It's far from free

Alisha Morrissey
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Officials urge people to start thinking about how much clean water costs

In the lobby of the Bay Bulls Big Pond water treatment plant sits a retro-beige boxy drinking fountain.

It works like any other - turn the knob and a spout of water arcs out.

The fountain isn't special, but the tiny arc of water that gushes out has new significance once you've learned about the miles of pipe overhead and underfoot, and seen the massive pools of water and the technology needed to get that fresh sip of water to a thirsty person.

From pond to tap, raw water from Bay Bulls Big Pond takes four hours to be processed into potable drinking water from the facility (below). The Bay Bulls Big Pond Water Treatment Plant provides all the water to Mount Pearl, Paradise, Conception Bay South,

In the lobby of the Bay Bulls Big Pond water treatment plant sits a retro-beige boxy drinking fountain.

It works like any other - turn the knob and a spout of water arcs out.

The fountain isn't special, but the tiny arc of water that gushes out has new significance once you've learned about the miles of pipe overhead and underfoot, and seen the massive pools of water and the technology needed to get that fresh sip of water to a thirsty person.

That was the message Tuesday when the regional water committee announced there's no need for a water ban this summer, but that dry weather and abuse of the water supply could lead to one.

In the bowels of the plant, where rooms are several degrees colder, massive tanks that look like in-ground pools are filled to different levels. Looking down several metres, most of the water is clear enough to permit a view of parallel lengths of pipe below.

Another tank rapidly fills with green, goopy liquid, as staff explain over the hum of the machinery how filters remove algae and other gunk from the water and flush it out of the tanks.

Down a flight of metal stairs five massive, retro-looking motors drone, but the vibration underfoot is actually from water rushing into the building to be cleaned for public consumption.

All the floors are painted with several coats of shiny grey paint, pipes of every size snake this way and that, up from floors and joined to one another to monitors with big round red and green buttons, like in the cartoons.

The treatment plant is also home to a lab that frequently tests water quality, as well as the quality of water from other pumping stations in the region.

A beaker overflows with constantly running water - some of the only drinkable water onsite aside from the fountain in the lobby. A scuba diving calendar near the door makes the sterile lab seem a little homier.

The city's head engineer jokes that there's a distinct aquatic theme in the building.

The facility has seen recent upgrades, with more coming, for a total investment of $58 million. That's not including a $29-million bill for construction at the new Petty Harbour-Long Pond water source.

Those figures are just a drop in the bucket compared to what's been spent on water projects over the years, say plant officials. Add to all of that the four-hour process and copious amounts of energy it takes to make water potable and the costs increase exponentially.

But no matter how much the region spends on increasing water capacity and filtration, no one can make it rain or snow to fill up the ponds.

The only solution to future water shortages is to conserve now, says regional water committee chairwoman Shannie Duff.

"It's not just pumping water out of the pond. The infrastructure and the treatment is very expensive, so when you're wasting water or using potable water ... for any and all the purposes that use water there is a cost to the municipality that has to be passed onto the taxpayer," Duff says.

People need to think differently about water, she added.

Duff says water levels at Bay Bulls Big Pond last year were down near 29 feet.

This year they're up to 36 feet, but not because people have been conserving, says the City of St. John's director of engineering Walt Mills.

"Even if we have all the (water) in the world, there's still a significant and considerable cost for water. Every litre that you use, whether it's to brush your teeth, to flush your toilet or water your lawn, costs money.

"We have to start thinking about water like we think about electricity ... It's not a free commodity you can waste."

amorrissey@thetelegram.com

Geographic location: St. John's

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Recent comments

  • Adam
    July 02, 2010 - 13:32

    Just start charging for water usage. Let my invisible hand guide people's use. Want people to use water more prudently? Charge them for using it.

  • Taxpayer
    July 02, 2010 - 13:29

    I don't think having drinking water is wasting anything. As for the washing of cars, the city could look to having locations where untreated water could be supplied for this use. Individual residents have no other choice. They have still not explained the ban last year satisfactorily. Anyone who is familiar with other ponds in the area knows that these ponds had a health supply even in July 2009. Therefore the statement that a ban will not be needed this year should be taken with a bit of scepticism.

  • Busy Bayman
    July 02, 2010 - 13:26

    R, everyone in NL knows there's no shortage of fresh water ponds. That's not the message she is trying to get across. She is trying to make people aware of the cost of consumption, not a potential shortage issue. Obviously the more we use the more it costs the municipalities. Eventually that will lead to increase in taxes. We can pump from one pond into another all the ways from the west coast but that won't change the $/l it costs to supply potable water, if anything it'll increase it. People should really get into rainwater collection for gardening use. Chlorinated water is not really the best anyways. But until we start to get charged for usage, as we do for other commodities and utilities, we won't get into conservation mode. St. John's is actually way behind other larger cities in Canada in metering water. An idea, wash your cars during rain storms, it's actually quite fun.

  • R
    July 02, 2010 - 13:22

    Conservation is a great idea but the city should look ahead. With all the construction going on, there must be other sources of water in the area that could be connected to service the new construction. We can't control the weather and not everybody will conserve but we can connect to other ponds. If not, dig a hole and make one.

  • Marie
    July 02, 2010 - 13:18

    No matter how hard we try to get the message across about conserving water, and how much we make announcements and suggestions and advice, some people are still just not going to conserve water. In all the rain we've had the past couple of weeks, I noticed a neighbor off Old Pennywell Road area had on his backyard sprinkler most days, even though we were overwhelmed with rain, drizzle, and fog.

  • Jason
    July 02, 2010 - 13:11

    Interesting:
    Last week I was looking at mil rates and water taxes from the city website showing information since 1982. Those stats have now been replaced with only 2009 and 2010. I'm confident that with the newest announcement around water and tax they decided that its probably best to hide how much they have increased the water tax over recent years.

    Last weeks link (no longer found on city web page, at least not that I can find):
    http://www.stjohns.ca/cityservices/taxes/millrates.jsp

    New link from the city web site:
    http://www.stjohns.ca/cityservices/taxes/currenttax.jsp

    Despite the city growth every year in population, our city council still have managed to increase the water tax by $265 dollars over 5 years!

    And you can be sure that city council will justify it saying that theyve lowered the mil rate by roughly $0.02 during the same five years. For those that do not know how the mil rate is used in your property tax calculation, it is simply how my cents you pay per thousand dollars on your property assessment. Again interesting time that Shannie Duff on last nights new stated that they will be doing property assements every year now to ensure that if you property value drops that you will benefit. Once again, the rich getting richer and poor getting poor. God help us!

  • billy
    July 02, 2010 - 13:09

    Last summer during the water shortage I noticed that an automatic no touch car wash was running flat out using untold millions of treated water, but I was not allowed to water my lawn. I could understand if this car wash created employment, but as I mentioned, it was operated automatically. Go figure !!!

  • John Smith
    July 02, 2010 - 13:08

    Don't worry Duff, every time we receive a bill from the city asking for more money for the water we know how much it costs. It just went up another 50 bucks. As far as bay Bulls big pond is concerned the question I have is why is there a hydro electric generation station there? Every day hundreds of thousands of gallons pour out of this pond to generate electricity. Is there another city in the world that does this?? It seems really stupid to me to talk about water conservation etc. when NL power uses this water to make electricity.

  • Adam
    July 01, 2010 - 20:20

    Just start charging for water usage. Let my invisible hand guide people's use. Want people to use water more prudently? Charge them for using it.

  • Taxpayer
    July 01, 2010 - 20:17

    I don't think having drinking water is wasting anything. As for the washing of cars, the city could look to having locations where untreated water could be supplied for this use. Individual residents have no other choice. They have still not explained the ban last year satisfactorily. Anyone who is familiar with other ponds in the area knows that these ponds had a health supply even in July 2009. Therefore the statement that a ban will not be needed this year should be taken with a bit of scepticism.

  • Busy Bayman
    July 01, 2010 - 20:14

    R, everyone in NL knows there's no shortage of fresh water ponds. That's not the message she is trying to get across. She is trying to make people aware of the cost of consumption, not a potential shortage issue. Obviously the more we use the more it costs the municipalities. Eventually that will lead to increase in taxes. We can pump from one pond into another all the ways from the west coast but that won't change the $/l it costs to supply potable water, if anything it'll increase it. People should really get into rainwater collection for gardening use. Chlorinated water is not really the best anyways. But until we start to get charged for usage, as we do for other commodities and utilities, we won't get into conservation mode. St. John's is actually way behind other larger cities in Canada in metering water. An idea, wash your cars during rain storms, it's actually quite fun.

  • R
    July 01, 2010 - 20:06

    Conservation is a great idea but the city should look ahead. With all the construction going on, there must be other sources of water in the area that could be connected to service the new construction. We can't control the weather and not everybody will conserve but we can connect to other ponds. If not, dig a hole and make one.

  • Marie
    July 01, 2010 - 19:59

    No matter how hard we try to get the message across about conserving water, and how much we make announcements and suggestions and advice, some people are still just not going to conserve water. In all the rain we've had the past couple of weeks, I noticed a neighbor off Old Pennywell Road area had on his backyard sprinkler most days, even though we were overwhelmed with rain, drizzle, and fog.

  • Jason
    July 01, 2010 - 19:48

    Interesting:
    Last week I was looking at mil rates and water taxes from the city website showing information since 1982. Those stats have now been replaced with only 2009 and 2010. I'm confident that with the newest announcement around water and tax they decided that its probably best to hide how much they have increased the water tax over recent years.

    Last weeks link (no longer found on city web page, at least not that I can find):
    http://www.stjohns.ca/cityservices/taxes/millrates.jsp

    New link from the city web site:
    http://www.stjohns.ca/cityservices/taxes/currenttax.jsp

    Despite the city growth every year in population, our city council still have managed to increase the water tax by $265 dollars over 5 years!

    And you can be sure that city council will justify it saying that theyve lowered the mil rate by roughly $0.02 during the same five years. For those that do not know how the mil rate is used in your property tax calculation, it is simply how my cents you pay per thousand dollars on your property assessment. Again interesting time that Shannie Duff on last nights new stated that they will be doing property assements every year now to ensure that if you property value drops that you will benefit. Once again, the rich getting richer and poor getting poor. God help us!

  • billy
    July 01, 2010 - 19:44

    Last summer during the water shortage I noticed that an automatic no touch car wash was running flat out using untold millions of treated water, but I was not allowed to water my lawn. I could understand if this car wash created employment, but as I mentioned, it was operated automatically. Go figure !!!

  • John Smith
    July 01, 2010 - 19:43

    Don't worry Duff, every time we receive a bill from the city asking for more money for the water we know how much it costs. It just went up another 50 bucks. As far as bay Bulls big pond is concerned the question I have is why is there a hydro electric generation station there? Every day hundreds of thousands of gallons pour out of this pond to generate electricity. Is there another city in the world that does this?? It seems really stupid to me to talk about water conservation etc. when NL power uses this water to make electricity.