooke, Highlands, Metchosin, Sooke and East Sooke, could be facing an average rate increase of about $25.97 a year.

The bulk of the West Shore increase is due to the fact that water sales there have not met budgeted expectations.

A report to the Juan de Fuca water commission, which retails water in the West Shore communities, says the estimated retail rate increase covers increases in the operations and wholesale budgets, with about $19 of it attributable to the "budget demand volume reduction adjustment."

The increases come even as the average homeowner is using less water.

Commission vice-chairman Dean Murdock said the small increase in the wholesale rate is necessary for a couple of reasons.

"Consumption continues to drop, which is a good thing, and that means that to balance out the operating cost, there will be a small increase in the cost per cubic metre of water," said Murdock, a Saanich councillor.

"The other part of it is on the capital side. We've got the long-term investment in the Leech Watershed. That [acquisition] means we've likely secured a water supply for the region in perpetuity, but of course, that came at considerable expense and we're just now reaching the plateau of the debt retirement of that."

To protect the Leech River as a future water supply, the CRD has steadily been buying land around the watershed. In 2007, it bought 8,791 hectares from TimberWest at the Leech River to add to the 10,000-hectare Sooke Lake reservoir watershed.

Then, in August 2010, the CRD took ownership of an additional 837 hectares of Leech River watershed land from Western Forest Products as part of a larger CRD parks land purchase.

Drought conditions in 2001, prior to the expansion of the existing Sooke reservoir, prompted the water district to aggressively promote water conservation, including introducing lawn-watering restrictions.

Conservation efforts have been successful. According to the water commission's 2012 strategic plan, between 1995 and 2010, the CRD's population served by the water-supply system grew 14 per cent, while total water consumption declined by 11 per cent. That means that all the water needed for new development during that period was accommodated through savings in water use.

bcleverley@timescolonist.com

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