West Bench water meters still not producing revenue

Contributor: 
Published: 
February 11, 2016

Their water meters are already whirling away, but West Bench residents aren’t expected to move to a usage-based billing system until next year.

Switching the community to a user-pay model is among four measures the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen is adopting as it seeks to cut water use in the community by 15 per cent – or 49,000 cubic metres – by 2020.

Although water meters were installed at 365 properties last year, the RDOS is not yet using the data to bill its customers. While they are privy to that information, residential customers there still pay a flat rate.

Chief administrative officer Bill Newell told board members at a meeting Thursday the RDOS needs to collect usage information, chase down leaks and work out any other kinks in the system before setting rates.

“There’s no way that you could just slap a meter in and put a rate structure on a community like West Bench without any historical data,” he explained, adding an expert will likely be hired to draw up the fee schedule.

The meters were one of the final elements of a $9.8-million upgrade of the community’s system, which distributes treated water that’s purchased in bulk from the City of Penticton.

The West Bench has, however, retained its own licence to draw water from Okanagan Lake, so its usage doesn’t affect Penticton’s raw supply.

“There is still a perception in the community that West Bench is using Penticton’s water, and that’s not quite accurate,” said Area F (West Bench) director Michael Brydon.

The other three water-conservation strategies that will be pursued are tweaking bylaws and continuing with education programs and water-loss measures.

The overall conservation strategy, a similar version of which was also approved for the new system in Faulder, was a requirement of senior levels of government that provided partial funding for both projects.

Comments

I have posted several items on water meters.  The main thread is here.  My most recent posting on the costs faced by outliers is here.

Why not give residents their water meter readings so they can consider making water use changes or look for leaks or possible causes for high usage?

I agree.  The problem at this point, as I understand it, is software.  Our billing software does not provide this information easily when mailing out bills.  New billing and reporting software (custom or off-the-shelf) is not a trivial undertaking.  The alternative is to increase clerical time to extract and add water usage information to bills.  This would also be a costly undertaking and require some pretty good data wrangling skills.

Ideally (and I have made this point to the CAO in the past) we would like to move towards billing software that permits "behavioral nudges".  For example, it would be nice to show the range of water uses for similar properties and situate each household on this distribution.  Some jurisdictions even show smiley faces when the household falls below the average. Surprisingly (or maybe not) these signals can lead to significant behavior changes.

Better and more informative water bills becomes more feasible as the RDOS takes on additional water systems.

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