URBAN SPRAWL

 
The following letters to the editor were written in the course of a debate with my friend Nils Jensen, the Oak Bay Councillor who is Chair of the Greater Victoria Water Board, about the provision of water to outlying communities and whether the receiving communities should be subsidized by other areas.

Water in the Highlands

Nils Jensen understates the significance of the water board’s decision to supply water to Highlands at a rate that does not consider the costs of delivery (“Young’s argument out of bounds”, September 10). The Capital Region board has already approved (narrowly) Highland’s request to allow the Bear Mountain subdivision (although unless all of the councils of the region also give approval for growth outside the regional containment boundary the project will, at the least, be delayed). Unless it is reversed, the water board’s decision will inevitably apply to Bear Mountain as it expands within Highlands.

The water board’s decision already means that all customers will pay higher prices so that Highlands can attract more easily the commercial and industrial users it wants to expand its tax base. Good for Highlands residents, of course, but does it really make regional economic sense if it means water rates go up everywhere else to help pay for it?

I suspect that, if asked, Highlands would have been willing to accept the same “user pay” principle for water that the capital region already uses for regional sewers. All the more surprising that the water board has rushed to grab the bill before even giving Highlands a chance to pick it up.

The following was written in response to an editorial commenting on my stance.

If it were really true (your editorial on “Parochial thinking”) that the core area’s generosity in helping to pay to expand the water system to outlying areas will be repaid, we would long ago have received help with our downtown police and social costs. The core municipalities once owned the entire watershed, dam and other assets worth scores of millions. We haven’t asked to be compensated for sharing ownership of the system, but it does seem unfair that we also have to subsidize the cost of new development outside the core.

More important is the impact on the environment, though. If the water board adopted a “user pay” system, denser areas that are cheaper to service would not subsidize the extension of the service into costly-to-serve suburban areas such as Bear Mountain and Sooke. The larger lots in those areas consume more water, working against the water district’s conservation policies, and the car travel they generate also put a greater burden on our road and public transit systems.

The amounts involved are substantial – Victoria’s share of the new Sooke pipeline will probably be over $5 million and Esquimalt’s over $1 million. If we are going to have a single municipality we can all pitch in on everything. What is not reasonable is the “selective amalgamation” the water board is advocating – the low density municipalities don’t contribute to the costs of the downtown, but do expect the downtown to help them pay for expensive utility services when they need them.