Apr 22, 2011

Controversy Growing Over Proposed Requirement for Homeowners to Switch from Well to City Water

Homeowners would have to bear cost of hook-up to municipal water

Erin, Ontario, Canada, the largest municipality in the province with no sewage treatment plant, is the site of escalating controversy in light of its town council's proposal of mandatory hook-up to the municipal water supply for a small group of households and businesses located adjacent to town water lines. The council proposed bylaw amendments at a meeting April 19 that could force approximately 100 homeowners to spend what the town water superintendent estimates to be between $13,000 and $17,000 per household to pay to decommission their wells and connect to town water. The move is intended to offset a deficit water management situation created over the past several years.

In an April 15 memo to the council from Frank Smedley, water superintendent for the town of Erin, revenue from the proposed hook-up is projected to be $601,028 collected from the 100 households. Also under consideration by the council is a proposed water rate increase that would impact existing and new system users and which would net another $1.1 million in revenue by the end of 2019, Smedley reported.

A consulting report recently completed on behalf of the town of Erin did not advocate these measures, instead providing options for the town to balance the water budget within three years without putting pressure on residents. Another major planning report called SSMP, which will lay out the blueprint for the area, is due within months, and 90% of residents surveyed indicate they would like the council to wait for that report before making bylaw changes.

An editorial in the Erin Advocate on April 6 described the proposed bylaw change as "a draconian measure" given that the council has proposed withholding building permits for certain home improvements until homeowners sign up. Once homeowners hook onto the system, they can anticipate an estimated average cost of $1,200 annually for the use of town water. Retirees in the area have expressed grave concern about the sudden capital outlay and increased ongoing costs.

The town of Erin has an ample and high-quality water source, which accounts for why the town has not previously needed to adopt wide-scale centralized sewage and water treatment to date. The town of Erin itself uses its own municipal water, but draws on well water to service the local hockey arena and water a downtown park.