Town to get tough on water

Out-of-town residents no longer will be getting a free ride when it comes to getting treated water from the Town of Fort Frances’ distribution system, as it plans not only to raise rates to buy water from here but will enforce those who “steal” it.
Operations and Facilities manager Doug Brown told council Monday night that by April, 1, 2004, the cost of treated water for non-residents will rise from roughly one cent a gallon to nine cents (or $20 a cubic metre).
“People outside the town limits are paying only double the rates of residents, yet the residents are the ones who paid for the infrastructure in the first place.
“If we produce the water, they have to pay for it,” he remarked.
“It’s a matter of cost recovery, plus we’re making a little bit of revenue while we’re at it,” added Brown.
He noted the need to address this current inequity is more dire than some may think because right now, non-residents are either getting a water permit, and along with it treated water at an incredibly low rate, or simply not paying at all.
In the latter case, people either are getting water from residences, public skating rinks, or even fire hydrants, which people are opening and subsequently using the outflowing water to fill up truckloads of containers.
In the case of the fire hydrants, this also raises the issue of water safety.
Brown noted the manner in which the public have used fire hydrants to obtain treated water from town’s water distribution system “is quite loose.”
He also said the bylaw to restrict non-essential use of potable water drawn from the water distribution system on odd and even days has no section restricting how or who can take water from fire hydrants.
Letting just anyone—as opposed to a certified Public Works employee—use a fire hydrant also is in violation of the Safe Drinking Water Act, as its possible any backflow into the system could be contaminated.
Brown added monitoring fire hydrant use is important for a second reason: the primary purpose of fire hydrants is for the fire department to access an abundant water supply to extinguish fires.
As such, the town has an obligation to ensure fire hydrants are in a good state of repair and fully operational.
Brown stressed the town has authority under the Public Utilities Act to establish a bylaw to control illegal use of a fire hydrant, can set fines, and is looking into setting said fines for violators in the near future.
Likewise, if anyone is caught letting non-residents get water from their homes, they could face a severe penalty—having a water meter installed on their house which will track how much water they use just like a hydro meter.
The resident then will have to pay for water on a metered basis, and thus is discouraged from letting others have their water.
Brown noted that in the next month or so, those who want to pay for treated water will have to pre-pay for it. But later this year, they might be able to get it from a high-flow, coin-operated water truck filling system that may be installed at the water treatment plant.
In the case of the former, the customer would contact the town, pre-pay for a certain amount of water (at the $20/cubic metre rate), then go to a pre-determined fire hydrant location and have a certified Public Works employee open and close the hydrant valve—all while monitoring the outflow and preventing any untreated water going back into the system with a new backflow preventer that Brown just ordered yesterday.
Except for the higher cost, this is similar to the current system which people should be using. It is generally only available between 7:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. on Monday to Friday.
In the case of the latter, a system which council has agreed to pay $13,000 for, customers would go to the water treatment centre, pay toonies for a pre-determined amount of treated water, and receive said water from an automated device.
This would be available 24 hours a day—and not require a town employee to be there.
This system currently is being used in Chapple Township.
But Brown noted despite the fact council has earmarked funds for the latter option, he’s not sure at this point if it will see enough use to warrant the cost to the taxpayer.
He wants to see how the former system works for a few months before making any decisions.
In another matter regarding water, council received the monthly drinking water systems report for December, 2003.
While this report showed the town’s drinking water quality to be in good shape, Coun. Rick Wiedenhoeft noted it also revealed Fort Frances residents use .6 cubic metres of water a day—slightly higher than the Canadian average of .5 cubic metres.
Multiplying the cost of water times the amount of water, number of residents in Fort Frances, and days in the year, Coun. Wiedenhoeft said if residents used only the Canadian average, it would mean $390,000 in savings annually.
“Are we a wasteful community?” he asked. “If we could get people to save a little more, we could save money.”
Brown noted that being a non-metered community, the usage was not unusual. In Marathon, for instance, where he worked before coming here last year, the water usage was even higher.
“But if you put in water meters, you will see a reduction. People become conservative once they get a meter,” he remarked. “It’s like electricity—you think twice about leaving that light on when you know the meter is going.”
Coun. Struchan Gilson asked if watermain breaks in the winter time result in a significant water loss for the town, but Brown replied this wasn’t the case.
(Fort Frances Times)