St. Marys Journal Argus
Pending final approval by St. Marys Town Council at a meeting later in the summer, three existing bylaws — governing the delivery of water, wastewater and stormwater services — will be consolidated into a new document known as the Water Systems Bylaw.
One of the major changes as a result of this process, councillors were told at a Committee of the Whole meeting on Tuesday, July 8, will be a revisiting of the Wastewater Reduction Charge Agreement. Water systems manager David Blake explained the agreements, saying that a wastewater system user can “enter into an agreement with the Town for reductions in their rates for wastewater services, provided they reach certain thresholds for a reduction of the load on the wastewater system that results from changes made by the user.”
Blake suggested this will go hand-in-hand with an industrial waste surcharge agreement, which is in the existing bylaw. Together, it’s hoped the combined effect will be to decrease the industrial load on the wastewater system.
But it won’t necessarily be that simple. According to CAO Kevin McLlwain, the current limits in those surcharge agreements “are fairly high compared to a lot of other municipalities.” So a high level of wastewater, with a high degree of “strength” (the term used to describe wastewater with elevated levels of organic contaminants) can be discharged into the system without triggering a surcharge.
McLlwain offered the opinion that, as a result, household ratepayers in the town see their user rates increase gradually, as the system begins to show the strain of having to adapt to the industrial discharge. He cited, as an example, the recent decision by Council to approve a recommendation from engineering consultants to purchase a “micro-screen” technology for the Thomas Street wastewater treatment plant, in an effort to extend the life of the facility before it needs a major upgrade.
The trick will be providing enough of an encouragement for industrial users, in the proposed Wastewater Reduction Charge Agreements, to make the changes worthwile. And even McLlwain expressed a level of skepticism in this regard. He noted there is already a form of the agreement in the wastewater bylaw, and among the users that have signed on to initiate reductions, some have never been able to achieve a discharge level that would even begin to trigger the agreement.
The CAO sought to ease concerns among councillors that heavy wastewater service users would somehow find a way to circumvent the process using creative paperwork and get a reduction in their rates.
“We’re not about to give a reduction on the bill to somebody who’s causing us to spend more at the plant,” McLlwain said.
But Blake said this approach is certainly preferable to taking on more of an enforcement role.
“Instead of having industries see an increase in their billings, the thought is to have them get a better control of what’s going down the drain,” he said.
Blake added that the maximum allowed discharge rates into the wastewater system will not change under the proposed new consolidated bylaw.
And if you’re hoping to score a reduction in your user fees by installing low-flow toilets and a cistern in your home, forget it: “We won’t look at (a Wastewater Reduction Charge Agreement) until a user is using 15,000 metres squared of water annually,” he stressed.
In the proposed Water Systems Bylaw, councillors learned on July 8, there are also enhancements in the ability of the Town to target improperly-installed sump pumps, eavestrough downspouts, and other household stormwater control measures.
For the past three years, the Town has been delivering a message to homeowners that there is an unnecessary strain being placed on the wastewater treatment system due to the “inflow and infiltration” of stormwater into sewers. But the Town has been provided with little clout to force changes.
Councillor Don Van Galen, who has led the campaign to tackle inflow and infiltration, said he is “very pleased” with the measures in the proposed bylaw to give the Town enhanced enforcement powers.