It’s called “Aquaduct Utilities Corporation” and soon it will be joining the list of utilities providing water and wastewater systems to municipalities across the province.
(By the way, one of the reasons the County is doing this is because of a monstrous mall on the outskirts of Calgary that continues to be plagued by water and wastewater problems costing taxpayers tens of millions of dollars. Read the background at http://bit.ly/b9YkRM)
The City of Grande Prairie, the County of Grande Prairie and the Town of Sexsmith created the Aquatera Utilities Inc. in 2004. (www.aquatera.ca) and now the County of Rocky View is getting in on the act. They’ve already incorporated the municipally owned and controlled corporation.
The scope of the corporation is “to fulfil a role of owning and operating treated water production and distribution system assets and services, wastewater collection and treatment systems and assets, and solid waste collection and disposal assets. Initial focus will be on water systems.”
The full discussion paper can be found on the Rocky View County website at:
http://bit.ly/aviVrU (PDF download)
Accompanying the discussion paper is a draft policy (pp. 35-37), but there is no statement recognizing the limited supply of water. They talk about geographic limitations, economic realities and infrastructure limitations but it’s perhaps not surprising at all, that there is no mention of limitations on the actual supply of water!
Following in Calgary’s footsteps towards rampant urbanization
The principal goals of Aqueduct include “capital expansion, growth and infrastructure.” This utility was created using taxpayer dollars and my guess is that it will need to keep adding customers to stay profitable. This seems similar to what the City of Calgary is doing by creating its own water utility. We are not only accommodating growth, we are creating a necessity (and an incentive) for growth. It’s a treadmill that we just can’t seem to get off!
I think ratepayers in Rocky View should ask questions about the financing of this new utility, the transfer of infrastructure from County ownership to private ownership and the financial model driving it all. My take on this is that it’s the County’s answer to the accusation that they will be going to go into debt to finance the water and wastewater systems–technically, it is the private company that is going to assume the debt. But what exactly are the risks and liabilities to County residents? That is certainly downplayed in this document.
Given the make-up of the board of directors of the similar Grande Prairie corporation (Aquatera http://www.aquatera.ca) where the majority on the board are elected officials, I think we can safely assume that several members of the Rocky View council are probably looking at a some supplementary income for their new gig on the board of Aqueduct. It is customary for board members of private companies to receive compensation of some type. Can we assume that this board will be any different?
Calgary Regional Partnership and the “water supply business”
The discussion paper also offers some insight into the behind-the-scenes discussions about water. The following section outlines the position of the Calgary Regional Partnership with respect to water:
Over the last three years, the Calgary Regional Partnership (CRP) has also staked a position in the water supply business. The focus of the CRP has been on examining and planning for the potential water supply to urban style developments from a central supplier (Calgary) or from sub-regional centres such as Cochrane. Studies conducted have focused on triple bottom line analysis which has been over-shadowed by the economic considerations. Clearly, supply from a single plant through pipelines is, in most instances, less expensive than building and operating several new water treatment plants.
Conclusions reached by the CRP assume that only urban style development is economically feasible to service and sets aside any other development opportunities. That leaves many of the developments contemplated outside urban nodes searching for solutions for water services. Politics aside, the studies and conclusions of the CRP should not be lost on the County. Fewer treatment plants and longer trunk lines are still less expensive than building and operating several treatment plants.
The discussions above put the County in a position to carefully consider its needs and long term directions, thereby charting its own course for the supply of water to its constituents.
The County of Rocky View decided not to join the CRP and is looking for alternate ways of securing water. During the public consultations on the Calgary Metropolitan Plan (CMP), representatives of the Calgary Regional Partnerships were less than forthcoming about the partnership’s position on the “water supply business.” There was no mention of Calgary getting into the business of supplying water to their rural neighbours as part of the CRP.
In fact, when residents turned out to the open houses in large numbers and identified water supply as a major concern, it didn’t even rate as one of the top concerns in the final report on the public consultation. The rationale was that water issues would be covered in the consultations for the South Saskatchewan River Regional Plan. There certainly was no clear communication of the plans by the City of Calgary to create a new water utility to provide water and wastewater services to members of the CRP. As if having a veto isn’t enough, the City is also given the green light to control the water distribution to communities on the outskirts.
New corporation was quietly approved by Cabinet
The discussion paper also indicates that the new Aqueduct Corporation has already received Cabinet approval. Ironically, the author of the paper, Rocky View’s Chief Administrative Officer, Robert Coon goes on to say that prior to any action there is a need for “policy development and adoption by Council to provide direction and care and clarity to administration, system operators and developers about how water services are delivered in the County. Without those policies and their coordination with other planning documents, including the Growth Management Strategy, Rocky View is left without formal direction and unable to supply consistent answers to concerns raised by constituents.”
I guess none of that direction and coordination was important to Cabinet, as they approved the corporation anyway! If this isn’t an example of irresponsible decision-making, I don’t know what would be. Basically, what he’s saying is: “Jiminy Cricket, we’ve gone ahead and made the decision, without the facts–so we’d better hurry up and get our facts together so that it looks like we knew what we were doing.” (see page 7).
Ah, it’s these little nuggets buried in a 41 page document that make reading the other 40 pages worthwhile.
P.S. In case Rocky View County decides to remove the report from their website, I’ve also posted a copy on this blog at: