Upon receiving her water bill last month, 96-year-old Lake Cowichan resident Lillian Ambruse was shocked to find an additional charge, marked as a sewer charge, attached to her water bill.
As an avid gardener, Ambruse wasn’t surprised that she was being charged $7.84 for an overconsumption of water, though the additional $6.88 sewer charge the town had attached to the bill was a surprise to her, as she said much of that water was used to hand water the plants inside of her home and on her front porch.
Ambruse’s daughter, Joy Becvar, called the Town of Lake Cowichan offices to inquire about the extra charge.
“Their reasoning was that since we used extra water, we must have put extra water into the sewer system,” Becvar said. “But it was all for gardening.”
Joe Fernandez, the Town of Lake Cowichan’s Chief Administrative Officer, said that the town’s policy is to charge residents who go over their allotted amount of water use an extra 88 per cent as a sewer charge.
“It’s based on a percentage of their water use — the assumption is that if you use water, you have to get rid of it as well,” Fernandez said.
Still, Becvar said she feels the town’s policy is unfair to gardeners like her mother.
“It just doesn’t make sense to me, that water is just going into the ground, she’s hand watering,” she said.
Of course, the town has no way of monitoring the amount of water an individual household is putting into the sewer system, so the current policy was implemented in order to cover the added stress to the sewer system.
“A higher consumption of water affects our sewer use, and some people aren’t happy about the [sewer charge], but that’s the reality — we have to cover the costs,” Fernandez said.
With the especially dry summers that the Cowichan Valley has been facing, Fernandez said that the total water consumption within the town has been dropping as well, with residents becoming more aware of water conservation. He noted that some residents, most notably gardeners, have called the town office to complain about sewer charges, describing the group as “not huge, but very vocal.”
The Cowichan Valley Regional District has been stepping up in the past few years with several campaigns aimed at water conservation, such as the recent “new normal” campaign launched in June. The online component of the campaign contains a number of “tools” to assist in water conservation, such as a home water use calculator and a list of standard tips for reducing water consumption both inside and out of one’s home. These campaigns have been generally successful, though the recent dry weather conditions and lack of snow pack have nonetheless left the lake and river alrmingly low.
Becvar said that she has since paid for the water and sewer bill, after her mother insisted, though she still feels that the town’s policy unfairly targets certain residents.