The Village of Harrison’s $3 million municipal water infrastructure upgrade has some residents unhappy with the “compulsory” aspect of the project.
The expansion, funded mainly by provincial and federal funds – 87 per cent, to be exact– will not only connect the water treatment plant to the Village water storage reservoir, but will expand water distribution, bringing municipal water to approximately 100 Harrison homes on Pine Avenue, Lakberg Crescent, Diamond Street, Emerald Avenue and the Angus Estates.
“As a local government, the Village has been trying to provide water service to all our residents for a number of years,” said Village of Harrison Mayor Leo Facio.
“The advantages of being on municipal water include the reliability of the system and the excellent public health standards which are overseen by Fraser Health.”
But some affected residents, a majority of whom currently use well water, say they feel forced to participate in a system they don’t want.
According to the current water bylaw, impacted homeowners must make an application to connect to municipal water within 12 months of the project’s completion.
That connection will set them back $1,575 and will connect water to the property line – but not to the home itself. That’s up to homeowners, and, according to Frontier Pumps contractor Merv Porteus, could set them back another $1,500.
“I’ve been doing this for a long time,” Porteus said. “I know every municipality makes you pay for frontage when they’re putting a water line or anything past your place, but I’ve never heard of them making you connect.”
If the connection fee remains unpaid one year after connection, residents can expect to see the cost added to their property taxes – which, based on the project timeline, wouldn’t be until 2019.
But Pine Avenue resident Callie Wilson isn’t happy about the compulsory charge.
“We think this is unfair and it is going to be a financial burden to many families,” writes Wilson in a Facebook message.
The Village has a bylaw regulating well closure on properties connected to the Village system and wrote in a “frequently asked questions” document that wells must be decommissioned unless the property owner makes an application to the Village for non-domestic use – essentially for gardening or car washing.
According to bylaw no. 928, well-using homeowners who don’t make the application for non-domestic well use will have to close their well no later than 90 days after the property is connected to municipal water.
But under the provincial government’s Water Sustainability Act (WSA) municipalities don’t have the authority to require closure of wells. The Village confirmed to The Observer that it has no intention, at this time, to decommission wells on private property.
Karen Wheeler lives on McCombs Drive and is one of three property owners on the street impacted by the project.
She said her family has been using well water on their property for 11 years and isn’t interesting in switching to the municipal system.
“I would like to stick to my well,” she said. “I prefer the water, the taste of the water, the smell of the water. We bought the house with the well.”
Wheeler’s street has had a municipal water pipe running down it for years. She’s displeased about paying a fee simply to have the water connected to her property line but not to her actual home.
“If I have to pay, then I might as well get hooked up,” she said. “It doesn’t make sense.”
Some residents are thrilled about the new system. In 2016, 22 Harrison residents petitioned the Village for the upgrade.
Angus Estates resident Ed Arndt led the charge, bringing a jar of brown, sludgy well water, a used water filter and a second jar of murky tap water to a council meeting to illustrate the poor quality of well water in the area.
“You don’t know what you’re getting to drink,” Arndt said of the groundwater. “You’ve got neighbourhoods using fertilizers, using pesticides. This is 2018 now. Everybody should have potable water. People should not have to go around trying to filter everything they can.”
Still, Arndt isn’t surprised that some people are reluctant to stop using well water.
“No one wants to have an extra $280 tacked on them a year, no one wants to have to do the hookup,” he said. “But in the long run, in my opinion, it’s going to be better for everybody.”
Arndt added that, for him, eliminating the cost of monthly filter replacement and well maintenance makes municipal connection and usage fees worth the cost.
And the Village’s plan for an upgrade certainly didn’t come out of nowhere. The plan to secure provincial funding and expand municipal water distribution has been communicated since 2012 in council newsletters and meeting minutes.
At a ceremony announcing the upgrade in November, Facio said the expansion is “an economically sustainable water system where costs are shared over a larger tax base to provide good economic value to the community as a whole.”
When asked about the compulsory aspect of the project, Facio said the system is made viable by resident participation.
“Our goal is, of course, to bring all of our residents onto the water system eventually,” he said.
“But we were very glad to have the opportunity, right now, to service these 100 or so properties with senior levels of government picking up 87 per cent of the project costs. Obviously the system is funded by all users and is only viable if all the folks on the water system are required to participate.”
While the District of Kent has taken a different approach to water extensions –with property connection at the discretion of the homeowner – Harrison’s other municipal neighbour, Hope, also has compulsory connection bylaws for residents.
Hope’s bylaw no. 1271 reads that any parcel of land with a building on a street where there is a district waterline must connect within one year of being notified, and failure to do so gives agency to the district to make the connection at the owner’s expense.
The Village of Harrison emphasizes that residents should bring any and all of their concerns or confusions to the Village, either in person at 495 Hot Springs Rd. or by phone at 604- 796-2171.