Discounted water rates for heavy users being phased out

Greenhouse operators concerned loss of tiered rates will impact bottom line

  • Nov. 14, 2015 3:00 p.m.

Abbotsford is in the final stages of phasing out discounted water and sewer rates for heavy commercial and industrial users.

Local farmers, many of whom rely on city water for their operations, aren’t happy.

“That’s a [large] increase in what my members will be paying for water, and certainly they’re not happy with it,” said Linda Delli Santi, the BC Greenhouse Growers Association executive director. “It will be significant to their bottom line.”

Those agricultural and industrial businesses that use less than 1,667 cubic metres (about half of an Olympic-size swimming pool) in two months are currently charged 90 per cent of residential rates for water and sewer. If they use more, all additional usage costs 85 per cent of residential rates. With a current residential rate of $1.15 per per cubic metre, that is a significant savings for heavy users.

The city began the phase-out of discounts in 2013 at which time they had three pricing tiers, and the heaviest users paid the cheapest prices.

Potable municipal water isn’t allowed to be used for irrigation in Abbotsford, but the city supplies agricultural-grade water to local farms. That water is allocated approximately “36 per cent to livestock, poultry and dairy operations, 10 per cent to greenhouse operations and 54 per cent to other agricultural uses,” according to city information.

Though many greenhouse growers rely on the municipal water grid, Delli Santi said, most do all they can to conserve water so she doesn’t buy the city’s hope to encourage conservation by cutting the discounted rate.

“We’re told this is to encourage conservation but if a plant needs water, you’ve got to feed it,” she said. Greenhouse growing systems route water directly to each plant, and recirculate the excess, she said. Many growers also collect rainwater when available to supplement the municipal water supply.

“How much more can you conserve? You’re only giving the plant what it needs,” she said.

Abbotsford’s municipal water system came under unusual stress this summer, when hot and dry weather lowered levels at the Dickson Lake reservoir and forced the city to extend the usual period for water use restrictions.

According to a city web page explaining the change in water rates, “The pricing of water and sewer services is an important aspect of both water conservation and the generation of revenue needed to maintain our community’s infrastructure.”

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