By Cole Parkinson
As the dry summer continues, Grassy Lake residents have brought forward concerns around high Municipal District of Taber water rates.
At M.D. council’s regular meeting on Aug. 10, several residents were in council chambers to voice their issue with water rate prices.
“I have great concern with how the water rates in Grassy have been drastically increased over the past years. In short order, we have had our usage cut in half from 30 metres cubed to now just 15,” stated Keith Ypma. “We have also seen large increases in the overage charge, which starts at a lot lower number now. In just 2019, we had a base allowance of 22.27 metres cubed at a base of 57 with a $1.87 per metre cube overage charge. Today, it is a base rate of $60.50 with a base allowance of only 15 cubic metres, an overage charge of $2.23 per cubic metre. That shows that in just the past two years, our allowance has been cut by approximately 32.5 per cent, our base rate has increased by over six per cent, and our overage charges, after we are barely allowed any water has been increased by just under 20 per cent.”
Ypma also stated he has been trying to find past water rates in order to compare.
“I have not been able to find what the charges have changed from five to 10 years ago, but it’s beyond reasonable. I beg to question if any council members would even get close to 15 metres cubed water usage for their own needs or if they even know what their own usage is between household and yard needs, I highly doubt it,” he continued. “This is unsustainable and causing great harm to our village. We all know that much of the population of our local towns and villages have a large portion of Mennonites. This group of residents are known to take pride in their yards and over the years, they have totally changed how the villages look, especially Grassy Lake.”
Ypma continued to question why their rates were so high compared to other towns nearby.
“Why do we have the highest rates in southern Alberta, and more importantly, why are our rates higher than Bow Island and Burdett when we run off the same system?” he asked. “Taber’s rates are much less than half price — is that even right? I don’t think this can wait until the next budget to be addressed — this is a right now problem and needs to be dealt with as soon as possible. Or at least some guidance that things will be changed for next year.”
Councillors pointed to several issues around the municipality regarding water.
The first was in Johnson’s Addition.
“One of the issues we’ve had, and I’ll be honest with you, Johnson’s Addition does have a separate water line there. The problem you have to be careful of is liability,” explained Coun. Brian Brewin. “People start hooking into their houses with the raw water line and then it becomes a liability for the municipality. That is one of the red flags we’ve had when we’ve talked about putting in raw water lines.”
Another issue highlighted by council was the fact M.D. ratepayers not living in Grassy Lake were subsidizing their water costs.
“In 2019, the rest of the M.D. was subsidizing Grassy Lake water to the tune of about $165,000, so we chose a couple of years ago to start moving closer and closer to total cost recovery. Last year, there wasn’t an increase in the base rate. It was really the same as an increase and it was between 22.7 and 15 was 1,600 gallons. You’re making it sound like everybody’s bill is $500. During the winter, most people aren’t using the base rate either.”
Ypma stated that many of the larger families in the hamlet would struggle any time of the year with only 15 metres available.
“With 15 metres in a household of four or five kids, you can’t wash your laundry and make it. And that’s only one water truckload, it just doesn’t happen in Grassy.”
M.D. administration also explained the costs associated with water usage.
It was explained to council that the majority of Grassy Lake residents hadn’t been going over 15 metres, hence the reduction.
“What we found for seven or eight months of the year, the majority of the accounts weren’t going over 15 cubic metres and that’s what we sort of settled on the 15 cubic metres. To go back from 22.7 to 15 to be included in the base rate and then we left the base rate the same as it was in 2020 at $60.50. We can redo the analysis on that and bring it up to date to see what the numbers are,” said Bryan Badura, director of Corporate Services. “When we averaged the increase of going from 15 to 22.7 cubic metres, which if they use that much water it adds another $18.55 a month to their bill, split it over the number of seven or eight months where they’re not using over 15 cubic metres — we averaged it out to a monthly increase of about $6.18 per month. Virtually the same as increasing the base rate by 10 per cent.”
Badura further explained huge increases to water bills aren’t very common.
“We’re focusing on going from 22.7 to 15 and to me, that’s not causing these dramatic increases in the monthly water bills going to let’s say $200, $300, $400, or $500. I printed out the information from last month and the majority of the bills are over $100, some over $200, and very few over $300, $400 or $500. Those are few and far between, but it is common during the summer months,” he said. “If their bill is over $500, they’ve likely used 200 plus cubic metres of water, which is a significant amount of water.”
A suggestion from council came in the form of allowing Grassy Lake residents to use infrastructure which was currently not being used by the M.D.
“Maybe there’s an opportunity here, and maybe this can come up at Committee of the Whole, but giving Grassy Lake residents the infrastructure that we currently aren’t using, which is the reservoir. Allow them to take that over, sign it over to them, and then that way we aren’t obligated to ensuring non-treated water ends up in a household, we’re not tied to it at all,” stated Coun. John Turcato.
“The struggle we have there is it’s on one side of the highway so they would have to punch a highway, which would be pretty expensive,” replied Brewin. “But yeah, that is an option. There is a dugout there.”
“Maybe now is the perfect time to have those conversations with Alberta Transportation since they’re doing the twinning of Highway 3. It might be way cheaper to do it during construction,” added Turcato.
A motion was carried to have administration bring back more information on the issue for a future council meeting.