New research released by think-tank Sustainable Prosperity finds decreased water use in Toronto as prices rise

Ottawa - Canadian municipalities are struggling to address the high costs of maintaining water and wastewater infrastructure, while encouraging residents to conserve water. New research suggests a policy that could help municipalities realize these objectives simultaneously: increasing the price.

In the new report Price Works: Toronto’s Water Policy and Water Consumption Decline Sustainable Prosperity found that over the last 10 years, prices for water use increased in Toronto by 6% to 10.8%, while residential water use declined by 24%. This research challenges conventional wisdom on water consumption. Because people need water every day, it has been generally assumed that increasing the price won’t change consumption patterns.

Globally, Canadians are among the highest users of water per person, yet pay some of the lowest rates for use. These high rates of use place great stress on pipes and treatment plants; some estimates suggest that Canada’s water infrastructure deficit is as high as $80 billion, an estimate that does not include environmental damages or ongoing operation of services.

Pricing, says Sustainable Prosperity Research Associate Pomme Arros, could be the key. “Across Canada, municipalities are struggling with aging water infrastructure. This research suggests that there could be a very simple solution-- if it costs more, people use less. And using less water is good for our cities, our lakes and rivers, and our wildlife.”

As urban populations grow, existing water infrastructure and water resources will be placed under growing pressure. Managing water consumption is an important consideration for municipal governments, both for prudent economic management of limited municipal funds, but also to ensure that water use is sustainable over time. Other municipal governments can learn from Toronto’s leadership to ensure that water policies are effective to achieve water efficiency gains and ensure that water conservation goals are reached.

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Jennifer Wesanko

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