Four years in, 99 per cent of Kamloops is connected to water meters and the City is coming to terms with the final one per cent.
Those who have held out — including many who refused smart meters over health concerns — are facing financial punishment, and that is philosophically offensive, says a Kamloops lawyer.
“Why are you treating citizens that way?” Shawn Buckley asks.
Roughly 50 property owners who have illegally bypassed the smart meters will be told they must fix the offending plumbing by June 30, 2016, or pay a $250 fine initially. That fine goes up to a maximum of $1,000 per quarter if they do not comply.
Another 150 homeowners who have, for a variety of reasons, resisted meters, can also expect some utility-bill sticker shock in the coming months.
Warning letters are going out in the third and fourth quarter notifying them that they must get with the program or see an extra $945 — $3,780 a year — tacked onto their utility bills.
When the matter arose during a City council update on the water meter program, some councillors wondered aloud whether they’re being too forgiving with the final one percent. They were concerned about equitable treatment of the 99 percent who are connected.
“From my point of view, the $945 billing would get their attention quickly,” said Coun. Marg Spina. “Otherwise we’re treating people differently and we don’t have the same process (for all).”
Utlities director Jen Fretz told council that 20,960 water meters have been installed since the program began in 2011. The program has proven to have been an effective at water conservation. Average daily use has dropped by about a third, from 149 million litres to 105 million litres, despite city growth and the expansion of the system.
“I think it’s fantastic that we have meters in place,” said Coun. Tina Lange. Without them, the City’s reservoirs would be tapped out due to the hot summer, she added.
Fretz said there are two challenges remaining, though — the meter refuseniks and the cheaters. The supposed cheaters drew most attention.
“You would be surprised at the creativity that has shown itself through our investigation,” she said. “I would say it’s a robust scenario but there definitely some creative solutions.”
Some offenders have been discovered by alert neighbours, she said. Often water is diverted for irrigation and indoor use is still captured by the meter.
About 2,000 or 10 per cent of homeowners, only half the number expected, opted for the pit installation of their water meters, which have to be manually read.
Fretz said the city is showing patience with remaining one percent because of the timing of the notices. The third and fourth quarter are not ideal for doing outdoor plumbing work.
Mayor Peter Milobar suggested the City should be patient.
“This has been a slow phasing period,” he noted. “We’re making strides toward where we need to be. The only significant volume (not on meters) is irrigating.”
Buckley is among homeowners who elected to have their meters manually read. He vehemently objects to the City's approach of forced compliance.
“I find it philosophically offensive,” said the lawyer, who has a particular interest in health and consumer-interest issues. “People who are concerned about their health and want to be responsible are going to be forcibly punished so they can’t be.”
Senior citizens were among the homeowners who had health concerns and refused the installation. People on fixed incomes will now be financially forced to comply. Buckley said there were a couple of cases in the city where homeowners became disabled after the meters were installed.
“I was getting calls from people who were absolutely becoming disabled. They put the analog meters back in because people were screaming about it,” he said.
He drew an analogy with the public health response to asbestos and smoking, where the precautionary principle has been applied due to the demonstrable health risks. No such standard has been applied with the proliferation of electromagnetic fields.
Despite health concerns, authorities are not only ignoring the precautionary principle, they are forcing people to comply against their judgment of what threatens their health, he said.
If the purpose of water metering is cost recovery for delivery of that water, why not accommodate people with health concerns, he asked.
“Why force them into a situation where they feel threatened?”
Some consumer advocates fought back with the widespread introduction of smart meters over the past five years, but after initial protests the backlash has largely relented, the battle is lost, he noted.
Buckley counts himself among those who are deeply concerned about radiation overexposure through electromagnetic fields. With the rapid spread of the technology, downtown Kamloops is a hot zone. He’s moving out of the city.
“I’m fully intending on doing that for that specific reason.”