Call it Coquitlam’s version of trickle down economics.
Facing huge costs related to a possible $4 billion water supply expansion project at Coquitlam Lake, Coquitlam city council voted unanimously on Monday to refine the way the municipality charges for water use.
The new system would raise prices during summer and lower the water rates for the rest of the year for metered residents. The city currently charges a flat year-round rate.
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When reservoirs are most depleted, water use can increase by as much as 60 percent, according to a city staff report.
The city also faces increasing financial pressure from Metro Vancouver.
Between June and September of this year, Metro Vancouver charged Coquitlam a 45 percent premium for water. In 2023, that premium is set to increase to 53 percent.
City staff equated the water-rate change to an issue of supply and demand, similar to the way the price of roses might spike and fall around Valentine’s Day. The change is an effort to use policy to influence behaviour, according to city staff.
Mayor Richard Stewart emphasized that the price would fall after the summer.
“It’s not like Uber. It’s not surge pricing,” Stewart said.
But, how much more?
The city has not yet determined water rates for 2023. However, the new approach is intended to be “revenue neutral,” according to a city staff report.
According to projections prepared by city staff, the most modest change involved raising summer water rates by six percent. Rates would drop four percent for the rest of the year. The biggest change projected a 41 percent increase during the summer and a 29 percent decrease the rest of the year.
In each scenario laid out by city staff, 66 percent of residents are likely to pay a bit less for water overall. In the event of a 25 percent summer price hike, two percent of residents are expected to pay between five and 10 percent more overall.
This year in water
Over 74 days spanning the end of summer and the beginning of fall, Metro Vancouver’s watersheds got about 50 millimetres of rain – approximately one-thirteenth of the rainfall over the same period in 2021.
Water use was up by 20 percent.
The case for incentives
It’s important that cities incentivize water conservation, according to Zafar Adeel, a professor at Simon Fraser University’s school of sustainable energy engineering and the executive director of the Pacific Water Research Centre.
Speaking to the Dispatch in October, Adeel advocated for water metering as a way to reward households that are diligent with water use.
“By getting water to people at a flat rate, you are providing a disincentive for conservation.”
In general, incentives are more effective than restrictions, Adeel explains.
“Restrictions on their own have limited effectiveness,” he said, noting a few of his neighbour have managed to maintain “lush green” lawns during the drought. “The messages are not being received well or people don’t care.”
Metro Vancouver has projected a 4.1 percent increase to water rates and a 4.6 percent increase to sewer rates for 2022. However, both those numbers are expected to rise in 2023, with Metro Vancouver estimating a six percent increase in water rates and a 17 percent jump in sewer rates.