Low water pressure. Fire hydrants that don’t work properly. Sixty-year-old leaking pipes. Poop released into the lake because the system can’t handle it all. Insufficient numbers of rate payers to deal with six water systems, some of them nearing the end of their life cycles. Big water bills as a result. Even bigger bills in the future if we don’t do something. Failing to comply with provincial regulations to maintain three years’ worth of surplus water capacity. Obligations to landowners via our 2015 update to the Secondary Plan. Lots of problems.
But then there is this: Regional population growth in the coming years. A legally binding agreement with a developer to share the costs of renewal. Plus, a decade’s worth of money on hand from the developer to help fund the debt. These are facts, not opinion.
Yet in Wellington on Thursday, Aug. 31 it didn’t appear that anyone was truly listening. It was as if the minds of many attendees were already made up before the meeting started. There is nothing wrong with the current water system; no need to spend money; there is no good reason water bills shouldn’t be reduced now; there will be no significant growth in the future.
Disturbingly, there was a lack of trust in much of what staff had to say. There were even accusations that consultant reports are fudged. Apparently, the educated professionals we must depend on for advice are not to be trusted: the engineers, economists, demographers, accountants, financial advisors, and lawyers are all in on some conspiracy to dupe the public.
To some extent, we can blame COVID for people not following this issue, which has been regularly covered since 2019 in weekly municipal news releases; reported on in both print and digital media and on 99.3 County FM; in council meetings; and in special public information sessions. Clearly we have a problem of trust, but it would be inaccurate to suggest a failure to be open and transparent.
So, winning back the public trust and better communications are needed. And yet, despite all that, here is perhaps the crux of the matter: deep down, we don’t want change…we like the County the way it was. That’s why we moved here, or stayed, in the case of life-long residents. The County managed to avoid change for decades because of our relative isolation. But it’s finally reached us.
There is no escaping the problems, challenges and obligations we now face. Investing in water infrastructure renewal is not optional. It’s a necessity. It’s the only route to more affordable housing. It’s for your grandkids. If we can’t prove to the province that we are able to manage our own affairs, they will take over and make the decision for us. (That’s an opinion, not a fact.) We have before us an opportunity. A solution to both our problems and obligations. Controlled growth. Let’s manage it to our advantage.