City plans to implement utilities model to deal with storm, wastewater

Calgary City Council Chamber

There is a growing interest in the city’s plan for wastewater management after the heavy rainfall and flooding that took place in June.

The floods brought storm and wastewater-related concerns to the forefront for many who live in the city.

At a meeting of the Strategic Planning Committee on Utilities and Corporate Services on Sept. 13, aldermen discussed existing issues in storm and wastewater management.

The meeting was brief with a few motions being quickly proposed and approved. Ward 11 Ald. Brian Pincott says the City of Calgary is planning to implement a utilities model to address wastewater management in the future.

Currently, the city charges a flat rate for wastewater services, such as drainage, to all locations in the city. Under this system, it doesn’t matter how much of the service you are actually consuming. A single-family home would pay the same rate as an establishment like Chinook Mall.

Changing models

Francois Bouchart, manager of infrastructure planning with Water Services at the City of Calgary, says, “The utilities model is really based on how much utility or use of that service you’re actually consuming.”

“Under a utilities model we are able to start looking at… whether or not a single family home uses the same amount of that infrastructure as a commercial site,” says Bouchart. “And whether we should be charging different rates to those different customer classes.”

A utility model may help the city deal with the issue of funding wastewater management projects.
“Part of the strategy is figuring out how we pay for it, so that’s why you turn to a utility model,” Pincott says. “Paying for it is a big deal.”

With a utilities model, the funding for projects will simply come from the people who use them proportional to how much they use them.

So how will the city determine how much of the storm and wastewater management service someone is using?

Bouchart says one way is to simply look at the size of someone’s property.

“During a rainfall, when rainwater collects, the amount is proportional to the size of your land,” he says.

“Sept. 13, 2013 was the last time the Strategic Planning Committee on Utilities and Corporate Services will meet in Council Chambers until after the October mayoral election.” Sept. 13, 2013 was the last time the Strategic Planning Committee on Utilities and Corporate Services will meet in Council Chambers until after the October mayoral election.

Photo by Oilvia GrecuAnother way to measure usage is to determine the different types of land on someone’s property.

  1. Pervious land allows rainwater to be reabsorbed into the ground
  2. Impervious land, such as driveways and any other hard surfaces, causes rainwater to runoff into the river

“The more hard surfaces you have the more runoff off of your property you’re going to have, and the more you’re going to use the storm water services,” Bouchart says.

Changing with the waters

Ald. Pincott says the new storm water management strategies have been in progress since the floods that hit Calgary in June 2005.

“We’ve changed pretty significantly how we think about storm water in the last 10 years,” Pincott says. “The environmental regulations around it have changed a lot, we learned a lot.”

“Storm water practices were designed to simply discharge the water from communities as quickly as possible,” Bouchart says.

The city has since learned that diverting rainwater directly back into the river is not an effective strategy.

In the meantime, new communities are being built to include infrastructure designed to reduce the adverse effects of heavy rainfalls.

The Currie Barracks community, parts of which are currently under construction for residential housing, has storm water management built in. Rain gardens and low impact developments are designed to allow storm water to absorb on site. Going forward, developments like this will be incorporated into new communities.

Retrofitting communities

Many older communities are going to have to be retrofitted with rainwater management tools that weren’t put in place during construction. This has proved to be challenging and expensive.

“We spent something like $40 million in Lakeview retrofitting in storm water management,” Pincott says.

This retrofit came in the form of a large wet pond was put in North Glenmore Park. It is a good solution for that community, but as Pincott says, “we don’t have North Glenmore Parks sitting beside all the communities.”

Adding things like rain gardens can help absorb more rainwater on site, but it takes a lot of time and consultation.

Bouchart says the proposed utilities model may encourage homeowners to make their own homes more equipped to deal with heavy rainfall, as it may save them money in storm water drainage fees in the long run.

Pincott says the new strategies for storm and wastewater management were undeterred by this summer’s flooding.

“[It] hasn’t changed the workflow on the storm water management stuff. It is still on track for next year,” he says. 

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