Water meters: a story of widespread failure

Flat rate for water use returns for residential customers temporarily… or does it?

Joe McWilliams
Lakeside Leader

Thanks to widespread failure of water meters in Slave Lake, town council chose the lesser of several evils last week and decided to return for the time being to a flat rate for all residential customers. This was until a backlog in warrantee replacements for the failed units could be overcome.

That was the situation until late last week, when it appeared council was having second thoughts.

“It’s on hold for now,” mayor Tyler Warman told The Leader on Friday afternoon, after huddling with town administration and talking with the meter manufacturer in Quebec. “We’re going back to see our options.”

None of those options looked very good when council discussed the matter in the Feb. 20 meeting. Choosing the flat rate across the board was acknowledged as not fair – but it had the advantage of being the least complicated administratively. And it was never intended to be anything but temporary. The plan all along has been to replace the failed units with new ones on warrantee. But the supplier is swamped.

“We’re taking a time out,” said Warman on Friday. “I’m not saying we’re changing our minds. There are logistical problems with calculating historical averages. But we’re going into it… so there’s not as much disparity.”

The disparity he refers to would be in the change in monthly utility bills for some residents – particularly in an upward direction – for those who use little water. Households that use a lot could see their bills go down to whatever the average figure turned out to be. That is the system that once was used. It wasn’t exactly fair and it did not reward conservation, which the province was keen to promote. Hence the move to meters, which were supposed to last 20 years. Council heard last week that the switch to meters did have the desired effect, by and large, providing customers incentive to use less water.

The last word on Friday was that council was having an unscheduled meeting to see if there was a better way to manage the situation until the replacement units come in. In fact 200 of those arrived last week – a good sign, but not nearly enough.

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