White Rock explores case for buying water utility
White Rock officials are looking into whether the city should try to buy its water utility.
The council decision – made during a closed meeting Feb. 25 – was announced Friday afternoon.
It comes in the midst of water-supplier Epcor's application to B.C.'s deputy comptroller of water rights for approval to carry out $11-12 million in upgrades to the city's water system.
The Edmonton-based company's Total Water Quality Management project also aims to abide by a Fraser Health order to chlorinate the system by 2016.
"The timing is right," city manager Dan Bottrill said of council's move.
"Epcor is looking at doing significant infrastructure improvement. If the City of White Rock was ever thinking of acquiring the utility, the time would be now, before (Epcor) makes that investment."
Staff have been directed to develop a business case for the purpose of determining if the city should enter formal purchase negotiations.
Bottrill said the process will not only examine the cost of acquiring the utility, but also how the city would intend to operate it.
Epcor officials were given a heads-up prior to the decision being made public.
Spokesman Tim Le Riche said nothing formal has taken place, but "we'll examine any materials they have or take part in any discussions that they ask us to."
"For us, it's business as usual for now. We know we're doing the right thing when we're going through the Total Water Quality Management project process with the regulator."
Friday (March 1) was the deadline for interested parties and intervenors to file submissions in the hearing process, and Epcor has until March 8 to respond.
Bottrill said the city's submissions included a request that Epcor endorse a postponement of the regulator's decision until after the business case is complete, a process that's expected to take 90 days.
He confirmed White Rock is one of few cities that does not own its water system. The idea to look into the purchase came up during staff efforts to respond to a council request to explore the logistics of linking to Metro Vancouver's water system.
"The only way to really join Metro, or force that issue, would be to own that utility," Bottrill said.
The step is no slight against Epcor, he added.
"Epcor has been doing a very good job for us," Bottrill said.
"This is a step that I think we need to take in order to determine if it's in the best interest of our community.
"Clearly, a more detailed business case, once we complete that, we'll be better able to answer that question."