Water rally falls flat

A protest of high water bills at City Hall was more of a puddle than a sea of outrage.

Anticipation was building for a large-scaled protest around residential water bills following stories that many residents were seeing bills in the thousands. A lot of the momentum was fostered on the Facebook page Fort Sask Water Wars with many promising to show Tuesday night.

When the time to rally came, only a handful attended the rally.

In a last ditch effort, James Gillard attempted to drum up support by posting that there was still time for residents to voice their concerns.

“If we care to make a difference or have a voice on this issue we should have a better turn out. There is still time before the meeting commences,” he said in his post to the group.

Tanya Gallant, who not only started the Facebook page but helped spearhead the rally, said she wasn’t happy with the turnout.

“I’m disappointed about not seeing more faces,” she said. “Even a few (faces) is (something).”

Gallant’s fight against the city started back in 2015 when she and her husband received a water bill totalling more than $2,000. Normally, her bill is closer to $200 a month. She said they brought in a plumber to check their piping but nothing appeared wrong. To complicate matters more, Gallant’s bill went back to normal.

She said she started hearing others were experiencing the same problem, which prompted her to start the Facebook group in hopes to put a bit of pressure on city council.

“Obviously, we know they have taken some steps to rectify the problem but the actual reason why this is happening has not been rectified,” she said. “We’re not quite sure if it is the meters or if it is the process in which they read the meters. We had our meter tested after our incident and it came back as fine. As for the meters, I just don’t know.”

Last year, the city brought in an independent auditor to try and assess the high water bill issue but the report didn’t provide any solid answers other than the city wasn’t at fault. Gallant said she wasn’t satisfied with that report since she kept hearing stories of people dealing with high bills.

“It’s a problem for the entire community,” she said. “You just never know when you open that bill if you are next. I’ve had people say on the page that they get real anxiety, especially families with fixed incomes.”

Dan Noyen, who voiced his support for the rally online, said he never experienced a high water bill but didn’t like the idea of people paying for something they didn’t use. Noyen said he had a few questions he wanted to ask city manager Troy Fleming regarding how often the meters are inspected.

“I’ve done some investigating about these meters,” he said. “I just read some things and the standards they are suppose to be up to. Do they know how accurate they are?”

Fleming, who offered to answer questions during Tuesday night’s meeting, said he wanted everyone to know that the city does care about this issue. He said the city is taking steps to try and fix the problem.

“Our ultimate goal is to evolve the system we have in place so people can get more periodical feedback on their water use,” Fleming said. “That way if there is high consumption that is going through the meter, we will know about it right away. We use to read meters once every two months, you wouldn’t get much feedback on what your consumption is. We have now switched to monthly billing. There is technology that exists that we are working our way towards to give you an hourly read.”

He added it will take years before any of that new technology can be implemented, which he said was as fast as the city could go.

An open house council meeting on the issue is scheduled for March 22.

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