Frequently Asked Questions
1. How much did the district’s water toll increase in 2014-2015?
Tolls increased by 2% in 2014/15 effective the July/August billing of 2014, at which time the tiered rate system for all customers came into effect.
1. How much did the district's parcel tax rates increase in 2014?
Parcel tax rates for 2014 increased by 3%, 2015 rates have increased by 1.5%. Rates for future years will be determined on a year-by-year basis.
3. Why did the water toll and parcel tax rates increase so much in the last few years?
We needed first to meet our annual operating costs. Each year these costs have increased with inflation. Plus we needed to replace old, worn out facilities and infrastructure, and continue to improve the safety and reliability of your water supply. In order to commence any replacement and improvement projects we needed a parcel tax and toll structure that will enable us to finance, and then operate, and maintain them. In other words, we need to plan for the future – for a sustainable waterworks.
In the early 2000s, in order to meet mandated treatment requirements and ensure sufficient treatment capacity, the District Trustees and management realized that rates were not sufficient to properly meet current our operating costs (as we sometimes experienced operating shortfalls) let alone provide for replacement and improvement projects. Historically, the rates were held too low for too long, forcing us to catch-up, both on rates and projects, consequently the funds available for projects are nowhere near where they need to be.
Beginning in 2007 rates were increased by about 10% each year. This increase enabled us to complete some much needed upgrades to mains and buildings, and to have the capital to incur and repay long-term debt on our loan for the aerators, and to begin building a capital base. Now that the immediate projects are complete we are seeing more growth in our capital funds and rate increases can be kept to around 3%.
4. Who determines the amount of the annual increase?
The district trustees set the amount of the increase on behalf of the ratepayers. Increases are determined based on analysis of operations costs, comsumption habits and future needs.
5. What do you use the water toll money for?
Monies collected from our water tolls are used to fund the District’s annual operating expenses.
6. What are the parcel tax monies used for?
Parcel tax monies are used partly for operating costs, to pay down long term debt on capital projects and the excess is generally held in reserve for new projects and improvements.
7. Who determines how tax money is spent?
The district staff prepare an annual operations budget for review and approval by the board of trustees. However, all expenditures for capital works, such as a new treatment plant, requiring the borrowing of funds must first be approved by the trustees and then by the district’s ratepayers through an approval process. Depending on the size and nature of the expenditure, a by-law must be passed by the Trustees and then approved by BC’s Ministry of Community, Sport and Cultural Development.
8. Why is parcel tax assessed by the size of the lot and not the number of residents per household?
We assess by lot size as determined by BC Assessment, as do many water districts. All properties in the district are assessed on this same basis, including those that are not currently connected to the water main. This is the fairest way to do it. The number of people living in a household using water is reflected in the bi-monthly water toll bill, which is based on actual water consumption by the household.
9. What is the “Court of Revision”?
Held annually, the Court of Revision is a process that allows ratepayers who feel that there has been an error made with regards to their assessed lot size to dispute their assessment. For example: The assessment states that they are a Lot Size B, and they feel they are a size A, they may bring their proof to dispute this to the Court of Revision. District rates and other issues may not be discussed at the Court. The 2015 Court of Revision will be held on Wednesday, March 4, 2015 at 1:00 pm.
10. I have a lot in the North Salt Spring Waterworks District but I do not have water service. Why do I have to pay the annual water parcel tax since I don’t receive any water?
Water parcel tax is actually part of the annual property tax a landowner pays. Provincial law allows us to collect our portion directly from the landowners in the North Salt Spring District rather than having the Minister of Finance BC or the Capital Regional District (CRD) collect it for us and then apportioning funds back to the District. This way, money collected for the water system in our District is both collected in and spent to the benefit of our District.
11. How did I get on the District Tax roll if I don’t have water service?
The District has been in operation for 100 years. At some point in time when the district boundaries were formed or expanded to include your property the owner /developer at that time would have had to pay the Capital Expenditure Charge (CEC) in order to be included in the District. For some reason they either decided not to complete the process by having a service connected or were connected and at another time opted to have the water service inactivated. However, once the Capital Expenditure Charge was paid they became part of the District and part of the District’s Water Parcel Tax roll. The lot is ready to connect or re-connect (upon payment of the applicable fees).
12. I live within the bounds of the District but do not pay the parcel tax or have water service. Why do I have to pay the CEC, install the water line and pay a connection fee to obtain service?
There are a few properties within the District boundaries that when the District was formed or later expanded opted not to install infrastructure or pay the Capital Expenditure Charge, often because the existing well was providing all the water needed. Until the Capital Expenditure Charge is paid, the lot is not part of the District tax roll and therefore not entitled to service. To become part of the District the landowner must pay the current applicable Capital Expenditure Charge, install any necessary water main service lines at their own expense, and pay the applicable fees to have a meter service installed and connected.
13. Can I opt out of the District?
No. The provincial government considers all lots within our District who have paid the Capital Expenditure Charge as part of our tax roll and therefore we are responsible for managing these accounts.
14. Is there any value in being on the parcel tax roll?
Yes, especially if you plan to sell your property. Being on the tax roll means you are, or can be, part of a utility with full-time trained staff, meeting current standards, using current technology, and benefiting from economies of scale. While you may not wish to have service a new owner may well want it. As you are already on the tax roll, typically this means the Capital Expenditure Charge has already been paid and the water line is in place on the road allowance waiting to be connected. Many prospective owners see value in this.
Treatment Plant Related
Visit the St. Mary DAF section of this website for more detailed information.
1. Why do we need new treatment plants? Aren’t the current ones adequate?
While our current treatment systems meet our current needs and water quality requirements, our St. Mary Lake plant is forty-plus years old and has reached its volume capacity. Over the last few years Health Canada has introduced more stringent guidelines for water treatment and the Vancouver Island Health Authority (VIHA) has mandated that we must improve treatment at both St. Mary Lake and Maxwell Lake. New, more sophisticated treatment processes will reduce any taste and odour issues and provide much better control when dealing with algae blooms and any other water quality issues, and will meet our regulated mandate for provision of safe drinking water.
2. What are the Benefits of a New Treatment Plant?
A modern treatment plant using the Dissolved Air Floatation (DAF) plus filtration:
1. Reduces customer health risk from cyanobacterial toxins by gently removing algal cells.
2. Reduces disinfection by-products by removing the organic material required to form disinfection by-products.
3. Reduces Giardia and Cryptosporidium parasite health risk by ultra violet primary disinfection.
4. Reduces the chlorine dosage required to maintain distribution system residual.
5. Improves water taste and odour.
6. Produces sparkling clear water even during an algal bloom.
7. Will increase both capacity and reliability of service.
3. When will the first new treatment plant be built?
It is expected that we will begin building the new St. Mary Lake plant in late 2015. VIHA has mandated that it be operational by January 1, 2016, however, they are aware that deadline cannot be met. It is expected to be up and running in late 2016.
1. Who regulates our district?
All BC improvement districts are regulated by the Ministry of Community, Sport and Cultural Development. We follow the guidelines as set out in their Improvement District Manual, which is also governed by Part 23 of BC’s Local Government Act and BC’s Community Charter.
2. How big is our district? How many customers are in the district?
The North Salt Spring Waterworks service area has approximately 50 kilometers of pipes in its distribution system covering about 2,938 hectares (7,262 acres) encompassing 2,058 properties with 1,732 metered connections extending from Southey Point in the north to near Cusheon Lake in the south, and includes Ganges, Vesuvius, and Channel Ridge, as well as many rural properties. Meter connections range in size from ¾” to 6” in diameter.
3. How many community water systems are there on the island?
There are 15 community water systems, 5 supplied from lakes and 10 from wells. This includes 6 CRD water service areas, 5 improvement districts, and 1 society. North Salt Spring Waterworks District operates its own and 6 other community water systems with our trained and experienced operators.
4. How many district trustees are there and how long do they serve?
The district is served by five (5) trustees. Each trustee serves for a three (3) year term, and may be re-elected at the end of his or her term. To provide continuity, terms are staggered, with one or two terms ending each year. One or two trustees are elected at the Annual General Meeting each year to fill the vacancies. At the first board of trustees meeting after the election the trustees elect a chairperson and vice-chair.
5. Who can be a trustee?
To be eligible to be nominated and elected as a trustee you must be a Canadian Citizen, a resident of British Columbia for the prior six months, 18 years of age or older, an owner of land in the Improvement District, and entitled to be registered as a voter under the Elections Act.
6. Who can attend a meeting of the district’s board of trustees?
Any district ratepayer may attend a regular meeting of the district’s board of trustees. Meetings are generally held the third Wednesday of each month in the District office. We ask that anyone planning to attend please advise the Office Manager at least one week ahead of time in order that time for whatever issue they wish to discuss may be placed on the agenda. In camera meetings are not open to ratepayers. In camera meetings are limited to situations where the trustees are discussing issues related to the purchase or sale of land, legal issues or personnel matters.
7. Who owns the fire hydrants in the District?
All fire hydrants in the District are owned by the Salt Spring Island Fire Protection District. The District maintains them at the Fire District’s expense.
Water Quality Related
1. How often is the water tested and what is it tested for?
Both untreated and treated water is tested for bacteriological and chemical quality following a comprehensive schedule covering many constituents and locations. The chlorine residual and turbidity is monitored continuously at the distribution system entry at both St Mary Lake and Lake Maxwell.
2. Who sets water quality guidelines?
Water quality guidelines are set by Health Canada in their “Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality”.
3. Why is the water in St. Mary Lake somethimes a funny colour and is it safe to drink?
Water discolouration is caused by algal blooms. Our treated water is safe to drink and meets Health Canada guidelines.
4. What is an algal bloom?
An algal bloom is a rapid increase or accumulation in the population of algae (typically microscopic plants) in an aquatic system. Generally, only one or a small number of phytoplankton species are involved, and some blooms may be recognized by discoloration of the water resulting from the high density of pigmented cells. Algal blooms are often green, but they can also be other colors such as yellow-brown or red, depending on the species of algae.
Freshwater algal blooms are the result of an excess of nutrients, particularly phosphorus. The excess of nutrients may originate from fertilizers that are applied to land for agricultural or recreational purposes. They may also originate from household cleaning products containing phosphorus. These nutrients can then enter watersheds through water runoff, although the primary source of phosphorus for lakes is not run-off from surrounding properties, as many would think. The element occurs naturally in sediments. Its release into the overlying water is governed by the concentration of oxygen in the lake’s bottom water. The lack of oxygen in the bottom water results in a release of soluble phosphorus which is taken up by the algae. Conversely, when there is sufficient oxygen, insoluble compounds of phosphorus form and remain, or are transferred to the sediments. Excess carbon and nitrogen have also been suspected as causes.
When phosphates are introduced into water systems, higher concentrations cause increased growth of algae and plants. Algae tend to grow very quickly under high nutrient availability, but each alga is short-lived, and the result is a high concentration of dead organic matter which starts to decay. The decay process consumes dissolved oxygen in the water, resulting in hypoxic conditions. Without sufficient dissolved oxygen in the water, animals and plants may die off in large numbers(1)
(1) Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Algal_bloom
5. What do the aerators do?
Aerators circulate oxygen to the lower levels of the lake water. Cold deep water loses its oxygen during summer. Aeration of the bottom water during the summer months provides needed oxygen to water that has become depleted due to a process called stratification
. When this happens, phosphorus that has settled into the lake bottom sediments dissolves back into the water. When the surface water temperature cools in the fall, the surface water mixes with the deep water and the deep water phosphorus mixes throughout the entire lake, leading to an annual cycle of algae blooms. Circulating oxygen to the lower depths of the lake helps to inhibits the release of phosphorus from the sediment and encourages production of the insoluble chemical forms of the element, thus reducing the blooms. (To learn more about stratification click here
6. My water is brown. What could be causing it?
Discolouration of your tap water could be caused by our flushing of the water mains, which we do annually. A notice is posted on our website and in the Driftwood advising our customers of when we are doing this and what to expect. It is only temporary and will dissipate in a short period of time. If it persists, please give us a call.
7. I noticed foam along the shoreline of the lake. What causes it? Is it harmful?
Foam occurs naturally on lakes, rivers and oceans. This BC Ministry of the Environment Fact Sheet
will assist you in understanding foam on BC waterbodies and this University of Maine
website has simple explanations and photos of things that appear on surface water.
8. I've heard that algae is a problem in other parts of Canada. Is that true?
Yes. The algae blooms that continue to plague St. Mary Lake are not unique to Salt Spring, in fact they are a concern across Canada and world-wide. Below are some links to articles to help islanders understand the breadth of this phenomenon and what’s been done about it both in Canada and abroad.
a) Health Canada – Blue-Green Algae (Cyanobacteria) and their Toxins
b) Blue-Green Algae common in Every Province
– article from the Kenora Daily Miner & News
c) Cure for blue-green algae proposed:
Montreal – The Quebec government is studying the use of artificial islands to soak up excess water-borne nutrients that are causing toxic blue-green algae to invade the province’s lakes and rivers again this year.
d) Blue-green algae concerns world experts
: At a time when blue-green algae is choking lakes in many parts of Canada, 1,500 experts from 61 countries met in Montreal to discuss the problems confronting the world’s fresh water.
e) Research paper from the Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences
: High microcystin concentrations occur only at low nitrogen-to-phosphorus ratios in nutrient-rich Canadian lakes
f) Liver toxin found in lakes of every province:
Highest concentrations of microcystin found in waters of Alberta and Manitoba – By Bob Weber, Canadian Press August 15, 2012
g) Lakes in Every Province are Becoming a Health Hazard:
August 15, 2012 o Canada.com
Want even more information? Type blue-green algae
into your search engine.
9. How much water goes into and out of St. Mary Lake each year?
This simple diagram
explains the metrics of the lake.
10. Is fluoride added to the treated water?
No. We do not add fluoride.
Our Leak Allowance Policy PDF.
Basic Leak Facts:
A toilet that leaks/runs after flushing or has a slow leak could be wasting between 4-9 gallons (20-40 litres) per hour or between approximately 35,000 – 78,000 gallons (175,000 – 350,000 litres) per year. The average garden hose delivers approximately 6 gallons (27 litres) of water per minute (360 gallons/hr., 8640 gallons/day). Be sure to turn your hose off after use and to check couplings, hoses, irrigation systems and sprinker heads for holes regularly. Even a small hole could cost you several hundred to several thousand dollars in a two month period. If you do find a leak, repair or replace the part immediately. Note: Outside taps for hoses are considered part of your irrigation system.
1. I think I have a leak. What should I do?
Sometimes a leak is obvious and you, or your plumber, may discover it yourselves. At other times it is not so obvious – perhaps you’ll notice an unexplained boggy spot in your garden during the summer and wonder what’s causing it.
In either case, call us right away. We will send one of our operators out to check your meter to see if it is spinning, which indicates that water is running constantly.
When doing our bi-monthly meter reading if we notice an abnormally high reading we will also have an operator check out your meter. If it is determined that there might be a leak we will phone you and let you know so you can have it attended to, or if it is our responsibility we will attend to it.
Please Note: We do our best to catch unusually high readings, but if we miss it and when you open your bill and find your usage has gone way up for no reason that you can think of please call us right away so we can check it out for you.
2. How can I tell if my toilet is leaking?
Try putting a few of drops of red food colouring in the tank so that the water is visibly coloured, and then watch to see if the water in the bowl starts to turn that colour. If it does, you have a leak.
3. Who is responsible for fixing a leak?
Our operator will determine if the leak is on our side of the meter, making it our responsibility to fix. If not, and the leak is on your side of the meter in your (the homeowner’s) water supply system, it is your responsibility to both find and fix the leak.
4. What is a leak allowance?
If you have a leak, and have called us to let us know about it and again when it is fixed, when we calculate your next water usage bill we may grant you a one-time leak allowance for the billing period on your next bill. It is generally based on your past history of usage at the same time of year in past years. Ratepayers are entitled to one leak allowance in a three year period. Please view our Leak Allowance Policy
for detailed information.
You think you have a leak, you call and tell us, we check it out, you do have one, it gets fixed and you let us know. When we read your meter for the “leaky period” we note that you used 10,000 gallons of water. Your normal usage, based on the same period for the prior three years is generally around 4,500 gallons. We would give you a credit/leak allowance on your bill based on a three year average of gallons used plus 10% or 20%, depending on the type of leak, minus the amount of the leak as illustrated below.
|3 yr. average for period
|10% of average
|Amount of Leak Allowance
Ratepayers are encouraged to repair leaks as soon as they are detected. It is also important not to leave hoses or faucets running.