Ecofiscal Commission Urges Municipalities to Make Users Pay for the Water Services They Use

  • Canada’s Ecofiscal Commission finds that well-designed water rates can motivate conservation, fund infrastructure, and protect water quality.

Toronto, September 26, 2017—Canada’s Ecofiscal Commission today released a new report, Only the Pipes Should be Hidden: Best practices for pricing and improving municipal water and wastewater services.

Municipal water and wastewater services are vital to our health, the economy, and the environment. These networks of infrastructure produce and deliver clean drinking water and remove and treat wastewater.

Yet there are hidden problems in many municipalities: Canadians are some of the biggest water users in the world, and our infrastructure deficits threaten both the quality and quantity of our clean water.

Changing the way we pay for water services can enable us to address all of these problems. By restructuring and raising water rates—with the help of water meters—utilities can connect water usage to the price users pay, thereby driving conservation, providing funding for much needed infrastructure, and helping to protect our water sources. They can also be designed to be fair, ensuring water stays affordable for low-income households.

Some Canadian municipalities are leading the way. Their efforts to design better water rates illustrate the best practices that can help other municipalities improve their own systems.

Only the Pipes Should be Hidden helps municipalities tackle the complex challenges of operating their water systems in a sustainable manner. The report includes:

  • 5 case studies that highlight the progress Canadian municipalities have made in improving the sustainability of their systems. Featured are St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador; Montréal, Quebec; Ottawa, Ontario; The Battlefords, Saskatchewan; and Gibsons, British Columbia.
  • 10 best practices for designing and implementing water rates, drawn from experience across the country
  • 6 policy recommendations, including relying on water rates to recover full costs and encourage conservation

The full report and executive summary are available at

Quick Facts

  • 90% of Canadians get their drinking water from their local municipality.
  • In a comparison of 20 OECD countries, Canada ranks 4th highest in terms of per capita water use.
  • At the beginning of 2015, at least 1,838 Canadian communities were under drinking-water advisories, most of which were caused by poor infrastructure.
  • Canada’s infrastructure deficit for water and wastewater assets is valued at $142 billion.
  • The costs of our municipal water systems include the private costs borne by the water utility (operations, maintenance, capital) as well as the broader social costs (protecting our water sources).
  • The Ecofiscal Commission is a trans-partisan initiative working to advance fiscal policy reform for the benefit of Canada’s economy and environment. The commission comprises 11 prominent economists and 16 advisers including leaders from politics, business and civil society.

Additional Resources

“Better water pricing is about both covering the full costs of our water services and driving conservation—while ensuring we protect access for low-income households. Those who use more will then pay more, and those who save water will save money. Better water pricing is fairer water pricing.”
Chris Ragan, Chair, Canada’s Ecofiscal Commission – Associate professor of economics at McGill University

“The Ecofiscal Commission report shows that municipalities can protect our water resources by making progress on infrastructure. User fees for water services can provide the resources necessary for municipalities to invest in the protection of our water quality and quantity.”
Michael Harcourt, Former Premier of B.C., Former Mayor of Vancouver – Adviser, Canada’s Ecofiscal Commission

“The latest report from the Ecofiscal Commission shows municipal governments how to design smart water user fees, so that they can build financially and environmentally sustainable water systems. Getting prices right can fund critical infrastructure but also create incentives for smart, water-saving technologies.”
Elyse Allan, President and CEO, GE Canada – Adviser, Canada’s Ecofiscal Commission

Commission Spokespeople

  • Chris Ragan, Chair, Ecofiscal Commission and Associate professor of economics at McGill University
  • Dale Beugin, Executive Director, Ecofiscal Commission
  • Nancy Olewiler, Commissioner, Canada’s Ecofiscal Commission and Professor of economics and public policy, Simon Fraser University
  • France St Hilaire, Commissioner, Ecofiscal Commission and Vice President of Research, Institute for Research on Public Policy (in French)

Other Experts

  • Carl Yates, Halifax Water
  • Justin Leroux, HEC Montréal
  • Emanuel Machado, Gibsons, British Columbia

Media Contacts
Annette Dubreuil (outside of Quebec)

Emilie Novales, COPTICOM (in Québec)