There was more focus on projects than annual charges as the Sunshine Coast Regional District (SCRD) kicked off information sessions on proposed 2024 water rate increases. A Nov. 27 online event addressing plans to bump up next year’s combined water fees and parcel taxes by $165 for those on its South Pender system and by $101 for North Pender service clients saw five public attendees participate in the discussions.
Only one expressed concerns that continued rate increases (since 2019, they have more than doubled in the North to $1,303.45 and gone up by just below that rate in South to $1,104.78) could make the cost of water "untenable" for residential customers.
Projects and how to pay for them
Maintaining aging system infrastructure in times of cost inflation and climate charge was the focus of the SCRD staff presentations at the event. Identified as the largest capital project facing the two areas was the required replacement of the North system’s Garden Bay water treatment facility. Director of infrastructure services Remko Rosenboom stated that is expected to cost in the “$9 million range." He explained that water processed at that site “gets brown” due to turbidity and that testing has revealed it fails to consistently meet Vancouver Coastal Health water quality standards. A report on that project is to be presented at an SCRD committee meeting on Dec. 14, he said.
The ability of that service area, which includes 775 parcels, to cover such costs sparked an inquiry about proposed water rates and existing reserves from one attendee. A Nov. 10 SCRD staff report that was included in the meeting’s reference links showed the service's current capital reserves at $722,539 and if the proposed rates changes proceed, about $200,000 would be added in 2024. Calling that capital funding “very constrained," director of finance Tina Perreault said the board will need to consider options such as grants or borrowing to pay for the plant replacement and other major infrastructure projects.
The idea of merging the two water service areas or incorporating both into the regional water system to achieve a better economy of scale for capital works was broached by Rosenboom. He noted that a first step, a study on linking the Pender systems to provide each with an emergency backup supply is part of 2024 SCRD budget proposals. That concept received positive feedback from one meeting participant, as long as study costs didn’t eclipse the price tag to actually do the work. Rosenboom said it would not and the Nov. 10 report shows each service would contribute just under $35,000 to the study, if approved.
For the South system, staff outlined that work to optimize access to water supplies from its licensed sources, McNeill and Harris Lakes is proposed in 2024. Drilling of wells to increase that area's water supply is not being planned for, according to Rosenboom, given the presence of arsenic in the area’s groundwater and because the costs involved with tapping such sources would be higher than doing the optimization work.
Metered billing demo project next year
Meeting attendees also asked about metered water billing and addressing water leaks during the hour-long session. Perreault said residential clients on the Pender water services will see a pilot project to demonstrate what metered billing would look like next year. While the board has yet to set a date for any of its services to transition to metered bills, that exercise she said would help the SCRD prepare its systems for the shift and give customers a better idea of how it will work. All SCRD staff at the meeting stressed that water use information is currently available to clients of the two systems and that it can be an effective tool to monitor use and determine if their systems may have a leak.
Additional info sessions coming
A virtual information session addressing 2024 rates and projects for SCRD’s regional water system is set for Nov. 29 at 6 p.m. The board is scheduled to make decisions on 2024 water rates at its Dec. 14 meeting, and staff noted information update sessions will be scheduled in January.