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I seem to be the only person who marks this anniversary. I continue to believe that it’s important. I guess it’s against human nature to try not to think about the bad things. But when those bad things are coming — 100% for sure — and there are steps that we can take now that will save people’s lives, I feel that it is our duty to think of those bad things, and make contingency plans.

What’s happening in Haiti will happen here

This is especially on my mind right now, as I watch the tragedies unfolding in Haiti. What is happening in Haiti will happen here. About the only difference is that our earthquake will be 10 to 100 times stronger.

It’s easy to think that the consequences here will not be so bad – we’re an affluent first-world society, right? Read the rest of this entry »

THE TOFINO WATER BLUES
(or Quarter Moon in a Ten Cent Town)
(or Third Door on the Left, Town Hall)

by Dennis Currie

I’ve built a secret outhouse
It’s hidden in my trees, they’re lush
Since I received my Tofino water bill
I’m never going to flush

I’m never going to shave again
Or wash my face or hair
Instead of the white porcelain commode
I’ve got a two holed wooden chair

I’m never going to wash my clothes
Or eat a crab that’s boiled
I knew it would happen some day
Water costs more than sweet crude oil

And yet outside my door it’s pouring
Torrents of water flood Olsen Creek
While over at the Meares Reservoir
It must be 30 feet deep

Cascading over the top of the dam
Ever flowing to the sea
And yet just to brush my teeth
I’d need a dollar fifty three

Now all the rents are going up
I heard the Laundromat is closing down
Soon we’ll all smell and look like hippies
That’s actually good for this hippie town

It’s not called Tough City for nothing
We’re not like those clean folks commuting from Uke
They really should be embarrassed
To live where parking and water are free

No, I’m never going to flush again
I’m going to save lots on soap and shampoo
If you ever care to join my protest
My secret outhouse has seating for two

I tried flushing down with Evian
But the plastic bottles fill our dump
So I thought I’d dig my own well
Install a big old manual pump

But I’d need an $18,000 permit
For any land improvement
So I going to my covert outhouse
For all my future movements

Perhaps my lack of flushing
Won’t bother those in power
I’m warning them when I pay my bill
It’ll be a month since I had a shower

And still the rain is pounding down
Helping my trees grow tall
I guess if I really miss the flush
I could use the toilet at Municipal Hall

But there just might be a bylaw
Against my using their W.C.
And I sure don’t want that bylaw guy
Sniffing around behind my trees

Perhaps some day they’ll change the rate
Though I’ll bet it won’t be soon
But for now I’m slippin’ my rain gear on
Headed for my secret shack with the quarter moon

So, how do Tofino’s bizarrely complex rates compare to other districts?  Do other municipalities also charge residents more? (And, if you still do not believe that residents are charged more, then I am sorry – I just do not know how else I can explain this any more clearly: you can go back to my August 2nd post, which outlines how our system works).

Then, let’s look around – at Port Alberni, Nanaimo, Victoria, and Vancouver (I’ll add Ukee, too, if I can – their rates are not posted on line) – and see how we compare.  

And, I know my posts are long – I’ll give you the summary now (keep reading if you want to see the supporting facts).
1.  None of these districts differentiates between residential and commercial rates.

2.  They especially do not distinguish between type of business, giving some more favourable rates than others.

3.  Some of them add a flat-fee monthly or quarterly charge that goes up according to the size of the water delivery pipe – this is a way to charge businesses proportionately more for their higher usage.

4.  Some have a few tiers, and some have no tiers.  Where they do have tiers, they are the same for everyone.

5.  All of them have simple rate-charging systems that anyone can understand.

Beside each place’s name, you can clink on the link to see where I got the information from.  There’s also a listing of water and sewage rates for towns Canada-wide here: http://www.ec.gc.ca/Water/en/manage/use/e_mun.htm#BC.  I have not had time to look through all of these – but if anyone else wants to, and post some info to share here, I’d sure welcome it!

PLEASE REMEMBER: meeting tonight to discuss all of this (plus the $1.50 surcharge they are proposing to go on top!) – at the Community Hall, 7pm.

Port Alberni: PDF file
They have the same rate for residents as businesses, with a total of 4 tiers – but customers with bigger delivery pipes (i.e. bigger commercial users) pay a higher monthly fee on top.
The first tier  is extremely high, kicking in at 1,133 m3 (per 4-months; in Tofino we are billed each 3 months) – which means all residents would always be at the first-tier rate of $0.37/m3.
Interestingly, they do two things about industrial users:
– the rates actually get lower as usage increases, but
– they add a monthly charge according to the size of the user’s delivery pipe (ranging from $10.48/month for 3/4” or less, to $166.68/month for a 10” delivery pipe)

Nanaimo: http://www.rdn.bc.ca/cms.asp?wpID=915
They have the same rate for residents as businesses with a total of 6 tiers.
They work their rate by average daily consumption – multiplying that out by 90 days (to compare to our quarterly billing) means that the lowest rate is $0.86/m3 for up to 63 m3 per quarter, and the next tier up is $1.00/m3 for up to 126 m3 per quarter.
– like Tofino, their rates go up with increased usage, but they go up much more rapidly, hitting the top rate of $3.00/m3 when quarterly usage exceeds 316 m3 – which means that higher consumers (i.e. businesses) pay more at pretty much all usages, not just at extremely high usages (unlike in Tofino – where a fish plant or large resort wouldn’t hit that rate until their consumption exceeds about 2000 m3)

Vancouver http://vancouver.ca/fs/treasury/utility/meterRates.htm
They have the same rate for residents as businesses, no tiers at all – but, like Port Alberni, businesses pay an additional charge that relates to the size of their delivery pipe.
What a simple system.  Their combined water+sewage rate (they calculate it in per 100 cubic feet) comes out to $1.08 per m3.
Like Port Alberni, they then add a quarterly charge that ranges from $25 to $536 per quarter, dependent upon the size of delivery pipe (i.e. big businesses with big delivery pipes would pay more).

Victoria http://www.victoria.ca/cityhall/departments_fincon_utilwaterrate.shtml
As far as I can tell it is the same rate for residential and business, with no tiers – but, like Port Alberni and Vancouver businesses pay an additional charge that relates to the size of their delivery pipe.  The volume charge fore everyone is $0.7o per m3 and the delivery charge ranges from $20 to $1000 per quarter.

Victoria’s Western Communities http://www.crd.bc.ca/water/waterbilling/residentialrates.htm
They have the same rate for residents as businesses, not no tiers at all.
Again, what a simple system – a flat rate of $1.37/m3 for all users.

Tofino  look at the graph
Residents pay more than businesses.
The complicated rate system means rates per m3 range from $0.90 to $3.70/m3, with certain classes of businesses getting much cheaper rates than others.  In addition to these rates, there is a proposal to add $1.50 per m3 in order to improve our water delivery system so it can deal with current and future usage requirements.

So, one bit of information that we are clearly lacking is how much water an “average resident” consumes each year.  Our district considers “average residential consumption” to be less than 50 m3 per quarter.  But I believe that that number is inaccurate – and very low.

(I am sorry these posts are so long – it’s a lot of info, though, and I just want you guys to know why I am saying what I am saying – that I am not just making things up.)

I think their error comes in because of how they classify a  “residential” user.  We all know, in Tofino, that some fairly large percentage of homes here are not actually used as residences.  Many of them are vacation rentals (so probably slightly higher water usage than most residents over summer, because of hot tubs, rinsing of surfboards and wetsuits, many showers by frequent beachgoers, increased laundry and dishwasher use – but probably very low-occupancy or empty over winter, so extremely low water usage over those months).  And some of them are private vacation homes owned by people who live elsewhere, and are empty for much of the year (e.g. many of the houses and condos fronting on Chestermans Beach).

For some reason, our district has never undertaken any study to determine just how many “homes” are actually occupied by real residents.  However, we can at least get some idea by going through StatsCan Census data.  Here are a few figures from the last 3 available surveys, going back over a decade, along with a bit of analysis:

Tofino                                   1996        2001        2006
1. population                            1170        1466        1655
2. # of dwellings                        440            721          941
3. # dwellings “occupied by usual residents”                 680
4. % <15 years old                     19.7        16.0           15.7

1. Population
In the 10 years from 1996 to 2006 our population has increased from 1170 to 1655 – an increase of 41%.

2. Number of dwellings
In the 10 years from 1996 to 2006 the number of dwellings (houses, condos, etc.) has increased from 440 to 941 – an increase of 114%, i.e. more than doubled.
That means that in 1996 there were and average of 2.7 people per home here, but in 2006 there were only 1.8 people per home.
If we make the two following assumptions:
1. that all of the homes in 1996 were occupied by residents (which is probably not 100% true, but close), and
2. that the average number of people actually living in a home is the same in 2006 as it was in 1996, i.e. 2.7 people per home, that would give us an estimate of 613 homes occupied by residents in 2006 (1655 people divided by 2.7 per home = 613)
This estimate is probably slightly on the low side because of Assumption#1.

3.  Number of dwellings “occupied by usual residents”
They only started collecting this stat in 2006.  So, in Tofino in 2006, 680 of the 941 dwellings were occupied by the “usual residents” –  this fits very well with my estimate calculated above, of slightly over 613, and suggests that my assumptions were not too far off.
So, in 2006, 261 homes were not occupied by the “usual residents” (941 – 680 = 261).  That is 28% of “residences” that are not occupied by residents – i.e. are vacation rentals or mostly empty private vacation homes.  (And this is why I say that the district’s water usage calculations are skewed – because many of the homes they include in their calculation are not actually occupied by residents).

4.  Percentage of population under 15 years
This is not related to the water issue – but it is a concern, as it shows how our community is changing.  Many of us know of young families with children who have left the community in recent years, largely because they cannot afford to live here – and also that this declining enrolment has an effect on our school in terms of funding and what resources and extra-curricular activities it can provide.  It also has an effect on other community services, such as our hospital.
In the ten years from 1996, the proportion of children under the age of 15 in our population dropped from 19.7 to 15.7 per cent.  That might not sound like a lot – but it is actually a drop of 20%, a very disturbing reflection of what is happening to our community.

OK, now back to estimates of average water consumption.

So our district estimates that average quarterly residential water consumption is less than 50m3 per household.  I would argue that estimate is too low, for three reasons:

1.  As stated in my point 2, above, around 28% of homes classed as “residences” are not actually occupied by residents.  Many of these homes would be empty or very low occupancy over the winter, and a few of them (the private vacation homes) would even be empty for much of the entire year.  So the very low annual water usage of these homes would skew the average, the way the district calculates it, and lead them to come up with a number that is too low.

2.  Looking at the home I used to own on Howard Drive, with occupancy similar to that of what a family would have (usually a total of 4 or 5 occupants in the home year-round; in this case divided into an upstairs and a downstairs suite), our total water consumption over winter was around 50 m3 per quarter, and over summer around 80 m3 per quarter – so, year-round, something like 65 m3.

You can look at your own water bills to see what your own household’s quarterly usage is – there is a convenient graph on the left side that summarizes the previous year.  I’d be curious to have other people Comment on this post (just click on Leave a Comment, at the top) and say what your winter/summer use is and how many people live in your home – just so we can all get an idea of what “average” or “typical” is.

3.  Looking at figures in other places, quarterly, I find:
Nanaimo: 64 m3
Port Alberni: 73 m3
Canada-wide: 59 m3
(Where did I get these numbers?  The Nanaimo district website lists the Canadian average household consumption as 646 l/d, and the Nanaimo average, estimated at 700 l/d.  The Port Alberni water rates page notes that the average residential consumer uses 800 l/d.  To calculate quarterly usage I multiplied the daily use by 90 days, then divided by 1000 to convert litres to m3, cubic metres).
So, comparing with average residential consumption in other areas, it seems that Tofino’s guesstimate of under 50 m3 is low.

CONCLUSION: We don’t yet know what the water consumption of an average resident it – and we won’t until we get a handle on how many homes are actually occupied by residents, and then re-do the district’s classification system accordingly.

But, for now, it seems pretty clear from many lines of evidence that the district’s figure of <50 m3 is inaccurate, and too low.

Hello everyone –

In all of the spare time that I don’t have, I’ve been researching how water rates are charged in other districts – both on Vancouver Island and across the country.

With the exception of Tofino, the formulae for charging water rates (residents vs. businesses; summer vs. winter; having or not having rate tiers) are extremely simple. What’s coming up from it is pretty interesting, though
– Tofino residential rates are much higher than pretty much anywhere else
– no other district that I’ve looked at charges residents more than businesses besides Tofino
– water rates themselves, as well as methods for calculating them, vary widely across the region

It’s a real lot of work to go through it all – but in the coming days I will present some analyses of it all for you.  So please check back for details!

For now, I will provide you with links to some of the rates information that I have uncovered (which you can refer to in my upcoming posts), as well as remind you of the public meeting to discuss water rates and water issues, Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2009 at the Tofino Community Hall at 7:00 p.m.

Please check back here as I continue to post more info, so you can be fully informed on this issue.  And, if you care about these things, please do your best to show up at the meeting.

For now, some water rates info:
Port Alberni
Nanaimo
Victoria’s “Western Community”
Vancouver rates
A comparison of water bills across southern Vancouver Island and Canada

With yesterday’s water usage figure of 402,000 gallons, this brings our 3-day running total to 1,346,000 gallons.  Another record for us (compare to the 3-day totals in the table below, all well under 1,300,000 gallons).

In the summer of 2006 – the year our town was abruptly closed to tourists at the beginning of the biggest tourism weekend of the year – our daily usage never even reached 500,000 gallons… not until August 28th and 29th.  The high usage those two days was what precipitated the shut-down.  Now, here we are, late August again, with water usage soaring to those same levels…  why is it me reaching out to distribute this information, and not our district?  Please pass the word out:  we are still at risk, please continue water conservation efforts.

Tofino’s daily water usage for yesterday (measurement reported this morning) peaked out at a whopping 513,000 gallons – well above our target of <400,000 gallons. This brings our 3-day running total to 1,291,000 gallons.

Without any studies correlating water usage to weather, it is hard to know how much of this high consumption is due to the sunnier weather, and how much of it is due to people no longer working as hard to conserve.  I did note, however, during our 2006 water shortage that the very high-usage days correlated with the warmest and sunniest weather.  This year, also, our consumption was low through that long foggy stretch – and now that it is sunny it has come up again (see my table in the previous post below).

I’m not sure why our district isn’t getting these latest figures out to the public in the form of a press release, reminding people to keep up conservation efforts.  Yesterday’s usage is 28% higher than our target of <400,000 gallons.  Please keep up your water conservation efforts!  We’re not off the hook yet – Labour Day is quickly approaching.

I’ve been keeping track of our daily water use, as posted on the District’s website.  Yesterday we were back to well over the 400,000 gal/day benchmark again.  Is it because people feel the crisis is over and are not working so hard to conserve?  Or is it just that the warm and sunny weather (following a few weeks of mostly fog) just naturally brings up usage: more showers by beach-goers, more rinsing wetuits and surfboards, more car-washing…?  We still don’t know the anwer to these questions, because the studies have never been done.

Anyway, here is a table with the whole last month’s water usage (straight from the weekly data the District posts on their website).  I have annotated it with a few comments about the weather. What happens with our usage over the next few days will start to give some idea of how much the weather influences our daily usage.

Also, I have created a column for the three-day total.  The reason that I have done that is that there may be fluctuations in any one-day usage figure based upon exactly when and how reservoirs were filled, e.g. less filled one day means they have to put in more the next day.  The 3-day running total averages out for any such fluctuations, and is a much better indicater of what we are really using than any single one-day figure.

Yesterday’s usage of 431,000 gallons was the highest recorded in three weeks.  It will be interesting to see, over the coming few days, if the consumption stays that high.

Tofino daily and 3-day water usage, in gallons, for summer 2009

Tofino daily and 3-day water usage, in gallons, for summer 2009

I am really getting frustrated: because of  the complexity of our water rate charging system, few people actually understand how it works. As you all may have noticed, I have put a lot of time into figuring it out and trying to relay that information – to the community in general, as well as to the people who make decisions on our behalf.

Graphically, it is very simple: whichever user’s line is the highest is the one who is paying most. If the tables and complicated examples of this and that are too much to deal with, just look at the graph.  That is why I bothered to graph it out (it is pasted again at the bottom of this post).  Whichever user’s line is the highest is the one who is paying most.

There is an article in the most recent Westerly which provides more complicated, and in places misleading, information and calculations from our district.  There is no point in calculating examples of what people would pay if the examples used are not very realistic Read the rest of this entry »

Councillor Dorothy Baert was the lone dissenting voice in saying that we should open this for public discussion.

But the remaining councillors approved the new proposed rates without even reviewing them. So, residents continue paying the highest rate per volume, and the biggest businesses (large resorts and fish processing plants) pay the lowest rates.

The exact motion put forward by our financial officer Edward Henley was:

THAT COUNCIL consider the proposed changes to the utility rates and recommend modifications to either the proposed rates or the water and sewer budget to achieve a balanced water and sewer budget.

However, instead of “considering the proposed changes and… recommending modifications” as Henley proposed, our council simply approved the Table of Rates as is.  Read the rest of this entry »