Beiseker's pricey water woes frustrating for Village council
Tuesday, Feb 14, 2012 03:00 am
Jennifer Isaac, Mountain View Gazette
Beiseker’s pricey water woes are causing frustration for village council and residents.
Recently, village administration presented figures to council, showing that in 2011 the village had a water deficit of about $400,000, double the figures from the previous year.
Water consumption has been rising in the village, resulting in extremely high costs to the municipality for water provided by the Aqua 7 Regional Water Commission.
According to deputy mayor Ray Courtman, the story began when the aquifer the village drew water from gradually got lower and lower.
“We started looking for other ways to provide us with water,” Courtman said. “About 10 years ago, we decided to go with a new project that was being started north of us to bring water out of the Red Deer River and pump it to all the communities in this area.”
That program, he said, became the Aqua 7 Regional Water Commission, of which he is the vice-chair.
“We turned the water on in September 2005 and we’ve been using that system since then,” Courtman added. “It’s great water. It’s wonderful water. I think it’s better than our well water.”
When Aqua 7 was created about 10 years ago, he said, the province indicated it would pay one third of the cost. “And the federal government said they would pay one third,” Courtman said. “The municipality said they would have to borrow the money. We’re talking millions of dollars here.”
Courtman said they started the process and shortly after, the province decided to give other municipalities up to 90 per cent, instead of one third of the cost.
“But because we formed before that policy came out, we were stuck with only the one third. The provincial government has said many times, they’re not willing to go back. So we’ve been in negotiations with them for years and years because our water has become more and more expensive as the commission tries to pay down the huge debt which we incurred from borrowing all this money.”
As if the monumental debt wasn’t enough for villagers to contend with, Courtman described two other water-related issues in the village.
“We have a problem with the water supply distribution system in the village,” he said. “The infrastructure is aging and it’s leaking. Also, the water meters are nearly 40 years old. We’re not getting paid for all the water we’re bringing in from the Aqua 7 system. It’s just disappearing, and that water is costing us a lot of money.”
He noted that villagers are paying around $4.18 per cubic metre for their water. “Around the province, that cost is as little as 30 or 40 cents a cubic metre. Our residents are paying what I consider to be a horrendous price for water.”
There are about 300 water meters in the village of Beiseker, including the residences and the businesses. The population of the village is around 900.
“We have to meter everything because we have to account for all of the water, due to its high price,” said Courtman.
He added that residents are complaining constantly about the high cost of water and the cost over and above what they’re paying on their water meter. “That’s because we’re losing over $200,000 worth of water a year,” Courtman said. “That’s water that comes in to the village and just disappears partly because of the leaks and partly because the old water meters aren’t recording usage properly.”
Some progress is being made with the provincial government, he said, which over the years had assured the village that government help would be available until they sold enough water to make money.
Recently, the Alberta government announced it would provide a special $1.8-million grant to Aqua 7 to help it with its financial difficulties, said Alberta Transportation spokesman Trent Bancarz.
“The grant is contingent on the commission submitting a financial recovery plan to government,” Bancarz said. “This is a unique situation, as our grant programs typically fund capital rather than operating costs.”
The money helps, said Courtman, but it wasn’t what other water commission projects received. “They gave us money to pay them back the penalty to restructure the debts,” he said. “It basically went from one provincial government pocket to another provincial government pocket. It’s a help but we would have liked to have seen six or seven million.”
Still, he said, the money will help the village to spread its debt over a longer period of time.
In the meantime, he said, the village will continue to spend money on fixing leaks and buying new water meters.
“The money that goes into our water problems eliminates money being spent on other projects,” he said. “Projects like our recreational programs and our streets project could use some funds.
“If we had the extra money, we could do a lot more paving in a year.”
However, he’s confident they’re going in the right direction. “The money that came from Alberta Transportation didn’t solve all the problems, but it showed me that they recognized our issues,” Courtman said.
Please read my response to this article in a follow-up post; My View on the Mountain View Gazette article
For a comparison of Beiseker's water rates to other municipalities, please see this post; Water Rates