Telkwa’s recent water woes a reminder of infrastructure deficit

It’s easy to complain when the taps aren’t running, but infrastructure costs big money

As someone whose taps froze twice my first winter here I can say there’s nothing more demoralizing than waking up at 4:45 a.m. for an early morning shift only to find out your water is off.

Water is essential. You can’t go more than a week without drinking it. It’s also something we largely take for granted: we (read: people lucky enough to live in countries with access to clean tap water) use it in so many aspects of our life, from showering to toilets to the water you add to your office Keurig for your morning cup of java.

So when people took to the Village of Telkwa’s Facebook page within minutes of the taps going dry, I wasn’t really surprised. After all, water is one of those things that we’ve become so accustomed to that having that experience — turning the tap only to have it trickle dry — is a little unnerving.

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What’s even scarier is the Village has admitted it’s entirely possible more breaks could occur. They’ve said the only real solution is to find the funds (Mayor Brad Layton has said the Village hopes to do this through grants so they don’t need to raise taxes) to replace the infrastructure. Beyond that, all they can do is cross their fingers and hope it doesn’t happen in -30 degree weather next time.

Let’s shift gears a little bit.

This is all happening just months after Smithers approved a 10 per cent increase to water and sewer user rates, amounting to a $20 and $26 increase to respective residential fees. That might sound like a lot, but in their discussion many councillors and then-mayor Taylor Bachrach brought up that this will not be enough to deal with the Town’s future water, sewer and storm infrastructure costs over the next three decades and change.

According to Bachrach, even combined with the $6.2 million the Town received via the provincial Northern Capital and Planning Grant it won’t be enough to address the tens of millions in infrastructure costs the Town is looking at.

Council isn’t sugarcoating it: it’s gonna cost a lot of cash.

Here’s where I tend to get a little cynical. Everyone is upset about the aforementioned fee increases. You get the standard complaints about “why wasn’t this done earlier” or “how come such and such study didn’t let us know about this decades ago.”

People don’t want to pay more taxes, I get it. Taxes suck. But I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume most people upset about these tax increases would also be upset going one or more days without water and the better part of a week under a boil advisory.

If you want to have your water and drink it too, the pipes have to work (or you’re going to be buying a lot of bottled water — How dare you! — or digging yourself a well).

Telkwa’s recent experience has been a lesson in what happens when aging infrastructure fails. I think it’s commendable that their mayor is trying to save the taxpayer money via grants, but I’m also curious: at what point do fees from complications outweigh the benefits of going in a tax-free direction?

I am not a city planner or a financial advisor to the Village. But presumedly when stuff like this happens and crews are out working to fix it, someone (the Village?) foots the bill. If the infrastructure keeps failing, the bill keeps increasing.

There is no simple solution, yet the problem is anything but an issue to be ignored. I do not know how much it is going to cost Telkwa to fix their pipes. I hope it is nowhere near the figures I have seen for Smithers.

What I do know is this: water is important. Residents (especially elderly people and people with disabilities) need access to it and won’t necessarily be able to get it if the taps aren’t running.

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I dislike taxes as much as the next person (more, probably) but things like roads and water infrastructure are the necessary veins and arteries that allow the larger municipal systems they encompass to thrive.

To summarize: if you’re not willing to support putting a little bit more of your money into your water and sewage infrastructure, don’t be surprised when it fails.

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