If you’re connected to Halifax’s water system, your first shower in December will cost more than the last one in November.
The municipally-owned Halifax Water, which provides water, wastewater and stormwater utilities throughout the HRM, is upping its rates—twice. The rate hikes will come as a pair of 3.6% bumps, first on Dec. 1, and again on April 1.
The change comes in part due to “inflationary pressures” and efforts to address the utility service’s “infrastructure deficit,” according to Halifax Water’s application to the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board. (The board approved the rate increases Monday.) Halifax Water points to “more stringent environmental regulations,” the “need to renew current assets” and Halifax’s growing population as reasons for its mounting costs—and, in turn, its first water rate increases since 2016.
“The utilities rates haven't been adjusted to reflect actual costs for several years,” Halifax Water spokesperson Jake Fulton tells The Coast. “And as the costs have increased over time, our financial position compelled us to seek approval for rate increases.”
The HRM-owned service notes in its application that it’s been losing money on its stormwater service since 2017-18—and Halifax Water would need to raise its rates by 46.4% to meet the forecast expenses for 2023-24.
Staffing levels have also been a concern for Halifax Water. The utility service has proposed adding 21 full-time employees to its current staff of 562 to shore up its team. Ten of those new roles would include engineering and technology services staff.
How much will rates go up on average?
Unless you’re taking marathon showers, your quarterly water bills aren’t likely to change all that much. Per Halifax Water, the typical residential customer spends roughly $78.31 per quarter, or about $313.24 annually. A pair of 3.6% increases by April would bring that up to $336.20 each year, or $84.05 every three months—about a $5.74 difference in your quarterly bill.
That still falls on the lower end of water rates across Canada. Halifax residents on metered service—which Fulton says applies to the “vast majority of water customers”—currently pay roughly 97 cents per cubic metre (1,000 litres) of water. That would increase to about $1.04 per cubic metre by April. By contrast, Winnipeg residents pay $1.95 for the same service. Saint John residents pay $1.99. Toronto residents pay $4.25. (A five-minute shower uses about 75 litres of water, costing about seven cents in Halifax, 15 cents in Saint John and 32 cents in Toronto.)
Halifax Water floated raising rates in 2020, but dropped plan when COVID-19 hit
The 7.2% rate increase is actually less than what Halifax Water had asked for two years ago. In February 2020, the utility service provider requested an increase of 11.6%, spread over two years, to account for a rise in operating costs.
“We face the same costs that every other business has," Halifax Water spokesperson Jayme Campbell told CityNews Halifax in 2020. "We have increasing electricity costs, increasing fuel costs, wages, increasing chemical costs, and those have gone up over the last four and a half years and we need to recover those costs."
The municipal service provider pulled back on its plans to raise rates after the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in Nova Scotia. On Aug. 27, 2020, the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board approved Halifax Water’s request to keep water rate levels unchanged through 2020-21.
“Recognizing many customers were concerned about the future and their ability to pay bills, a longer-term strategy was developed that allowed Halifax Water to reduce its requested rate increases, while continuing to maintain high quality, reliable and affordable service,” Halifax Water general manager Cathie O’Toole said in a statement at the time.