How Blue is Your Bottom Line?
August 28, 2012
UN 'Water for Life' Best Water Management Practices Award
August 24, 2012
A sustainable water strategy is good for business
July 27, 2012
The 3rd Annual Canadian Water Summit Report
July 23, 2012
Time to plug biggest leak in city's budget bucket
December 28, 2010
A resource worth more attention
September 4, 2010
Water sources do not obey political boundaries
September 3, 2010
By Thomas S. Axworthy
President and CEO, Walter and Duncan Gordon Foundation
Reprinted from the Toronto Star
Leaks are not surprising given the average age of water mains in Toronto is 55 years and that a quarter are 80 years or older. Toronto Water is the municipal operator responsible for water distribution in Toronto and, according to the Conference Board of Canada, it faces an infrastructure deficit of $1.85 billion. Indeed, a Nov. 12, 2010, article in the Star by Raveena Aulakh, “The Digging Begins on Avenue Rd,” estimates the cost of replacing 5.4 kilometres of water mains will be $60 million alone!
Furthermore, this deficit does not even account for the vast amounts of energy needed to distribute water. While the TTC budget has been targeted for cost reductions, there is an even better way to save money: water! Toronto Water’s energy costs are the highest of all municipal services, more than the Toronto Transit Commission and five times the energy consumed by all of the city’s street lights and traffic signals.
While the city has taken positive steps toward improving its management of water infrastructure, it currently lacks a long-term vision and strategy to ensure the sustainable provision of clean water for the next 50 years. Mayor Ford and council should adopt the following action plan:
First, fix the leaks. As much as 25 per cent of the water in the system is leaking and this costs the city an estimated $700 million annually, which is the equivalent of 100 new streetcars. Fixing the leaks should be covered by a city’s water rates, but in Toronto — as with many Canadian cities — water rates have been kept low, leading to underinvestment in water infrastructure. Just because water falls from the sky, does not mean that money grows on trees. There are costs for the infrastructure beneath our feet that brings safe water to our taps.
Second, Toronto Water has been incrementally increasing water rates by 9 per cent a year (about $4 a month on the average water bill) for the past couple of years to support water infrastructure investment. This is a positive step and will offset risks to public health and the environment. At the same time, the impact of the rate changes should be mitigated by instituting protections for low-income households and charging premiums on water guzzlers.
Third, the city should build on the existing Livegreen Toronto Strategy and ramp up its water conservation plan to ensure water infrastructure is used efficiently and water-related energy costs reduced. Green infrastructure is needed to do this.
Toronto’s green-roof bylaw and incentive program is seen as a model for cities around the world and similar incentives should be created for rainwater harvesting, constructed wetlands and urban forests. During heavy rains, these natural systems ease the pressure on water pipes and reduce sewage overflows into Lake Ontario, so that Torontonians can enjoy the city’s beaches without running into the 9.9 billion litres of raw sewage and runoff that was discharged into Lake Ontario and the Don River in 2006.
Fourth, the city should capitalize on the province’s push to create a world-class water sector in Ontario, spearheaded by the proposed Water Opportunities and Water Conservation Act. Toronto already has a number of leading edge water companies. This sector cannot only be seeded to find local solutions to the city’s water challenges, but also be a player in the global water businesses, predicted to be worth $1 trillion by 2020.
Toronto’s leaky pipes are symptomatic of a city with many policy gaps to fill. Fixing Toronto’s water policy will be a crucial first step for Mayor Ford.
Thomas S. Axworthy is President and CEO of the Walter and Duncan Gordon Foundation.