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Spike in water bill complaints prompts Alberta government to introduce new law

Click to play video: 'Soaring water bills spark new Alberta law' Soaring water bills spark new Alberta law
WATCH ABOVE: Complaints of massive jumps in water bills have prompted the province to introduce a new law. Kendra Slugoski spoke to a Fort Saskatchewan woman who says the law would have helped her – Apr 18, 2018

Trina Okimaw-Scott still gets upset when she talks about the spike in her water bill.

The Fort Saskatchewan homeowner said it has happened more than once and coming home from a vacation to find a disconnection notice in the mail was her tipping point.

“I had to decide between paying the water bill or putting my daughter in dance class.”

Okimaw-Scott chose water.

Okimaw-Scott said her water bill had spiked by three times the regular amount. She said her normally $90 bill had gone up by hundreds of dollars. She said there was no grace period or payment plan to help deal with the unexpected spike.

Okimaw-Scott noticed she wasn’t the only one with an “astronomical” water bill and she started speaking out on a Facebook group called “Fort Sask Water Wars.”

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She said her senior friend on a fixed income was delivered a $900 bill and was forced to take out a loan to pay the city on time.

READ MORE: Alberta single mom handed $2,700 water bill: ‘It’s impossible’

In November, Global News spoke with another Fort Saskatchewan mother who was mailed a massive water bill.

Okimaw-Scott said she and many others complained to the city but were not able to get their bills reduced.

READ MORE: Fort Saskatchewan responds to resident water bill woes

Stephanie Mclean, the minister of Service Alberta, said new legislation would give customers another tool to tackle sky-high water bills.

The law would expand the mandate of Alberta’s Utilities Consumer Advocate (UCA) to include water, sewage and drainage customers.

Right now, the UCA only has the power to mediate for electricity and gas customers.

“Is it a leaky toilet? Is it that the water meter is faulty? Is it a mistake in the billing system?” McLean asked. “It’s hard for a consumer to know what the real cause is or how to prove it.”

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In the past year, the UCA has conducted 5,290 mediations — helping customers with disconnections, metering issues and resolving bill disputes.

Chris Hunt with UCA said in the past it has had bills reduced.

“If we see a trend, then we’re going to flag that to them (utility company or regulator) and not just over the phone.”

However, the UCA does not have enforcement powers. Water utilities are controlled by individual municipalities and government can only take action if billing is not in accordance with the rates that have been set out.

“This is not meant to be a heavy hand. This is meant to be a third way,” McLean said.

READ MORE: City of Calgary to absorb cost of unusually high water bills 

Okimaw-Scott said she paid those high water bills and doesn’t expect to see any money back.

If the legislation is passed, Okimaw-Scott said it would at least delay a disconnection order while there is an ongoing dispute.

“It’s senior citizens, the single moms that are already stressed —they won’t. They’ll just pay the bill.”

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