2020-11-11

Some taking unfair advantage of Chester’s water coupon program

by KEITH CORCORAN

The Municipality of Chester's water voucher program, which provides relief for residents whose wells dry-up due to seasonal drought conditions, needs re-tooling as it appears people are unfairly taking advantage, a civic politician says.

Someone collected and delivered coupons, on behalf of and to, residents who didn't report water shortages, Councillor Danielle Barkhouse told a recent council meeting.

Those who received the unsolicited coupons were told to claim their well was dry should they be contacted by the municipality, Barkhouse said.

The municipality started providing coupons for four litres of drinking water per person per household in August. The program, which recently ended for the season, allowed for up to four jugs per day per household. A provincial park site was used for supplemental water pick-up and showers. Tancook residents also had access to coupons and water distribution.

"I love this program, but we need to find a way to tighten it up," Barkhouse told her council colleagues.

Allen Webber, the municipal warden, admitted there's a problem. "I know there's some abuse,but its awful hard to police," he told council.

More than $15,000 worth of coupons were redeemed by late October.

Drought-like conditions in 2016 impacted more than 200 wells in the municipality, motivating officials to start a major water distribution program costing over $10,000. With just two reported dry wells in 2017 the program didn't operate.

The coupon system cost $1,500 to run in 2018, and $7,000 in 2019, when more than 50 dry wells were reported, according to information provided to council by corporate and strategic services official Bruce Blackwood.

Blackwood indicated in a written report to council that as of late October the municipality recorded nearly 280 "dry, or low level/poor quality wells" in 2020, and issued nearly 17,000 water coupons.

While the coupon program is progressive, it's not a good long-term measure, said newly-elected Councillor Andre Veinotte.

"I think if we had the statistics, I think we'd find that many people who take advantage of our program are the people of limited financial means," he told his colleagues during the October meeting.

"Having a program that gives people rationing coupons on a weekly basis; I think that's very poor policy."

The municipality is working on a community well program that would offer a registered water supply at all hours and days, something Veinotte was confident wouldn't exceed the cost of the coupon concept.

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