Northside Water: residents question proposed rate increase, decision to come in New Year

Residents submitted this fall their official objection to Northside Water Service Ltd.’s recent proposed rate increase.

Residents from six Vanderhoof homes submitted this fall their official objection to Northside Water Service Ltd.’s recent proposed rate increase.

Starting in January, customers of the private water provider are asked to pay $19 more per month for the next 15 years to fund a new treatment system that will reduce arsenic and manganese levels in water.

Some said that the 42 per cent rate increase from $45 to $64 is too steep. Two residents question whether the additional fees charged cover more than the treatment project costs, and whether some of the contingency budget can be reimbursed if not used.

Another resident hoped there had been discussions on potential alternate options, such as grant funding, for raising the funds needed for the treatment upgrade. Some also stated that they felt they had no choice in being required to pay more for an essential need, and asks about the discrepancy of costs compared to other Vanderhoof neighbourhoods — the water of which is supplied by the District of Vanderhoof.

The project was first initiated by Northern Health in 2006 for NWSL to abide by new Health Canada regulations, and was delayed by the company until now due to financial concerns, stated NWSL’s manager-operator Wes Manwaring. Profit is not factored into the calculations of the project costs, Manwaring said.

In response to the residents, Nechako Lakes MLA John Rustad stated that provincial and federal governments support water municipal water projects, but not for the private sector.

“The reason for this is because taxpayer funding should not go to increase the value of an asset for a private individual or company,” Rustad said. “If the District of Vanderhoof or the regional district were to own the project, I could endeavour to find support from the Province and Federal Government.

“As with any municipal or regional district infrastructure, it would still likely involve an increase in tax dollars paid for by the residents if the local government required it, however the goal would be to collectively seek funding to help reduce the impact.”

Vanderhoof mayor Gerry Thiessen said he would be discussing the concerns with Rustad this month.

NWSL is regulated by the provincial government through the deputy comptroller of water rights, whose staff is reviewing customer submissions and NWSL information to determine the hearing process’ next steps, according to a written response from the Ministry of Forest, Lands and Natural Resource Operations.

A written decision to accept or change the rate application is expected to arrive early next year, though the deputy comptroller may request more information and take more time, the ministry further states.

On Sept. 1, the deputy comptroller approved NWSL to supply and install the arsenic treatment plant, financed by a shareholder loan. NWSL submitted the rate application on Sept. 18 to repay the loan and to cover increases in other operating expenses.