The City of Winnipeg is in the process of debating an increase to water and waste rates. To understand the impact this potential increase could have, it’s important to look at a few factors. First, we will analyze how these fees are structured and what they fund. Then, we will look at why an increase is being proposed in the first place. Finally, it will be helpful to compare our fees to the fees in other Canadian cities, though this can be trickier than you might imagine (more on that later). Once we’ve established all the facts, we can decide, as a community, whether or not it’s time to pull out the old picket signs and head over to City Hall.
Understanding Winnipeg’s Water and Waste Fees
Winnipeg’s water and waste fees are divided into four categories: water rates, sewer rates, daily basic charges, and waste diversion fees. The first two rates are pretty straightforward - every quarter, the city calculates how much water you’ve used, then charges you for that usage. The water rate is, at the time of writing this, $1.82/m³, while the sewer rate is $2.80/m³. You should note that both the water and sewer rates are based on how much water you use because most of the water you use ends up in the sewers.
The daily basic charge is a fee that the city implemented to cover bureaucratic costs - reading your water meter, billing you, customer service, and the like. This charge is a flat rate, daily fee and the amount depends on your water meter. Property owners with larger meters pay a higher fee. Those who have meters that aren’t provided by the city pay a lower fee.
The waste diversion fee was implemented in order to fund the “three Rs” - recycle, reduce, and reuse. In other words, to divert waste from landfills. As a daily fee, the annual rate amounts to $65.
One of the more contentious elements of Winnipeg’s water and waste fees is the 11% dividend. This dividend is not used to provide routine services. Rather, the money raised from the dividend is put into the City of Winnipeg’s coffers in order to be used for a variety of projects - chiefy, upgrades to our water and waste system. We’ll talk more about this in the next section, but you should know that the 11% is already calculated in the water and waste fee. In other words, you’re not paying $1.82/m³ for water plus 11%, the 11% is already included.
The Proposed Increase
The City of Winnipeg has proposed increases to the water and sewer rates over the course of the next four years. These increases would be 3% per year for the first two years and 2.8% per year for the final two years. Having established the rates at $1.82/m³ and $2.80/m³, we can easily calculate the increases. By 2022, the water rate would be $2.04/m³ and the sewer rate would be $3.14/m³.
These changes are not insubstantial - we are talking about an increase of 11.6% to the water and sewer charges over the course of four years! You may want to take steps to reduce your water consumption. Find a Winnipeg plumber to check your plumbing to ensure you don’t end up with a $23,000 water bill, and make sure your appliances are working properly so you don’t see water waste with your dishwasher or washing machine.
The city, for it’s part, will get a lot of funds from the increase. The 11% dividend in the water and sewage fees is a piece of the pie, so when the size of the pie increases, the amount the city takes in does too. This is intentional - Winnipeg needs to spend over a billion dollars to improve our waste treatment systems, especially the North End Water Pollution Control Centre. The Government of Manitoba isn’t telling the city how much they’re willing to pay to help fund the upgrades, so the city needs a revenue source. Some councillors argue that increasing the water and waste rates is really a method of increasing taxes without Winnipeggers knowing it. Others ask what other ways revenue could be raised. There are no obvious answers.
Comparing Winnipeg to Other Cities
A city to city comparison of water and sewage rates is not as easy a task as one might expect. First, we need to choose Canadian cities that are similar to Winnipeg. What is similar, however, when it comes to water and sewage? The size of the city, the amount of urban sprawl, economics, and its population are all relevant factors. We’ve chosen a few cities that are close to Winnipeg’s population for this comparison.
To start, we should establish Winnipeg’s annual rate. Winnipeg’s lowest daily water meter rate for a city-owned water meter is 55 cents. Combine that with the $65 waste divergence fee and you have a minimum $265.75 annual rate. This is the annual rate we’ll use since most people have smaller water meters.
The annual charges were established using the smallest meter size available for all cities. The water and waste fee minimums and maximums reflect the fact that some cities will vary the fee depending on consumption - lower consumption giving better rates. Vancouver’s rate is the exception. Their minimum charge is during the rainy season, while the maximum charge is during the dry season.
These cities were chosen because their populations are similar to Winnipeg’s - give or take a couple hundred thousand. Vancouver might be a surprise to some reading this, but it’s the population of the City of Vancouver itself, not the Vancouver Metropolitan Area (which has over two million people and includes places like Burnaby).
You might note that Québec City has no per m³ consumption charge. Québec’s water is paid for with property taxes; those taxes are reflected in the annual rate.
We can conclude that Winnipeg has the highest residential water and waste fees per m³ among cities that we’ve compared, and an annual rate that sits around the middle. Should the rate increases go through, Winnipeg’s fees will be almost 40% higher than the next highest fee.