Water Meter FAQ

Why did the City institute water meters?

To provide a more equitable system, Council was concerned that smaller families, especially seniors and those on fixed incomes, were subsidizing large families and the commercial sector.

With a Meter Utility, your cost is based on your consumption.

Why have I not saved under the water meter system?

If you are consuming more than 26 cubic meters per month then you will be paying more than under the former flat rate system.

Statistics Canada reports that the average person uses approximately nine (9) cubic meters per month. The average household in Niagara Falls is 2.5 people per household. Therefore, the average use should be 23 cubic meters.

What is 26 cubic meters?

  • One cubic meter = 1,000 litres.
  • 1,000 litres = 220 gallons
  • At 220 gallons per meter, 26 cubic meters = 5,720 gallons

I hardly use any water yet my consumption is high. How come?

You may have a leak in your plumbing or a running toilet. Certain activities like doing many loads of laundry contribute inordinately to consumption rates.

How can I tell if I have a leak?

The easiest way to determine if there is a leak is to make sure all the taps are turned off in the house and that there is no water being used (including humidifiers, air conditioners and ice machines).

Go to the water meter and if the red triangle located on the top of the meter is moving then there is a leak somewhere in the plumbing.

How can I check for a leaky toilet?

Go to the toilet tank and listen for water running.

Place some food dye in the tank at the back of the toilet bowl and if the colouring makes it way into the bowl, providing no one has used the toilet, then the toilet is leaking water.

What can I do to decrease my consumption?

  • Use a low flow shower nozzle.
  • According to Environment Canada, a low flow showerhead can decrease one's consumption by 50% or more.
  • Do not use the toilet to dispose of dry waste.
  • Keep a daily log of how you are using water (i.e., lawn watering, car washing, how many times the toilet is used, how many showers are taken in a day and how much laundry is being done) and reduce the frequency if possible.
  • Use a bucket with a sponge plus a trigger nozzle on the hose to wash your vehicle. Compared to a running hose, you will save about 300 litres of water.
  • Make sure you are doing a full load of laundry and the dishwasher is full when you use it.

Has anyone actually saved under the new system?

YES. Based on the first two billing periods, 62% of homeowners are consuming 26 cubic meters per month or less.

Note, homeowners should expect that their consumption over the summer months will be higher due to normal seasonal habits.

How does the City determine the rates?

The cost to the water and sewer system are made up of:

  • the charges from the Region for the purchase of water and the treatment of sanitary sewage
  • The bill shows - Service Charge - Water, Sewer.
  • maintenance costs incurred by the City
  • the capital costs, i.e., replacing old pipes
  • the preparation of the bills and their collection.

Why is there a difference between the water rate the City charges vs. the Region rate?

Not all of the water that is pumped from the Regions water treatment plant makes it to the customers in Niagara Falls. Water is lost throughout the system.

Have the meters in Niagara Falls homes been accurate?

There have been relatively few problems with the meters. In fact, the meters in homes probably under read by 3%. This is an allowable standard and is factored in when setting the rates for water consumption.

Why is there a difference between the sewer rate the City charges vs. the Region rate?

There is ground water that leaks into the sanitary system.

30% of the sanitary sewer system in Niagara Falls is still combined. What this means is that there is one pipe from the street that collects both sanitary sewage and storm water off the roads. Accordingly, not only does the City have to treat the sewage that the customers contribute to the system we also have a considerable amount of storm water entering the system that needs to be treated. The City is responsible for the cost of treatment of storm water.

What is the City doing to resolve the problem of its aging infrastructure?

Unfortunately, 30-40% of the City still has the dated combined sewers found, naturally, in the older sections of the City.

The cost to separate all of these combined sewers is in the neighbourhood of $100 million.

The 2001 budget allocated $2.3 million to the sewer separation program. Obviously, it will be some time before all sewers in the City are separated.

Why is the sewer charge based on consumption?

It is the most common method of determining sewer usage in Ontario.

This method was recommended by the City's consultant as the most equitable way of charging consumers for sewage because it is based on the amount of water used.

Some municipalities place sewage charges on their tax bills. When such a method is used, the sewage rates are determined by assessment value of the home. Using water consumption rates seems to be a more logical way of determining these charges.

If the sewer charges were to go on the tax bills what would the results be?

A resident's tax bill could increase 30%. (Of course, the water bill would decrease).

Because of Provincial capping requirements (certain classes of taxes can only rise a certain percentage per year), homeowners would be subsidizing the sewer charges of commercial classes.

Is the residential sector currently subsidizing the commercial sector?

No. Under the former flat rate system residential customers contributed about 59% of the revenues of water bills despite the fact that usage is split fairly evenly between the two groups.

The user-based water meter system has helped rectify this inequity.

Why am I charged so much when not all of the water I use goes into the sewer?

Other than the summer months, more than 90% of the water usage in a home ends up the sanitary sewer.

Also, the City needs to raise funds to pay for the water that is entering the sewer system for which the City is billed by the Region when it is treated at the sewage treatment plant.

How much profit does the City make under this new system?

None. Any gain or loss experienced is put into the next year's budget.

The water and sewer bill is not used as a profit centre for the City. The rates that we charge are to cover all the cost to operate the water and sewer system.

How does the City's sewage treatment cost compare to other municipalities in the Region? Why the difference?

All the Municipalities within the Region pay the same rate for water and the treatment of sewage. The difference in total is dependent on the amount of water purchased and the amount of sewage that needs to be treated.

The City is the third highest in the Region based on the percentage of sewage treated versus water consumed. The reason for this is because of a higher preponderance of older leaky pipes and more combined sewers.

What are the fixed charges on the bill for?

These are known as ready to serve charges and they include:

  • the Capital Works Program (the replacement of existing sewers and watermains and decombining areas served by the old combined sewers)
  • debt
  • maintenance, which includes employees wages
  • cost of the water meter
  • billing and collection costs

Why am I now paying service charges?

Homeowners were always paying these charges, however, before they were a part of the flat rate charges.

We have decided to give the taxpayers a better understanding of where their money is going.

Why was the public was not informed of the changes?

The public was informed in 1999, when Council approved Schlumberger as the contractor for the meter installation.

Two public open houses were held prior to the implementation of the meter installation program.

A flyer was distributed to the residents notifying them of the change.

In late 2000, information was provided with the water and sewer bill indicating the changes and how the resident could determine what the impact would be on them.

A pamphlet, sent to residents, also indicated water conserving techniques.

In addition, information was shared and discussed twice on the Mayor's "Call In Show".

What kind of research was done in determining the rates?

Acres and Associates carried out a study, which included a survey of the public's attitude, on behalf of the municipality.

What kind of research was done in determining the rates?

Acres and Associates carried out a study, which included a survey of the public's attitude, on behalf of the municipality.

A public advisory committee was formed which included test homes.

In early 2000, R.M. Louden Limited, a consultant, was hired by the City to determine an appropriate rate structure.

Why are the water bills for Niagara Falls higher than other municipalities?

The bills are calculated differently.

Some municipalities place the sewer charges on the resident's tax bill.

In addition, the age of our system and the fact that 30% of our system is combined sewers results in higher costs.

Many lawns are brown this summer. Wouldn't we have been better off under the flat rate system?

Had we been under the flat rate system there would have been no impediment in watering one's lawn; however, in all likelihood there would have been a watering ban as was experienced in other Municipalities in the Region.

The water treatment plant would not have been able to keep up with the demand of people watering their lawns.

In addition if the City was still on the flat rate system in all likelihood we would have been in a deficit situation in regard to cost exceeding revenues for 2001.

How much water does my lawn actually need?

Not as much as people realize.

Many gardeners are too generous, often providing twice the amount the lawn really needs. Most grasses need 1 to 2 inches of water per week (except when rainfall makes up the difference).