Michelle de Jaray stands by the water meter she never asked for, which cost her more than $1,300 in utility fees last year. Grace Kennedy photo

Lower Mainland resident says high water meter fee an ‘injustice’

Michelle de Jaray never signed up for Delta’s voluntary water meter program, but can’t get off it

North Delta resident Michelle de Jaray is an involuntary participant in Delta’s voluntary water meter program. She has been charged more for water than she thinks is fair, and she isn’t happy with how the city has dealt with her complaints.

Shortly after de Jaray bought her house in 2015, she was surprised to find a water meter being installed in her home.

“I came home one day and just saw somebody digging up the driveway, and I asked them what they were doing and they said they were installing a water meter.”

According to de Jaray, the previous owners had requested the water meter some time before, but because of delays it wasn’t installed until after she had possession of the house.

At the time, de Jaray said, she called to city to ask for it to be removed. She talked to Rob Racine, a staff member in the department of engineering who no longer works at the city, who suggested she try the program. De Jaray said he told her she would be able to opt out if she wasn’t happy with it.

Delta’s water meter program has been in place since 2007 and is instituted on a voluntary basis for single family homes. According to Director of Engineering Steven Lan, about 5,500 residential homes are on the water meter program. New homes are automatically added to the program.

In the water meter program, the rate does not exceed the flat utility rate for its first year of use — which is what de Jaray experienced in 2016. (She actually paid less than unmetered users in 2016.) In subsequent years, the water charge moves to a fully consumption-based rate.

Over the past year, de Jaray has been charged $1,317.89 for her water and sewer. July and October saw the highest fee: $796.48 for the two utilities ($463.22 for her water use). The unmetered utility fee for combined water and sewer would have been $851 for the year.

“It was a shock to get that bill,” she said. She decided to dispute it.

According to Delta’s website, the average household uses 270 litres of water per day per person. In de Jaray’s house of three and a half — her partner is at home 14 days each month — that would equal around 116 cubic meters in each four month period.

Between July and October, her actual usage was 393 cubic meters, which was significantly higher than in winter. Her annual water usage, averaged over the year, falls around 166 cubic meters.

According to Lan, de Jaray’s summer use was quite high — she has a garden in her backyard which uses a soaker hose irrigation system. He noted that the city would be able work with her on adjusting her bill if a leak was discovered on her property. In the department’s communications with de Jaray this past winter, they offered to check her property for leaks, which she declined.

“When you’ve turned off the water for the winter, I’m not going to start digging in the back under snow to try to find a leak,” she said.

Lan said the city is eager to help homeowners like de Jaray, but checking for leaks and offering options to help reduce water consumption is about all they can do.

“We really don’t have a provision to look at removing people from the program,” he said. “Really as a municipality we are moving towards ensuring that people are being meterd and that everyone pays based on their consumption.

“For the people who have existing homes and joined the voluntary program, they made a commitment to be part of it.”

Because de Jaray was disputing the fee, she did not pay it. All fees that are unpaid at the end of the year are moved to tax arrears in Delta, which meant the utility fee, late fee and interest were added to her property tax.

Now, de Jaray isn’t sure what to do. She expects she’ll have to borrow money to pay the fee in her taxes.

“I see this as an injustice,” she said. “A single mother with two young kids. No pool in the back. Trying to teach them how to garden and water a small garden in the back. And being charged double.”

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