(Montreal) The Legault government risks missing a great opportunity to tackle the deterioration of drinking water infrastructure if it does not include in the next budget the amounts resulting in particular from the promised increase in water royalties.
After allowing Bill 42 on water royalties to die on the order paper last summer as the elections approached, Premier François Legault himself promised to make it a priority as of this session. However, this bill is still awaited while the tabling of the budget of the Minister of Finance, Éric Girard, is scheduled for March 21.
The largest group of environmental experts in Quebec, the Environment Network, is concerned about this delay, which has been warning for ages that the deficit in maintaining water infrastructure assets currently reaches $34 billion and will continue to increase. if we don’t tackle it now.
This figure, taken from the Portrait of Quebec’s drinking water infrastructures from the Center for Expertise and Research in Urban Infrastructures, leaves no room for interpretation. This document highlights that 18% of municipal drinking water assets have a D or E rating, meaning that they are at “high” (7%) or “very high” risk of failure.
An urgent need for love
“These infrastructures are in urgent need of love and investment,” says Mathieu Laneuville, President and Director of the Environment Network. One of the important recommendations made by the Network in the pre-budget brief submitted to the Government of Quebec is “to encourage municipalities to increase their water service revenues so as not to hit the wall that we see coming with the deficit asset maintenance program that has a major impact for our future generations,” he says.
Admittedly, the experts know full well – and this is one of the recommendations – that “the federal, provincial and municipal authorities must contribute to investing in water infrastructures”. Ottawa and Quebec have funds at their disposal, but it is clear that the cities must increase their revenues because they do not really have any leeway in the current inflationary context and they can hardly ask their taxpayers for more.
Hence the urgency, according to the Environment Network, to reform the system of royalties in order to increase them considerably, Quebec being extremely generous towards large water users with its starving royalties.
Almost symbolic royalties
Thus, the water charge in Quebec is currently set at the derisory sum of $0.0025 (or 25 hundredths of a cent) per cubic meter. In Ontario, it is $0.00371/m3 plus $0.50/m3 for groundwater abstracted by bottlers.
Even higher in Ontario, the royalty remains extremely advantageous; for comparison, the cubic meter of water in Europe is paid $4.48 in the United Kingdom, $5.44 in France, $6.13 in Belgium, $7.39 in the Netherlands, $7.98 in Finland, $10.53 in Norway and $12.58 in Denmark (conversion rate used: $1.35 for 1 euro)
“If cities increase their revenues from water services, they will be able to do more, because there is a big deficit to absorb,” notes Mathieu Laneuville. Royalties put a cost on the water resource. This means that when we take water, our collective resource has a value. »
Include royalties in the budget
It is therefore extremely important, according to him, that the water protection bill, repeatedly promised by the Legault government, be adopted as soon as possible in order to be able to integrate new sources of revenue into the budget and to tackle the drinking water infrastructure deficit as quickly as possible with massive investment programs.
The experts’ long-term assessment reports expenditure for upgrading to standards which will increase from 34 billion to 49 billion over the next 25 years, while government planning provides for investments of 22 billion. The deficit, therefore, would still remain very high, ie 27 billion.
A substantial increase in royalties would also make it possible to provide the famous Blue Fund, another CAQ promise which aims to protect lakes and rivers, in particular.
The Environment Network also asks, like several other speakers, that the draft law on the protection of water, which must deal with royalties, obliges large users to be transparent. Currently, it is impossible to know the quantities withdrawn, which in itself is problematic, particularly for municipalities where water shortages are a potential or already proven risk.
Robust return on investment
The investments required may seem colossal, but the Environment Network relies heavily on an HEC study, unveiled last spring, which shows that for every dollar invested in drinking water infrastructure, the return is $1.72.
This return takes the form of, among other things, an improvement in efficiency, a reduction in pipeline and plant breakages and leaks. The environmental impacts are also considerable, including an improvement in the quality of wastewater discharges, a reduction in the discharge of pathogens and pollutants and, ultimately, an improvement in the health of the population.
Finally, the Environment Network emphasizes that major investments will be required in any case to deal with climate change, which is the cause of as many droughts as floods and overflows, increasingly frequent extreme meteorological events for which it is it would be much more useful and profitable to prepare than to absorb the cost of subsequent damage.