Athabascans are facing the prospect of their water bills rising by as much as 100 per cent under a ‘pay as you use’ scheme, to be implemented once the new water treatment plant opens next month.
Mayor Colleen Powell warned that the current lowest rate of $1.55 for the first 18 cubic litres of water used will rise to $3.08 as consumers pay for not only the upkeep of the new treatment facility, but better water quality as mandated under new environmental legislation.
“I have been telling people since I was elected mayor that water rates were going to double or triple, but we’re coming down to double,” said Powell.
The main reason for the increase is to pay for the building of the new plant — set to open on Oct. 15 — which the Town and County of Athabasca, together with the Village of Boyle, built in partnership with the province as part of a regional plan that includes water pipeline construction.
Owing to a provincial grant for working with the neighbouring municipalities in upgrading water infrastructure, the cost of building the new plant is roughly the same as any upgrade to the old facility would have been.
“The agreement with the County and Village of Boyle is that we pay for what we use,” said Powell.
She emphasized that the Town of Athabasca only paid for its portion of the water plant and not the pipelines that supply Boyle.
Yet Athabasca has the area’s largest population, so its share of water it has to pay for is larger, said Powell.
Powell said the pay-as-you-use system was fairer because if water utilities were charged as part of property tax, then 30 per cent of Athabasca’s buildings — mostly government-owned places like hospitals, and also churches — would be exempt.
This would place an unreasonable burden on taxpayers, Powell said.
With frequent rainfall and a large river running though Athabasca, Powell said this part of the province receives more water than most, so it was not seen as a scarce resource before now.
“I know it’s not easy for people, but there’s very little we can do about it,” Powell said.
Nonetheless, Powell offered a glimmer of hope to those people limiting their water usage.
“People who use very little water may see their bills go down under the future system,” she said.
In order to cut back water costs, Powell suggested making sure that taps don’t leak or drip, while the town is installing low-flow public toilets.