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Water Utilities Handbook

A uniform set of accounting policies and consistent standards for reporting information has been set down by the Board.  The information is included in the “Water Utility Accounting and Reporting Handbook”.  All regulated water utilities are required to follow the direction in the Handbook.

Water Safety

The Nova Scotia Department of Environment has overall responsibility for testing and enforcing standards to ensure safe and good quality drinking water.  To assist municipal water utilities the Department and the Board have published a guide called Municipal Water Utility Oversight.  The guide helps utilities understand their roles and responsibilities under both the Public Utilities Act and the Environment Act.

Rate Applications

When a utility decides rates need to be changed it can apply to the Board to do so.  The utility must prepare a rate study to support the application.  Appendix B of the Water Utility Accounting and Reporting Handbook includes information on what is required in an application.  That includes:

  • Proposed rates and revenue and their impacts
  • Historical and projected financial information
  • The methodology and calculations for the rates
  • A description of the system.

To avoid delays in processing please ensure applications are as complete as possible.  Utilities are welcome to contact the Board to discuss a schedule for making an application, reserving dates for hearings, or for general information on how to file an application.

For procedural information relating to rate applications please see the Board Regulatory Rules.



What the Board does

The Board regulates approximately 50 water utilities in the province. That includes:

  • Approving the rates charged and the general terms for providing service (the utility’s regulations).
  • Approving spending on capital items (e.g. equipment, pipes, buildings) with a value of:
    • $250,000 or more for utilities with annual revenue less than $100 million.
    • $1,000,000 or more for utilities with annual revenue over $100 million.
  • Considering complaints from customers such as:
    • rate charged was incorrect
    • utility did not follow its approved terms for providing service
    • water meter was not read correctly
    • utility did not provide service at all

The Board’s focus is to ensure reasonably safe and adequate water service is supplied at reasonable rates.  It also ensures sound management of the utility.

What the Board does NOT do:

The Board does not regulate:

  • Bottled water providers
  • Water services provided by landlords (e.g., trailer parks or malls where the landlord provides the water)
  • Some private subdivisions
  • Some water services provided by the Province of Nova Scotia, Department of Public Works
  • Private water systems

Approving capital spending

A utility must have the approval of the Board to purchase capital items with a value of:

  • $250,000 or more for utilities with annual revenue less than $100 million.
  • $1,000,000 or more for utilities with annual revenue over $100 million.

When considering utility requests, the Board looks at:

  • The need for the project or purchase
  • Whether this is the right time for the purchase
  • Whether the amount is reasonable
  • The impact on rates for the customers
  • The impact on the utility

Should a utility proceed with the purchase of a capital item or project without approval:

  • No amount can be included in rates until the Board approves.  If the Board does not approve, then customers cannot be charged for the cost of the project.
  • It may be in contravention of section 35 of the Public Utilities Act.


Halifax Regional Water Customers:

  • Please note this utility has a Dispute Resolution Officer (DRO).  Complaints about rates and terms of service must be filed with the DRO first.  Customers who are not satisfied with the DRO’s decision can appeal to the Board.  DRO appeals follow the same process as complaints for other water utilities.  Important:  DRO decisions must be appealed to the Board within 30 days.
  • More information on how to file a complaint about Halifax Water or to appeal a decision of the DRO can be found here

All Other Utilities’ Customers:

A complaint can be made against a water utility if:

  1. The rate charged was incorrect
  2. The meter was wrong or incorrectly read
  3. The utility did not provide water service, but the customer is within its business area
  4. The service provided was inadequate
  5. The customer feels a utility’s rates or terms of service are unfair

When a complaint is considered the Board will focus on whether the rates and approved terms of service have been followed in a fair and equitable way.

The Board will communicate with both the customer and utility to get background information and to ensure it has all relevant facts before making a decision.

After considering all the information the Board can:

  • Allow the complaint and direct the utility to fix the issue – in whole or in part
  • Dismiss the complaint

The Board has a policy of issuing decisions within 90 days of receiving final information. 

More information on how to file a complaint about a water utility can be found here

Appealing the Board’s Decision

Board decisions can be appealed to the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal within 30 days of the date of the decision.  Or, if an Order is issued, within 30 days of the date of the Order.

General Powers of the Board

The Board has “general supervision” powers  all public utilities.  That includes the ability to:

  • Ensure utilities are following the act and law generally;
  • Obtain all the information it needs to fulfil its duties; and,
  • Investigate any rates, charges, service, or other actions of a utility.

The Board has the power, after a hearing, to compel a utility to comply with the Act and any other laws relating to public utilities.  Orders issued by the Board are legally enforceable.

Acts, Regulations, and Rules

The following acts, regulations, and rules apply to the Board’s work on water utilities: