Water rates

2016 water/wastewater charges effective January 1, 2016
Charges 2015 2016 Change
water volume – $/cubic metre (m3) $1.52 $1.59 $0.07
water basic – $/day $0.26 $0.26 $0.00
wastewater volume – $/cubic metre (m3) $1.66 $1.73 $0.07
wastewater basic – $/day $0.32 $0.32 $0.00

The average residential annual bill (based on 180 cubic metres consumption, the estimated annual volume consumed by a family of three) will go up by $31 or 4.0%.

Explanation of charges

  • Water rate is based on the amount of water you use, as measured by the water meter. This covers the cost of bringing water from the Arkell Spring Grounds to your home, including operating and maintaining the aqueduct, pumping stations, reservoirs and distribution system.
  • Wastewater rate is based on the amount of water you use, as measured by the water meter. This covers the cost to collect, transport and treat sewage so that it meets Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change requirements before it is released to the Speed River.
  • Water and Wastewater basic charge is billed on a daily rate, based on meter size. It covers the cost of your water meter, customer service, and billing process.

Bylaws governing water and wastewater charges

Water and Wastewater Rates and Charges (2015)-19977: regarding water and wastewater fees or charges and billing schedules for activities, costs and uses of water and wastewater services in the City of Guelph.

Water and Wastewater Customer Accounts Bylaw (2016)-20074: regarding customer service processes for billing of water and wastewater services in the City of Guelph including account creation, water meter protocols, handling of unpaid accounts and billing dispute resolution.

Frequently Asked Questions

Questions about rates, billing and affordability

Water and wastewater rates cover the cost of water and wastewater utility day-to-day operations and maintenance to ensure a safe, clean and reliable water supply and proper wastewater treatment, as well as the reserve funds we need to maintain, replace and build new infrastructure as Guelph continues to grow. These rates are not used to pay for any other City service provided to customers.
No. Water and wastewater services are rate funded. Your property taxes pay for many City services including waste collection, road improvements and snow removal. Funding water and wastewater services through rates is more equitable and allows customers to make habit, fixture and appliance changes that can help them save money on utility costs.

Year over year, the drivers of rate increases are generally the same. How much each one contributes to an annual rate increase may vary from year to year. These drivers include:

  • Increases in costs of purchased goods and services including increasing electricity rates
  • Annual compensation increases
  • Increases to capital financing for asset management and infrastructure sustainability (maintaining what we own)
  • Increases in contributions to emergency reserves for unplanned expenses (e.g. frozen pipes, ice storms and other climate change driven emergencies)

Cost efficiencies and opportunities for reductions are also found during the budgeting process. These decreases, primarily in purchased goods and services, help offset other increasing costs (Water: $546,300; Wastewater: $1,285,750).

The relationship between a rate increase and water bill increase is not direct and will depend on each customer’s water use. Generally, if the number of people in the household stays the same, and water use habits stay the same, a percentage rate increase can be expected to be equally reflected in the final water bill, i.e. if the water rate increased by three per cent, the household water bill would also increase by three percent.If water is used more efficiently, either through fixture and appliance upgrades or changes in water use habits, water bills could decrease year over year, even as rates go up.

Alternatively, a customer may experience a bill increase higher than the rate increase if they start using more water either because there are more people in the house, or because their water use habits changed from the previous year.

Smart water use saves you money by lowering your own water bill. It also keeps rates affordable by helping to reduce operating and maintenance costs, and to defer millions of dollars of investments for new water and wastewater infrastructure as our city continues to grow. Because of increases in electricity, gas and goods and services, water and wastewater rates will rise, but efficient use of our water resource slows down system wear and tear and the resulting rate of increase.

If residents and businesses weren’t using water wisely, rate increases would be higher than they are today. For example, from 2006 to 2014 the City’s $8.6 million investment in water conservation and efficiency programs has reclaimed over 7.1 million litres of water and wastewater servicing capacity per day. The cost to build and operate infrastructure to supply and treat this much water would be approximately $35.6 million in capital costs, and $460,000 in annual operating costs.

Other factors also affect water rate increases including compliance with Provincial regulations designed to protect our water supply and our community.

Water and Wastewater rates are a combination of variable rates (based on volume used or produced) and fixed rates (basic service charges). Based on Council approved policy, volume rates capture the bulk of revenue required to fund the Water and Wastewater budgets (approximately 85 per cent of total required revenues). Basic service charges fund approximately 15 per cent of revenue required to fund the Water and Wastewater budgets, including helping to fund some of the fixed, administrative costs of providing services (e.g. billing and collection, customer service, fire protection, regulatory compliance).

No for basic charges; yes for volumetric charges. Water and wastewater account holders pay a basic service charge that is prorated based on the size of their water service connection. They also pay a volume-based rate for water and wastewater based on the amount of water used; this rate is the same across all sectors. This way, customers pay only for what they use and have the ability to save money by using water more efficiently through changes in habits, and with fixture or appliance choices.

Basic service charge amounts are prorated to a customer’s water service connection size. This is based on an industry standard scale that recognizes the level of service customers receive in relation to their service size. By implementing this Council–approved method for determining basic service charges, Guelph is following both local and international best practice.

Based on Council–approved rate policy, volumetric rates cover approximately 85 per cent of total required annual revenues, with basic service charges funding the remaining balance and helping to fund some of the fixed, administrative costs of providing services (e.g. billing and collection, customer service, fire protection, regulatory compliance).

Typical to most water and wastewater utilities, fixed costs represent approximately 90 per cent of utility expenses. These are the costs that are incurred on a day–to–day basis to run the system and include base staffing and service provision for fire protection, legislative compliance, and administrative costs. The remaining 10 per cent of expenses are variable costs that change with customer demand such as electricity, water treatment costs, and responsive operations and maintenance.

Guelph’s water and wastewater rates are largely volume–based to reflect Council–approved policy. This policy recognizes that Guelph has a finite supply of groundwater and a sensitive receiving stream for discharge of Guelph’s treated sewage. Furthermore, charging customers for water used is equitable and fair. It gives the customer control over their bill and allows them to make changes that will save them money.

No. Annual operating budget development for water and wastewater is based on net zero funding principles, as defined by the Municipal Act, 2001, where revenues and expenses including funding for capital reserves are balanced. If there is a surplus at the end of the year, it is held as part of the rate stabilization reserve which is used, by Council approval, to prevent sudden future rate increases or to cover future year revenue shortfalls. This regulated approach to providing local, municipal water and wastewater services helps keep customer bills lower.

The Council–approved policy for water and wastewater rates states that all customers must pay all rates (both water and wastewater volume charges and basic charges) for all water used. Individual customer water use is measured and billed with readings from municipal water meters. The water meter does not track the customer’s end use of the water, or whether that water is returned to the municipal sanitary sewer, storm sewer, or elsewhere. As a common utility best practice, the water consumption volume tracked by the meter is used to assess both the water volume charge and wastewater volume charge on a customer’s bill.

Following investigation into the use of additional meters to record either customer water use that does not return to the sewer or that measure sewage volume, it was determined that the cost of installing and reading additional water meters would exceed the savings customers would experience in avoiding sewage volume charges. Wastewater volume rates are currently set to capture the revenue required to balance forecasted expenses only and not reap a profit (i.e. the utility does not profit from charging sewage volume charges for water that does not go to the sanitary sewer). Any new wastewater billing method that resulted in lower revenue would leave the utility in a deficit position as revenue would not match expenses. As a result, additional revenue would be needed to balance the budget, either generated from an increased sewage volume unit rate, basic service charge, or from a new revenue stream that may or may not have the same billing impact on all customers.

Water Services is initiating a comprehensive Water and Wastewater Rate Review in 2015 that will examine conservation—based rates and will also revisit the issue of sewage billing methods. The review will provide opportunities for customer and community input and may result in billing policy revisions being recommended for approval by Council. For more information on the planned rate review, contact Water Services. Information will also be posted on guelph.ca/water.

Greater water use results in higher water bills. When a customer receives an unusually high water bill it may indicate abnormal water use or private plumbing leaks that may or may not be apparent to a customer. When Water Services becomes aware of an abnormally high bill, they will provide the customer with information about detecting plumbing leaks and abnormal use. Water Services will also check the City’s water meter to ensure it has been read accurately and that the bill provided to the customer is accurate and consistent with the meter readings. If requested, Water Services will also test the City’s water meter for accuracy and will make appropriate adjustments to the customer’s bill. The City’s water meters are specified to meet the AWWA C700 series standard for cold water displacement meters, meaning water meters must possess accuracy limits within +/– 1.5 per cent. As such, testing of City water meters most often shows they are reading water use accurately. Customers may opt into a payment plan to pay large bills over time.

Many costs factor into the rise in water and wastewater rates. Just like a household, these include rising costs of electricity, gas, insurance, and goods and services. If these costs are rising about the rate of inflation, water and wastewater rates will also likely be higher than the rate of inflation. Funding the infrastructure replacement gap also contributes to higher rate increases. Guelph strives to keep water and wastewater rates affordable. This is managed in part through long-term financial planning that allows us to look at a five-year forecast and to mitigate rate spikes by spreading increases out over time. Guelph continues to supply affordable and competitive water and wastewater services, placing in the middle of the range of comparator municipalities.

Each community has unique needs when it comes to water. Some communities are supplied by surface water only, some by groundwater only, and some by a mix of both. Different water sources will require different treatment. Similarly, wastewater treatment will differ depending on where discharge occurs (e.g. small or large body of water). Some communities are newer and don’t have the same infrastructure replacement needs as older communities. Community size can also impact costs of service as smaller communities must deliver the same service as large ones, but have a smaller customer base to pay the day-to-day costs.

Guelph relies on groundwater and discharges treated wastewater into a river that serves as a water supply for downstream communities. Both of these features factor into the cost of providing water and wastewater services to our community. Among 26 comparator municipalities across Ontario, Guelph places in the middle with respect to our volumetric water rates. For 2015 volumetric water/wastewater rates, Guelph ranks 14th among the comparator group (26 municipalities). Guelph is $0.08 above the group median.

Residential Water/Wastewater Total Volumetric and Service Charges by Municipality (2015 Rates)

comparison of municipality rates for 2015, Guelph is shown in the middle

Proposed water and wastewater rates for the next year are calculated based on available revenue information from the current year; on forecasted revenues for the next year; and on total operating and capital budget funding requirements, including reserves, for the next year.

In more detail, the overall budget process involves the following steps:

  1. Forecasting water demand volumes and wastewater treatment volumes, and water and wastewater basic charges based on trends in current revenue streams and known changes to customer groups;
  2. Analysis and forecasting of current year actuals and their impacts on future year expenditures;
  3. Assessment and summation of all operating expenses that contribute to the budget expenditure total; and
  4. Bringing together all expenditures and demand forecasts in a rate model to determine the rates required to fund the budgets. This step includes determining adjustments to various funding reserves in order to achieve financial goals including the reduction of infrastructure funding gaps.

No. Only City services related to water and wastewater service can be funded by these rates as per Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change guidelines for achieving financially sustainable water and wastewater systems. These principles are included in the City’s Council–approved Water and Wastewater Long Range Financial Plan (2014).

The City bills customers for water and wastewater usage through Guelph Hydro. Beginning in December 2015, all customers will be billed for water usage on monthly basis.

First we calculate the residential per capita average annual demand by dividing the total annual billed residential demand and dividing it by the current population. The residential average is then multiplied by three, the average Guelph household size, to estimate water and wastewater usage by the average Guelph household. The rates can then be applied to this usage to determine the average annual residential household cost of water and wastewater, with the daily basic charges added on based on the number of days in a given year.

The average annual residential cost of water and water (three person household) equals the total annual billed residential demand divided by the current population times 3 (average household size) times current taxes, plus basic charge times the number of days in a year.

Residential water use in Guelph accounts for about 57 per cent of overall metered water use.

All sectors, from residential to industrial, pay the same volumetric rates. This is called a uniform rate system. This means that each customer pays the same volumetric charge for each cubic meter of water they use, and that they have the ability to save money by using water efficiently.

Smart water use saves you money. By using less water you not only lower your own water bill, but you help reduce utility operating and maintenance costs, and defer millions of dollars of investments for new water and wastewater infrastructure as the city continues to grow. These actions help keep water rates affordable and contribute to lower annual rate increases than would otherwise be needed to supply our community with safe, reliable water.

Questions about financial planning and sustainability

Yes. Our long range financial plan defines future financial needs and proposed annual user rate increases to ensure the sustainability, compliance and competitiveness of the City’s Water and Wastewater utilities. The current Plan was approved by Council in February 2014.

The 2014 Water and Wastewater Long-range Financial Plan has confirmed Guelph’s narrowing infrastructure replacement funding gap, as well as the absence of any rate-supported capital debt. These indicators confirm that Guelph owns reliable, financially resilient water and wastewater systems that benefit from long-range planning and forecasting of expenses and revenues.

Underfunding of water and wastewater utilities can create risks such as non–compliance with legislation, lost customer service capacity, and potential harm to human health. Such impacts might result in service disruptions, potential private property and environmental damage, and resulting legal and compliance consequences. After the Walkerton water crisis, the Province of Ontario enacted legislation requiring water utilities to reach funding sustainability to reduce these risks and their negative consequences. Fines for first offences as defined under the Safe Drinking Water Act start at $20,000 for individuals and $100,000 for corporate entities.

To ensure a safe and reliable water supply, reduce the risk of system failures, prevent expensive emergency repairs and prepare for future growth. Guelph’s water infrastructure is valued at $541.5 million (2012). The wastewater system is worth another $545.1 million (2012). While building Guelph’s watermains, sewers, treatment plants, storage reservoirs, the City estimated the life span of these systems and set aside funds to maintain and replace the infrastructure as needed.

Over the years, changing water and wastewater regulations and legislation increased the financial pressures facing the City and, like cities across the country, Guelph’s need to renew its aging infrastructure outpaced the City’s ability to allocate the funds required. In 2015 Guelph will invest $37.5M million in water and wastewater systems, and set aside more funds than ever to maintain, renew and replace critical water and wastewater infrastructure as the city continues to grow.

In 2012, Engineering Services completed a Sustainable Infrastructure Report that includes updates on the water system. The report highlights the $23.5 million lifecycle costs of sustaining the City’s water system, and a backlog of approximately $46 million. The annual water infrastructure spending gap continues to close. In 2016, more than $10 million is budgeted for infrastructure upgrades, including vehicles, technology, facilities, leakage reduction, and watermain replacement.

Yes. The City of Guelph has a Council-approved list of comparator municipalities that it uses to assess and compare performance and other indicators such as property taxes and water/wastewater rates. The Council–approved list has been reviewed to identify those municipalities that manage their own water and wastewater systems (i.e. are publicly owned) and who have comparable water systems (groundwater–based) to allow for truer comparisons. The 26 water and wastewater comparators are: Barrie, Brantford, Cambridge, Centre Wellington, Chatham–Kent, Durham Region, Greater Sudbury, Guelph/Eramosa, Halton Region, Hamilton, Kingston, Kitchener, London, Markham, Niagara Falls, Orangeville, Ottawa, Region of Peel, Richmond Hill, St. Catharines, Stratford, Thunder Bay, Vaughan, Waterloo (City), and Windsor.

Beyond assessment of utility performance through the Long Range Financial Plan, Water Services also evaluates its competitiveness on an ongoing basis as part of active participation in water industry benchmarking initiatives. One example includes the AECOM National Water and Wastewater Benchmarking Initiative (NWWBI), ongoing, award–winning benchmarking that compares products, services and practices of 55 proactive municipal water utility members from across Canada.

Beyond assessment of utility performance through the Long Range Financial Plan, Water Services also evaluates its competitiveness on an ongoing basis as part of active participation in water industry benchmarking initiatives. One example includes the AECOM National Water and Wastewater Benchmarking Initiative (NWWBI), ongoing, award–winning benchmarking that compares products, services and practices of 55 proactive municipal water utility members from across Canada.

As part of the 2013 NWWBI reporting, and among participating Council–approved comparator groundwater based municipalities, the City of Guelph ranked near the group median for both Total Treatment Operating Cost with Actual Indirect Charge-back / ML Treated (group median: $395, Guelph: $398, n=8).

Both Water and Wastewater Services maintain reserves that are subject to Council–approved management policies. These reserves provide flexibility for dealing with revenue and expenditure variations and for funding service growth. Water and Wastewater Operating Rate Stabilization Reserves are funded from operating budget surpluses and are used to prevent sudden rate increases or to cover revenue shortfalls. Water and Wastewater Capital Reserve Funds are funded with contributions from the respective operating budgets and are used to fund the completion of current and future capital projects.

Questions about regulatory compliance

A number of provincial acts govern water and wastewater operations. These include:

  • Municipal Act
  • Clean Water Act
  • Water Opportunities Act
  • Ontario Water Resources Act
  • Safe Drinking Water Act
  • Sustainable Water and Sewage Systems Act
  • Environmental Protection Act
  • Environmental Assessment Act
  • PSAB 3150, Tangible Capital Assets Reporting
  • Occupational Health and Safety Act

The Safe Drinking Water Act, 2002 includes a statutory standard of care for individuals who have oversight responsibilities for municipal drinking water systems that can extend to municipal councillors as of January 1, 2013. There are legal consequences for negligence, including possible fines or imprisonment.

Water and wastewater long range financial plan

Read the City of Guelph’s water and wastewater long range financial plan that is in accordance with O. Reg. 453/07. This financial plan defines future financial needs and proposed annual user rate increases to ensure the sustainability, compliance and competitiveness of the City’s Water and Wastewater utilities.

As per the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, this notice is available in an alternate format by contacting 519-837-5627.

Water and Wastewater Long-range Financial Plan

For more information

Water Services