Let’s take back control of our water

With Veolia’s contract expiring in 2019, Moncton has the opportunity to bring water services back under public control. This could save money, ensure water quality, and protect our environment. But instead, the City is moving ahead with plans to maintain private operation of our water system. It doesn’t have to be this way.

What is happening?

Nearly 20 years ago, Moncton City Council signed a deal with a multinational corporation to build, finance and operate a new drinking water treatment plant. At the time, there was an urgent need to improve our city’s water quality. Funding from federal and provincial sources wasn’t flowing. So, Council entered into a complex arrangement that privatized the day-to-day operations of our drinking water.

The public-private partnership (P3) is with Veolia, a French multinational corporation involved in water privatization around the globe. The deal cost at least $8 million more than it would have if the City built it itself.

Though Moncton did not have to invest any funds up front, it has slowly paid back the capital cost with interest through monthly payments to Veolia over the 20-year term of the contract. Had the City decided in 1999 to go with a traditional public financing model, it could have borrowed at a lower rate, which would have saved it over $8 million. Meanwhile, Veolia has received an 24% annual return on its investment. Now that the contract is coming to an end, those payments to a private, for-profit company cease, representing a potential cost savings for the City.

Fortunately, Moncton has a chance to take back control and daily operation of this vital public service. The contract with Veolia is expiring in 2019.

City Council does not have to sign another contract with a for-profit corporation like Veolia. It has paid off the water treatment plant and it belongs to the City. Moncton has the ability to directly operate its own water treatment facility, just as nearly all other Canadian municipalities do.

There are also environmental concerns about the Turtle Creek watershed. When the Council of Canadians approached Veolia to discuss the impacts of glyphosate spraying near the watershed on Moncton’s drinking water, they were turned away and barred from the premises. A publicly-operated utility would not pose the same barriers to accessing information about use of pesticides and other harmful chemicals.

Unfortunately, instead of taking the opportunity to regain public control of our drinking water, the City is moving ahead with seeking continued private operation of our treatment facility. Earlier this year, the City began a search process for private bidders to operate and maintain our drinking water treatment plant for the next 15 years. Two companies – Veolia and Accione Agua/Groupe Hélios – have been qualified to compete for the contract through a bidding process that is expected to be completed this Fall.

 

The benefits of public management

Based on the experience of other communities in Canada and around the world, bringing our water services back into the City’s operations will save money and ensure water quality. Bringing the plant back in-house would contribute to the development of well-paying jobs in the City while reaffirming the Council’s commitment to improving water quality through public accountability.

For example, by taking control of the management of drinking water, residents will be able to require the collection of more data to determine if there is Glyphosate in the Greater Moncton’s water.

The 2016 Columbia Institute’s report Back In-House lists three examples of Canadian municipalities bringing water and wastewater operations under fully public control. All three communities ended contracts with for-profit operator EPCOR.

  • In 2014, Banff, Alberta decided not to renew an operation contract, estimating it would save $350,000 a year if Town staff took over operation and maintenance of the wastewater treatment plant.
  • In 2016, the Municipal Council in Sooke, BC voted to bring wastewater operations in-house, having build the in-house expertise and ability to do the work with city staff. The move will save Sooke at least $225,000 a year.
  • In 2014, Port Hardy District Council used an early-cancellation clause to end a 20-years water and wastewater operations contract. The mayor described the decision as being ‘’in the best interest of the taxpayer.’’ EPCOR staff were offered positions in Port Hardy’s Public Works Department.

Private corporations prioritize profit over public good – access to clean water is a human right much too important to delegate to for-profit companies. That’s why the vast majority of water and wastewater systems in Canada are fully public.

Email Greater Moncton area Councillors

Filling out the form will send an email to the Mayor of Moncton and your Ward Councillors, or to your Mayor and Councillors-at-large in Dieppe or Riverview if you live there.

Dear Mayor and Councillors,

As a Greater Moncton area resident, I believe the operations of the Greater Moncton Water Treatment Facility can and should be brought back under public control.

Moncton City staff must, at the very least, present Council with a “public option” rather than only consider private for-profit proposals for operating our drinking water system. Taking back full control and daily operation of this vital public service can deliver cost-savings for the City of Moncton and the municipalities served by the Greater Moncton Water Treatment Facility . It also means more transparency to protect the health of our residents.

As my elected representative, I hope you will actively support bringing water operations back in house. I hope you will urge Council to direct City staff to present a full and transparent report on the public option to Moncton City Council and allow time for the public to comment before proceeding with any decision on potential private operators.


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Photo credits:  Stephen Downes and Shawn Harquail.