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'People need to be responsible': Tiny gets tough on water abuse

‘We're serious about water conservation,’ stressed public works director as Wyevale water meter expansion grows
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You know those little door knockers that appear while you’re away? Tiny Township wants water users to pay closer attention to those as its new water meter system gains traction.

Following a 2021 pilot project in Wyevale where roughly 300 water meters were installed which allowed staff to identify instances of treated water abuse at some residential homes, mock billing took place throughout 2022 to introduce homeowners to what their water bills would look like when full implementation began in 2023.

With new systems are new problems, which Tiny council heard during a deputation last month from a pair of Wyevale residents who had incurred a $3,000 water bill by leaving their soaking hose on a tree for several days continuously. 

Bill and Linda LaRose received a first-quarter bill in April of nearly $140, but in the following months they received two notices put on their door for excessive water use due to newly planted cedar trees.

Their second quarter bill came to just over $3,000 prompting the couple to ask the town for forgiveness and reduction in the amount, claiming if they had seen a dollar amount on the notices they would have ceased watering immediately.

At the recent committee of the whole meeting, the matter returned for discussion which gave public works director Tim Leitch an opportunity to speak to the door knocker system, implemented not for high usage cases but for anomalous cases of continuous usage.

“Obviously, the system is very new right now; we have about 300 users on it,” said Leitch. “As we continue to expand we’ll eventually get up to probably 2,500 to 2,800 users on it. That does become a major issue for us because everybody's usage – if we have to personally go to each home that has excessive use, that would be a resource that we just don't currently have.”

He added, “In this particular case, the water’s been running steady… every day for many, many days, which is even outside of our watering bylaw. You're only allowed every other day and two periods of time during the day where you’re allowed to water your lawn, clean cars and that type of thing."

Leitch pointed out a municipal financial statement presented earlier in the meeting, as well as an asset management plan and strategy given late last year, identifying Tiny’s improvements toward water systems for future generations.

“What we don't want to have is a lineup of people showing up at chambers and saying: ‘I didn't know’,” cautioned Leitch. “People need to be responsible for their water use. We're putting in meters to conserve our water; we have a couple systems that are well above national average, and that's because of water abuse.”

Further discussion of the door knocker system included a comment from CAO Robert Lamb, who stated that in his previous roles with other municipalities only one door knocker would be issued prior to a water bill, adding that Tiny was more proactive than service suppliers or larger cities.

“I think that we went out twice to this property,” said Lamb, noting this “is a level above service you’d find in most municipalities.”

Further conversation weighed the pleas of the homeowners for alleviation against what an appropriate billing would be, not only for them but also for future users of the system if a similar issue happened.

Coun. Steffen Walma offered up a suggestion to look at the mock billing formula that Wyevale users had seen throughout 2022, which Leitch confirmed could apply to the request. Tweaks by other members of council leaned into a one-time reduction of the water bill based on the mock bill plus 50 per cent of the overage for that property.

Coun. Kelly Helowka was quick to point out that the township would be helpful in arranging payment options to alleviate financing.

It echoed a sentiment shared by Leitch during the conversation.

“I do want to caution that we need to make sure that people understand we're serious about water, we're serious about water conservation, and that the system we provided with the door knocker does have a phone number on it.”

Staff were asked to draft a policy that would address water usage maximum fees as well as homeowner responsibility. 

Recommendations on how to conserve treated water in the community can be located on the drinking water portion of the township website. Information on water meters in the municipality can be found on the municipal water page of the Tiny Township website.

Archives of council meetings are available to view on Tiny Township’s YouTube channel.

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Derek Howard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

About the Author: Derek Howard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Derek Howard covers Midland and Penetanguishene area civic issues under the Local Journalism Initiative, which is funded by the Government of Canada.
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