West Island towns could lose control of their water filtration plants
The idea of the province transferring management control of its water-treatment plants to the Montreal agglomeration in January doesn’t sit well with the mayors of Dorval and Pointe-Claire.
Stating it’s not yet a fait accompli, outgoing Pointe-Claire mayor Bill McMurchie vows his city will continue lobbying the provincial government to renew an exemption that allow Dorval and Pointe-Claire to maintain management control of their water-treatment plants.
“Administratively, they are looking at what would happen if the water file was taken over by the agglomeration,” McMurchie said last week. “It’s a file that is still being processed.
“It’s a provincial decision,” he added. “If the mandate runs out and is not renewed, that, in effect, is the decision. If we are to continue running it, the mandate has to be extended.”
The mayors of Dorval and Pointe-Claire both state their potable water-treatment centres should be a management model for Montreal and raise concerns this standard won’t be followed by the agglomeration, which already runs several water facilities on Montreal island, including the recently upgraded and expanded Pierrefonds facility.
“We are of the opinion the Pointe-Claire model should be the model upon which the entire island of Montreal is serviced by water because it incorporates all of the principles which are North American in scope regarding the production and distribution of water,” McMurchie said. “The agglomeration doesn’t believe in water meters. It doesn’t charge the real costs of water. It doesn’t charge user fees. And it doesn’t operate under the principle of full-cost recovery. Those are some of the principles which are incorporated in any North American metropolitan system of distribution, and Montreal abides by none of those principles. The Pointe-Claire model reflects them all.”
The issue of double taxation for water has been a concern with West Islanders living in areas serviced by Dorval or Pointe-Claire, since they pay for the production of the water they consume plus others taxes for the agglomeration budget for some of the water needs in Montreal. Local mayors have hoped a water board could be established to create a more equitable system.
McMurchie said Montreal, which charges about 12 cents per cubic metre for water, compared with the 30 cents per cubic metre Pointe-Claire charges, is forced to cover the shortfall through real estate taxes. “Water is no different than Hydro-Québec, Gaz Métro or the oil to heat your furnace. You should be paying for what you use and you should be paying the full rate,” he said.
Following demergers from the mega-city, Dorval and Pointe-Claire (which serves several municipalities) have requested the province to allow them to maintain control of their treatment plants until an island-wide water management board is set up.
Dorval Mayor Edgar Rouleau said none of the water concerns raised over the years have been settled with Montreal.
“We’ve been saying since the beginning, we feel we do a better job than Montreal,” he said. “We feel we are controlling our plants. If we weren’t doing a good job, it would be different. So we’ve been discussing and discussing with nothing much happening.
“We told the minister many times, 12 cents (charged by Montreal) is not the true cost of water. It’s because there are expenses and infrastructure costs we include that they don’t. The real cost of water, for me, is when we get it from the lake, transform it and then you open the tap at home,” he added. “For Montreal, they don’t take all these costs into consideration. For sure those costs are (paid) somewhere else.”
As for the exemption, which runs out at the end of this year, Philippe Sabourin, a city of Montreal spokesman, pointed out that when demergers took place, the intent by the province was to give the agglomeration jurisdiction over potable water, as was done with the fire department. At the request of Dorval and Pointe-Claire, the province issued a decree for an exemption that was renewed annually.
“The information we got is that they won’t do an extension,” Sabourin said.
Another issue of local control is fluoride. Dorval and Pointe-Claire add fluoride to potable water, with the financial backing from the province, while Montreal-managed treatment plants do not. The PQ had pledged in its 2012 election platform to end all fluoridation of water.
Sabourin said it is too early to determine the potential effect the transfers will have on water taxes or user rates in the West Island cities serviced by these plants. “We are still studying the issue and we’ll discuss it with the municipalities,” he said. “We have to do more studies. I don’t have any official answer.”
Last December, Dorval tabled a resolution denouncing the possible closure of its award-winning water treatment plant and demanded Montreal should invest in any required upgrades.
Sabourin said the closure of the Dorval plant is currently not part of the proposed solutions and that Montreal continues its analysis of future investment needs at the facility.
Pointe-Claire provides the potable water needs of Baied’Urfé, Beaconsfield, Kirkland Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue and Senneville, and about 10 per cent of Dollard-des-Ormeaux’s needs. Montreal manages four filtration facilities, including one in Pierrefonds that underwent a $75-million upgrade. This facility sends water to the boroughs of Pierrefonds-Roxboro and Île-Bizard-Ste-Geneviève and most of Dollard.