City of Winnipeg exploring new technology that could reduce sticker shock of high bills

WINNIPEG — Winnipeg is looking at some new technology that could make water meter readings more accurate and cut back on the sticker shock of high bills, but it could take years to implement.

Gary Henaire’s 83-year-old mother received a $4,000 water bill from the City of Winnipeg.

“She’s got a fairly big yard but she would’ve had to water it three feet deep—every inch of the yard—to use that much water,” said Henaire.

CTV News first spoke with Henaire and other property owners facing unexplained water bills for thousands of dollars earlier this year.

READ MORE: ‘Their word against our word’: Winnipeggers frustrated over high water bills and the inability to fix the problem 

Henaire is convinced there must be a problem with the water meter.

“The bill seems ridiculous, I just want someone to acknowledge that, yes there is something wrong,” said Henarie.

Due to COVID-19, the city is not sending staff into private residences to check the meters.

While it might not help the current situation, a way to prevent these high bills in the future could be coming.

A report at city hall says aging water meters can under-report consumption.

The city is exploring a plan to replace meters citywide while using automated meter reading technology. The technology eliminates the need for staff to enter a home or business to check the meter.

The city said this would provide daily water use data, alert customers to leaks, and eliminate estimates and inaccurate readings.

City Councillor Brian Mayes, the chair of the Water and Waste Committee, said he hopes this could reduce the frequency of high bills.

“It’s an opportunity to do something to hopefully have fewer of these hellish disputes where homeowners are coming saying I got a bill for $20,000, there’s no way this is my fault,” said Mayes.

The technology is being used in new developments in Waverley West and Ridgewood South.

To do it citywide, the city is building up a reserve to pay for a phased-in program which isn’t scheduled to start until 2026.

“This is a good initiative, it will take sometime,” said Mayes. “I don’t think it’s the same priority as the sewage treatment plant or reducing some of the human waste into the rivers.”

Henaire said the new technology could solve problems like his, but he wishes the rollout would flow faster.

“I’m not certain how many more people are going to get $4,000 water bills, in the meantime,” said Henaire.

The city said it owns 214,000 water meters of which 65 per cent are due for replacement. 

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