It is without a doubt one of the most pressing issues facing cities throughout North America today, and for most urban dwellers, be them residential or commercial, it is given hardly a second thought. In the City of Toronto, the average annual demand of water per day is 1.24 million cubic metres — that’s enough to fill the 46,000-seat Rogers Centre (formerly known as the Skydome) every day for 365 days a year.
Although that statistic maybe shocking to some, it is even more interesting to note the industrial, commercial and institutional (ICI) sectors of Toronto make up three per cent of its water customers, but use more than one-third of the water produced by the city. This fact can be carried throughout most urban metropolises in North America, and yet to mitigate or decrease ICI consumption continues to be a slippery slide of city politics and conservation.
For instance, in 2008 the City of Toronto switched from a block system water rate to a general water rate. However, in 2007 the water rate for 6,000 to 48,000 cubic metres was $1.6404/m³. Today, the general water rate for consumption over 6,000 cubic metres is $1.3881 / m³. This policy initiation may have occurred in order to thwart off further exodus of industry to surrounding municipalities, but its decrease in price is not much incentive for conservation.
The City of Toronto’s WaterSaver Program was brought in through the auspices of the new Water Efficiency Plan to tackle ICI water consumption problems and provide the framework for conservation. A key driving force behind the program’s implementation is the fiscal necessity of the city to limit expensive infrastructure expansion. As the City of Toronto is poised to grow by 250,000 people in 2011, more water will be needed, and they hope that the need will be met by reducing ICI water use. The WaterSaver program works by offering ICI customers rebates of 30 cents per litre saved. The payback acts as an incentive for businesses to purchase more efficient technology and equipment, whereby continuing to reduce operational cost. The reduced demand for water from the ICI sector will free up water and sewage capacity in order to meet the city’s growth demands.
Upper Canada College recently participated in the WaterSaver Program, which proved very successful in both reducing water consumption and operational costs. Participation was first initiated through a 60 day study/audit to measure and document the school’s water use. It was determined that the school could potentially save over 84,000 litres of water per day. UCC managed to reduce water consumption by over 38,000 litres per day and receive over $10,000 in rebates from the city. This was achieved by adopting modern water saving systems including, new fixtures, filter systems, toilets, and the conversion of water cooled units to air cooled units. UCC participation in the program yielded them with an annual cost savings of $21,861, and a program payback period of less than one year.
Redpath Sugars was another ICI participant, which yielded substantial results. After conducting a water audit with the City of Toronto in 2004, Redpath Sugars decided to implement three proactive measures to reduce their water usage during their production processes. First they re-routed the once through cooling system. Doing so allowed them to replace a portion of the boiler makeup water demand. Secondly, they initiated the reuse of boiler sampling lines. Finally, they reused the water previously used to cool the air compressor in the boiler makeup. These diversions amounted to a total saving of 212,000 litres of water per day, and a rebate of $53,000. Redpath Sugars participation in the program yields them an annual cost saving of $116,114 and had a program payback period of three months.
In the fight to keep industry alive and well in the City of Toronto, but also to measure the success of that against the efforts to conserve water, the city seems posed to continue a complex balancing act. In a staff report on water restructuring dated May 17, 2007, it was clear that one of the city’s main objectives was to keep their water rates competitive with surrounding municipalities, “that larger industrial employers would find costs to be 20 per cent to 30 per cent lower in surrounding areas such as Peel, Durham and Hamilton.” However, lowering rates to keep businesses here seems counter to the concept of conservation, and only seems to bring in to question the fundamental thought process behind the implementation of the ICI WaterSaver Program.
While the program itself is quite successful and boasts some very promising results, it may only service as a mechanism for a continued growth strategy, rather than a sustaining, results-oriented conservation program.
Paul Cannata is a freelance environmental writer and consultant whose concentrations include green roofs, organic lawn care and green business development.