Infrastructure costs are an important consideration in local government budgets and are heavily influenced by land use patterns. These costs encompass road maintenance, water infrastructure, sanitary sewer infrastructure, stormwater infrastructure and ongoing operations and maintenance costs. This background document provides an overview of these aspects in the Squamish context as it relates to neighbourhood planning.
The District of Squamish water system extracts water from the Ring Creek aquifer which has a capacity of roughly 800 litres/second. On the hottest, driest days of the summer, when we reach our peak water demand, our town draws between 200 and 250 litres/second.
To convey water from the aquifer to residents, the District has a system of water infrastructure (wells, pumps, reservoirs, pipes, etc). This system is currently the limiting factor for our water supply as we are currently near system capacity during peak times. In the future the water system will have to be expanded to meet additional demand. The District has planned for ongoing community growth and increasing water system demands in the Water Master Plan. Upgrades include expanding the water system capacity through pipe size increases, new reservoirs and additional pumps. The District is actively implementing these upgrades including recent well upgrades, ongoing watermain upgrades and a new planned reservoir in 2022. Water demand from new neighbourhood infill can be met without creating significant new costs to existing taxpayers.
Sanitary Sewer Infrastructure
The District of Squamish completed a Liquid Waste Management Plan in 2015 that outlines a plan to meet our liquid waste requirements now and in the future as we contemplate additional community growth. The wastewater treatment plant currently has adequate capacity to meet existing demands and consistently meets our wastewater treatment discharge requirements, as regulated by the Ministry of Environment. Provincial regulations include redundancy requirements for various components of the wastewater treatment plant. The District’s bioreactors currently fall short of redundancy requirements by 17%. This shortfall will be addressed by a wastewater treatment plant expansion which is currently in the design stage; construction will begin in 2022. At the completion of this project the District will meet its redundancy requirements (sections of parallel infrastructure that provide backup in case of equipment failure) and will have the capacity to accommodate anticipated future growth to 2040. These ongoing treatment plant upgrades are partially funded by development through our Development Cost Charge Bylaw.
In addition, the District of Squamish has completed a Sewer Master Plan that addresses other aspects of the sanitary system such as gravity sewers, pump stations and pressurized mains. The Sewer Master Plan lays out infrastructure upgrades to ensure we can safely convey sewage to the plant as the community grows.
Overall, the District’s stormwater infrastructure is meeting the needs of the community and, aside from some localized areas, does not experience significant drainage issues on a regular basis. Staff are currently working on a stormwater management plan for the area south of the Mamquam River. In 2022 staff will be working on a stormwater management plan for Brackendale and the Garibaldi Estates.
Roads also require ongoing maintenance including snow plowing, applying anti-icing bring, patching and eventual re-paving. Concentrating development within infill areas reduces the total length of roads that require maintenance while adding additional tax revenue. This results in lower costs per capita as compared with building new developments in currently undeveloped areas of the community.
Ongoing Maintenance and Replacement
In new developments, infrastructure is generally installed by the developer, which aligns with the District’s intention that ‘development should pay for itself’. In contrast, replacement of existing infrastructure at end-of-life is the responsibility of the District. The major labour and equipment costs in end-of-life replacement generally involve excavation, dewatering and road resurfacing. The incremental cost of increasing infrastructure size (such as installing a 200mm pipe rather than a 250mm pipe) accounts for a relatively small amount (less than 10%) of the total cost for a given project. As such, increasing the number of dwellings serviced by existing infrastructure (rather than installing new infrastructure to other areas of the community) through neighbourhood infill is an important method to reduce the per person tax burden of infrastructure maintenance.
From an asset management perspective, an additional method of ensuring efficient use of infrastructure is to focus on land use planning that is based on a consolidated infrastructure system. Shorter stretches of infrastructure are significantly more efficient and cost effective than longer stretches. The longer the infrastructure system, the more maintenance issues will arise over time resulting in higher costs. This is an important intention behind establishing a growth management boundary in the current OCP.
Cost of City Infrastructure and Services: Halifax
In addition to infrastructure costs, other municipal services are also generally more efficient and cost effective to provide in communities with higher densities. In 2015, the Canadian environmental think tank, Sustainable Prosperity, conducted analysis to compare the costs of municipal infrastructure and services for a variety of development patterns, ranging from rural to urban, for Halifax Regional Municipality in Nova Scotia. While the costs do not directly relate to the Squamish context, the analysis does provide an interesting perspective on the magnitude of costs between different development patterns.
In their analysis, low density development (between 2.2 and 10.4 people/acre) costs local government twice as much as mid to high density development (between 36 and 92 people/acre).
When examining these densities in relation to the Garibaldi Estates neighbourhood based on the 2016 census numbers, the VLA lands, which encompass 120 acres, are populated at roughly 5 people per acre, equivalent to low density housing in the Halifax analysis. In comparison, there are 12 properties in the Garibaldi Estates Neighbourhood that support missing middle housing forms (duplexes, triplexes, rowhouses, townhouses and apartments) which encompass 12.3 acres. The average density of these 12 properties is roughly 50 people per acre, equivalent to somewhere between mid and high density in the Halifax analysis. In the Halifax report, the annual cost of providing infrastructure and services roughly doubles moving from the low density development pattern to the mid and high density pattern. While the specific costs identified in the report will not be relevant to the Squamish scenario, the example does provide insight into how increased density can significantly reduce local government costs and property taxes.
For more information about the Halifax analysis please visit this link:
Servicing Suburban Expansion in Ottawa
Similar results were identified through analysis of servicing costs in Ottawa.
"The city had Hemson Consulting Ltd. review a major study it had done and update some numbers from 2012 to reflect how city costs and tax bills have changed over nine years.
Hemson found it now costs the City of Ottawa $465 per person each year to serve new low-density homes built on undeveloped land, over and above what it receives from property taxes and water bills. That's up $56 from eight years ago.
On the other hand, high-density infill development, such as apartment buildings, pays for itself and leaves the city with an extra $606 per capita each year, a financial benefit that has grown by $151."
For more information about the Ottawa analysis please visit this link: