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Taxes may rise as river levels fall

www.montrealgazette.com    7/7/2010 4:54:00 PM    ReadCount:624

Driving up cost of water filtration. Montreal one of few unaffected cities
Historically low water levels in the St. Lawrence River are increasing costs at municipal water-filtration plants that rely on the river -and yesterday, officials said those costs probably will be passed along to taxpayers.
The lower water levels have lead to an increase in turbidity in the St. Lawrence, which means that there is more sediment in the water that must be filtered out, said Peter Yeomans.
Yeomans, a senior Canadian official with the International St. Lawrence River Board, a Canada-United States agency that manages water levels in the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence, said water-filtration plants all along the St. Lawrence are now being forced to draw in more raw water and to use more purification agents in order to produce the same amount of clean water.
"The process has been slowed down and costs more," Yeomans said.
But how much water taxes will increase and in which municipalities remains unclear.
There are 16 municipal water-filtration plants along the St. Lawrence, des Milles Iles and des Prairies rivers between St. Zotique and Varennes serving the various municipalities.
"If we spend more, we will have to increase the cost of the water by the appropriate amount," Bill McMurchie, the mayor of Pointe Claire, said yesterday.
McMurchie said Pointe Claire is already spending an extra $1,000 a day on chalk, activated carbon and other purification agents that are used to filter the raw water drawn from Lake St. Louis.
Those costs, which could rise, he said, will eventually have to be passed along to taxpayers in Pointe Claire and the other municipalities that buy water from Pointe Claire, among them Beaconsfield, Baie d'Urfe, Kirkland and parts of Dollard des Ormeaux and Ste. Anne de Bellevue.
The one place where water costs will not go up appears to be the city of Montreal.
Philippe Sabourin, a city spokesman, said that 85 per cent of the city's drinking water comes from the St. Lawrence just before the Lachine rapids. The water drawn there is relatively free of sediment, Sabourin said, even this summer with the increased turbidity and lower water levels.
"Montreal would be the exception," Sabourin said.
Dredging work is to begin today at the mouth of the Milles Iles river between Laval and the North Shore, where water levels are threatening the supply of drinking water to North Shore communities. According to Quebec's environment ministry, a trench will be dug to allow more water to flow from Lake of Two Mountains into the river.