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Council defers decision on bulk water taking

by Patrick Raftis

MINTO - Town council has deferred a decision on a bulk water taking policy for the municipality following negative public reaction to a decision to negotiate the sale of water to a private supplier.

On May 16 council directed staff to negotiate a draft agreement for the sale of municipal water to  Bright Water Services.

The company, based in Bright, Ontario, requested access to the town’s water system to acquire water for transfer by tanker to private customers for filling pools, dust control, compacting fill or watermain flushing.

The company had previously supplied bulk water from the Harriston water system to the 2016 International Plowing Match site.

A staff report at the June 6 meeting stated Bright Water Services indicated it does not have formal agreements with most municipalities where water is taken.

“Normally there is an application and payment process along with specifications on connection and insurance,” the report explains.

Instead of an agreement, the report by CAO Bill White and water foreman Wayne Metzger included a draft policy on bulk water taking for council to consider.

The report states the draft policy “allows very limited bulk water taking” with no exclusivity for Bright or any other company.

“This policy is consistent with town practices over the years to provide some bulk water to meet an expressed need (ie. IPM 2016),” the report states.

The draft policy allows for a maximum 0.725% of total consumption to be taken - or about 5,050 cubic metres of bulk water annually.

“We could probably sell 10 times that amount and still be comfortable,” White told council.

The draft policy also states:

- there is no exclusivity to any one company;

- companies must apply in writing to the overall responsible operator (ORO) Wayne Metzger and pre-pay for all bulk water;

- the fee will be as set out in the town’s fees and charges bylaw;

- no bulk water is given if there is any kind of water restriction in place for any regular Minto customer;

- the ORO can allow water taking from any system where appropriate;

- the ORO can deny any request at any time, and will report annually (at budget) about how much bulk water is taken; and

- the town can shut off supply of bulk water at any time with no consequence and is saved harmless from any action regarding supply of water.

The report recommends a fee of $3/m3 plus $100 per written application to the ORO.

At that rate, total revenue from 5,050m3 of water in one season, approximately 180 loads, would be $15,150 plus the $100 administration fee.

The report notes $3/m3 is “on the high end” of what Bright pays other municipalities.

White also stated it is about one-third higher than the town’s normal water rate for most users.

White remarked the decision to negotiate an agreement with Bright Water has been “fairly controversial” and “there’s been a lot of feedback on it.”

However, he said the policy is something “I think we need to have anyway. Bulk water is needed.”

White said the $100 administration fee covers some of the concerns of staff about being called out to facilitate hookups. He stressed, “they will only access it if there is no water ban whatsoever in place.”

White also stated, “The issue about having bulk water taken when we are under water restrictions was clearly pointed out, and I certainly appreciate the fact that we had just published our manual water notices in the paper.

“And then this (media reports on the May 16 decision) was published. I think that probably didn’t help with the public relations side of things,” he said.

White noted local residents are using much less water now than they did before metering was implemented and he feels the water restrictions are no longer needed.

“Frankly, the water restrictions are not needed anymore, in our opinion,” he said.

“We do need to be able to call on water restrictions if we get into a prolonged drought situation, or if there is a failure of some form in our equipment. We still need to be able to do that.”

White said he felt the draft policy represents a responsible approach.

“It’s an environmentally appropriate policy because bulk water is needed and it should be available from the closest possible source,” he said, stressing, “This policy will not impact our customers in any way.

“We will not be put in a situation where a customer is restricted in water in any fashion and someone is able to take bulk water.”

Councillor Ron Elliott said,  “This is really, really difficult. I don’t think in many, many years that I’ve had so many phone calls, letters  and emails on this topic.

“No matter what I say, no matter how much I tell them it’s just a little bit of water, that we’re probably not going to have a water ban, all of that doesn’t seem to matter.”

Elliott continued, “It’s their water and they don’t want to lose it. No matter how right it is, it doesn’t’ seem to matter to the public. I couldn’t convince one person that we’re doing the right thing.”

However, he noted he did not have the information from the June 6 report available to him at the time.

Elliott suggested deferring the issue to a future council meeting to allow time for the latest information to reach the public.

“Right now I would have to vote that we don’t allow it to happen … I would say 100 per cent of everybody I talked to said, ‘You can’t vote for this.’”

Councillor Judy Dirksen agreed, “I have not had one person say this was a great idea.”

However, she added, “I suspect if we turned this down someone would say we’re throwing 15 grand away.”

Councillor Mary Lou Colwell said everyone she spoke to about the issue said they considered the proposal “selling our water.”

She added, “That seems to be the big issue; that we are selling it outside of Minto. If we need bulk water within Minto, I don’t have a concern with that, but if we are selling our water outside of Minto, I do.”

Councillor Jean Anderson agreed.

“I will not vote for selling water to anybody. I will vote against it,” said Anderson.

“I will vote for a policy that gives the staff the knowledge on how to handle it. We need bulk water. We need it in Minto.

“As far as I’m concerned it stays in Minto.”

However, Mayor George Bridge pointed out it might be counterproductive to limit water taking to the town itself as, for example, Minto might be the closest source of water for a construction project in a neighbouring municipality.

“From an environmental standpoint, we’re not trucking it all over,” he pointed out.

Bridge said he agrees with White that, “It’s time for us to get rid of the watering ban.”

He explained, “I’ve had people come to me and say, ‘I’m paying for my own water now and I love my lawn, I love my garden and I’m going to water it every day if I have to.’”

Councillor Dave Turton said he felt council was taking the right approach in taking time to study the issue further and provide more information to the public.

“We don’t have a full council chamber today - surprising for the number of calls we did have,” he observed.

Council passed a motion to defer a decision on the policy to the next council meeting.

Staff was directed to communicate the proposed policy to the public, including posting it on the town’s website.

 

June 16, 2017

 
 

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