(September 2019) A survey of city council members and mayors in Metro Vancouver reveals that support for stronger action on water metering policies is high among city leadership (Full Report).
Water meters – a simple gadget that measures how much water you use in your home – are common in most cities in North America, but they are rare in Metro Vancouver. Water meters are essential to detect leaks and to bill consumers for the water they use. Without a water meter, you can leave your faucet running all day and night and it will not make any difference to your water bill. In fact, the city will not even know about your excessive use.
Because water metering is not high on the political agenda, it is difficult to gage the views of city council members on this policy decision. Experts, environmentalists, city staff, regional planners, provincial officials and the general public, are generally unaware how city council might respond to proposals about water metering. Moreover, city staff or regional planners may not know the underlying reasons behind a council member’s policy position in favour or against a proposal. Thus, it is important to understand both what the council member’s position might be, and the values and arguments that sustain these views.
Researchers at the School of Community and Regional Planning at the University of British Columbia set out to learn about the views of the 131 city council members and mayors in Metro Vancouver. Through an online survey this summer, they found that 68% of surveyed council members in Metro Vancouver are in favour of mandatory water metering while only 19% are against.
Furthermore an overwhelming majority of council members are in favour of exploring the benefits of water metering in their city, especially among those who are undecided on mandatory water metering.
The research is timely as a new council was elected in October 2018, and there is little knowledge about the opinion of this body of decision-makers on this issue.
Pascal Volker, the lead researcher on the report noted, “We were surprised to see that the support for the water metering was so strong. Council members were especially interested in data that water meters can generate and the way in which water meters can contribute to wise resource use and sustainability”.
Approximately 80% of surveyed council members agree that water metering generates valuable data for city management and is an efficient tool for water conservation and sustainability. The researchers conclude that these arguments could mobilize support amongst council members that currently are against or undecided on mandatory water metering.
The study finds that most elected council members and mayors are in favour of mandatory water metering, while only a minority are against the idea. Support for metering is especially high in cities that already have mandatory or semi-mandatory policies. In municipalities where there is currently no metering policy in place, the study finds that there are council members who are in favour of the idea and might be champions for the issue.
The survey also reveals which arguments are most compelling for elected officials. Arguments about sustainable resource use and the value of the data collected seem to have broad appeal and may be the most effective in mobilizing support for a mandatory water metering policy. In contrast, arguments about fair rate structures or pay for service approaches might not mobilize support beyond council members that are already in favour of mandatory water metering. Arguments about the possible impacts on housing costs or the management burden of metering do not seem to be a barrier to rolling out a metering policy, although more research on these impacts could influence the debate.
Dr. Jordi Honey-Rosés, co-author and faculty member at UBC noted “One of the key takeaways from this study is that there appears to be the political will for exploring and implementing water meters in Metro Vancouver”.
Cite Report as
Volker, P. & J. Honey-Rosés 2019. The political climate for stronger action on water metering policies in Metro Vancouver: A survey of elected council members and mayors. Water Planning Lab, School of Community and Regional Planning, University of British Columbia.(Link)