Tuesday, February 2, 2016

White Rock Water: A Cautionary Tale

While some people may not believe it, Metro Vancouver has a governance model that is looked at throughout the world as the gold-standard of how municipalities can work together.

In our region, municipalities are responsible for the delivery of local service, but work together to tackle challenges that require scale or are regional in nature. If you want to see what level of government is responsible for the delivery of services that you receive, I suggest you check out the Government Service Delivery in Metro Vancouver infographic on this blog.

Because of the geography of our region, and the high-cost of providing clean drinking water, one of the first areas where municipal governments started working together was around water.

As an example, it cost around $800 million to build the Seymour-Capilano Filtration project. No municipal government could afford to do that on their own.

The Metro Vancouver municipalities that don’t receive Metro Vancouver water are Bowen Island Municipality and Lions Bay (for obvious reasons), Tsawwassen First Nation (which is in the process of connecting into the Metro Vancouver water system), and White Rock.

For historical reasons, White Rock never connected to the Metro Vancouver water system. The City relied on well water from Sunnyside Uplands aquifer which was provided by private companies. The most recent company was EPCOR which is owned by the City of Edmonton.

Unfortunately, White Rock’s water supply became contamination in 2010. In the aftermath of the contamination incident, Fraser Health ordered that EPCOR had to chlorinate the system by June 30, 2016.

Beside the contamination incident, the Sunnyside Uplands aquifer also has arsenic and manganese levels that are approaching the limits set out in Health Canada’s Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality.

Many people in White Rock started questioning the sanity of having a private water system. Recently released documents reveal that White Rock was looking at connecting to the Metro Vancouver Water System as far back as 2013. The estimated cost at the time was $25 million.

Proposed plan to connect White Rock to Metro Vancouver's water system. Select image to enlarge.

The City of White Rock recently bought-out the EPCOR water system for an undisclosed amount of money. Metro Vancouver documents suggest they paid at least $14.3 million for the local water utility.

White Rock’s water supply is now back in public hands. I’m sure the municipality will be connecting into the Metro Vancouver system in the near future because it is the only cost-effective way to provide clean drinking water to its residents.

The saga of White Rock’s water system is a cautionary tale of the cost of a go-it-alone approach to providing municipal services when regional services are available.

1 comment:

Danielle Hrasko said...

As a long term White Rock resident, I am glad that the city now owns the water utility and we no longer have to deal with EPCOR. I agree that connecting to the Metro Vancouver system soon is inevitable.