Tuesday, April 2, 2024

We Need a New Deal for Water and Sewage Treatment Projects in Metro Vancouver

Water Pipe

Two Fridays ago, the Metro Vancouver Regional District released an update stating that the North Shore Wastewater Treatment Plant will cost $3.86 billion to build and be in service by 2030. The original project cost was around $700 million, and it was to be in service by 2020. Many folks have provided commentary about the challenges of this project; I wanted to focus on the overall costs of water and sewage treatment in our region.

Sewage treatment is a significant regional district service, though you wouldn't see it directly on your property tax bill. The line item for Metro Vancouver on your property tax bill mainly funds regional parks and other regional services. Water and sewer costs are embedded into the cost of new construction through development cost charges and are part of your municipal water and sewer fees.

For example, about 40% of the Development Cost Charges applied to each new apartment unit in Langley City go to the Metro Vancouver Regional District for water and sewer service, and about 50% of the water and sewer fees for Langley City also go to the Metro Vancouver Regional District.

For Metro Vancouver Regional District sewer services, our region has five sewerage areas based on wastewater treatment plants. Langley City is in the Fraser Sewerage Area, while the North Shore is in a different sewerage area. Currently, costs are not shared among sewerage areas. For today, this means that the North Shore Wastewater Treatment Plant project costs would only impact North Shore property owners. Around 200,000 live on the North Shore, meaning these folks would have massive property tax increases to pay for the North Shore Wastewater Treatment Plant.

Now, there are other significant wastewater treatment projects throughout the region with costs similar to or greater than those of the North Shore Wastewater Treatment Plant, including those that serve Langley City.

Some of these costs are due to federal regulations, and others are due to population growth. Certainly, we need to ensure that the Metro Vancouver Regional District can deliver projects as cost-effectively as possible. We may also need to consider whether sewerage areas still make sense, but this will not solve the growing financial capacity problem with property tax and development charges.

We use development charges and property tax to pay for regional, municipal, and TransLink services and projects. We are having conversations as a region about how we need the province and feds to do more to help financially with transit. We need to have the same conversation about water and sewer because, looking at the needs, I cannot see property tax and development charges as the primary ways we fund these projects.

I am happy to see that the federal government is increasingly understanding that they must play a bigger role in funding these basic infrastructure needs.

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