Living with the Great Lakes, Ontario enjoys a seemingly endless water supply.
But providing clean water to its residents has a cost arising from accessing the water, treating it, and distributing it.
Additionally, wastewater must be treated to avoid contamination and becoming a health and environmental hazard.
An article in Great Lakes Now says that the water prices in Ontario, Canada, and areas within the Great Lakes basin are increasing due to its aging water pipe network and the highly fragmented nature of the city’s water network.
The article says that most of the water pipes were laid in the mid-20th century, and these are now nearing their end of life. However, these pipes are still in use today.
Very little money has been spent on the maintenance and rehabilitation of hundreds of thousands of these buried pipes throughout the decades.
Aging and leaky pipes are costly to maintain and add to customers’ water bills. According to the article, some estimates suggest that 30% or even 50% of water bills are associated with leaky pipes. More than 130,000 households in Canada’s 22 largest cities struggle to pay for this rate.
The highly fragmented nature of Ontario’s water networks also adds to the cost of water. Eighty percent of its 665 separate water systems serve a population of less than 10,000, with some serving fewer than 1,000 residents. In some rural municipalities that don’t have a tax base, upgrading or maintaining water pipes is costly.
A solution is to combine Ontario’s remote drinking water networks into a more extensive system to keep costs down.
Brian Bates, CEO of the Walkerton Clean Water Centre told Great Lakes Now, “Obviously, it would be nice if we had one giant centralized plant and you could hire experts in every aspect of water treatment to be on-site.”
“But from a distribution perspective, it would cost much more. When you get into rural areas, including First Nations reserves here in Ontario that can be extremely remote, it becomes tough to find skilled operators that know a wide range of things from chemistry to maintaining pumps necessary to operate a modern water treatment plant,” Bates says.
Walkerton’s E-coli outbreak pushed the town to upgrade water treatment facilities.
According to the article, in early 2000, an E-coli outbreak ensued in Walkerton due to decades of underinvestment in their water infrastructure. The outbreak has sickened almost half of the town’s population of 5000 and killed seven people.
The incident has pushed the town to upgrade pipes and water treatment facilities, creating the Walkerton Clean Water Centre to ensure that the tragedy will not happen again. The article notes that investments still lag despite investment in clean and safe drinking water, wastewater, and stormwater infrastructure.
Although water rates are increasing in Canada, it is still lower compared to some countries or cities worldwide. For instance, comparing the water rates between Waterloo, Ontario to Lansing, Michigan, both cities have roughly the same population. The article says that residents in Waterloo are paying $2.50 CDN for a cubic foot of water to Lansing’s $120 US, a 4,700% price difference for the same volume of water.
But when it comes to the actual cost of water, it is how municipal governments define it. Most consumers have no idea what they are paying for their water, signifying a knowledge gap.
The actual cost of water may consist of its delivery cost or additional costs like the cost to the environment, requiring extensive cost-benefit analysis, especially since these expenses are passed on to consumers.
As with Ontario, Canada’s significant underinvestment in its water infrastructure for decades is catching up with the present generation now paying for the investment gap.