COLUMN: The start of something big

City of White Rock potential purchase of water utility could set stage for bigger changes

The possibility of the City of White Rock buying out its privately owned water utility may have ramifications for many far beyond the White Rock municipal boundary.

The city is looking into the business case of taking over the White Rock waterworks, which is now owned by Epcor.

Curiously enough, Epcor itself is a subsidiary of the City of Edmonton, and is a company that has its roots in Edmonton’s municipal water system.

White Rock residents are among a very few in the Metro Vancouver area who do not have access to municipally distributed water. Most residents, including almost all Surrey residents, get their water from three major reservoirs owned by the Greater Vancouver Water District, a subsidiary of Metro Vancouver.

In Surrey’s case, it has been getting water from the regional system since 1939. The only Surrey residents who do not have access to that water supply are a few in rural areas who rely on their own wells and some who live near the White Rock border and are served by Epcor.

For the most part, the Metro Vancouver water system has been a good one. Some extremely expensive upgrades in the past decade have drastically boosted the cost of water to residents, but it still remains affordable. Most important, the water is clean and it tastes good. Water quality testing is done constantly.

If White Rock goes ahead with the purchase, which is not a sure thing, where would the money come from?

The city isn’t flush with cash and has a limited ability to raise additional funds. While it can borrow money to buy the utility, the costs of that borrowing would be borne by taxpayers.

It is quite likely that, if the city took over the waterworks, it could be linked to the larger Metro Vancouver water system, and the existing wells could either be abandoned or used as a backup system.

That could also involve some additional expense to taxpayers, given the ongoing upgrades of the regional water system.

The question that keeps lingering in my mind is this – if White Rock buys the waterworks, and the expenses go beyond those projected by administrators, would that be the final step towards White Rock reuniting with Surrey?

This isn’t wishful thinking. Ultimately, it will be up to White Rock residents to determine if they want to go in that direction. But past cases in B.C. indicate that major expenditures that go sideways often lead to municipal amalgamation.

The most relevant recent case was in Abbotsford in the 1990s. The District of Abbotsford, which was a conservatively run organization, ran into some unexpected expenses within its water system, which largely used wells.

It was the issue that led eventually to the uniting of Matsqui and Abbotsford under the Abbotsford name. Matsqui had a modern water system, with a supply from Norrish Creek in Mission, and had other infrastructure in place that made a merger logical.

White Rock has less room to maneuver than Abbotsford did at that time. It has a very limited geographical base, a small commercial tax base and property taxes that are already quite high. Its options, in the case of a major unexpected expense, would be quite limited.

I see no movement in Surrey to have White Rock come back. But if the City of White Rock asked if that was an option, I’d be surprised if Surrey responded with a flat “no.”

Frank Bucholtz writes Thursdays for the Peace Arch News. He is the editor of the Langley Times.

Just Posted

Natalie Brown and Colten Wilke star in the feature film Thunderbird, co-produced by South Surrey-raised Michael Morrison and released this month in Canada, the U.S and the U.K. (Contributed photo)
South Surrey-raised producer helps bring ‘Thunderbird’ to the screen

Michael Morrison guides B.C.-shot thriller with First Nations connection

File photo
Surrey Board of Trade vows ‘a lot of noise’ will be made about tax increases

Huberman calls for comprehensive tax review at all levels of government

2019 Red Serge Gala guests try their luck at roulette. (Simon Lau photo)
High hopes for in-person Red Serge Gala on Semiahmoo Peninsula

28th fundraiser for community safety programs set for Oct. 23 return

TEASER PHOTO ONLY - Hillcrest Drive-In's sign at the end its run in Surrey, in a photo uploaded to by hermangotlieb.
SURREY NOW & THEN: The city’s last drive-in, Hillcrest showed movies for 50 years on site turned shopping mall

‘It was a good memory, being the last drive-in in the Lower Mainland, at the time,’ says former operator Jay Daulat

United Truckers Association members outside Labour Minister/Surrey-Newton MLA Harry Bains’ office on Monday, June 21. (submitted photo: UTA)
Protesting truckers park outside Labour Minister’s Surrey office; daily rallies promised

The truckers take issue with unlicensed trucks taking work away from legitimate owner operators, and more

The border crossing into the United States is seen during the COVID-19 pandemic in Lacolle, Que. on February 12, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
VIDEO: Border quarantine to soon lift for fully vaccinated Canadians

Eligible travellers must still take multiple COVID-19 tests

By protesting uninvited in First Nations’ territories, conservationists are acting in a neocolonial or paternalistic manner, says Huu-ay-aht Chief Robert Dennis. Photo by Heather Thomson
A closer look: do Vancouver Island First Nations support the war in the woods?

First Nations/environmentalist old growth alliance uneasy, if it exists at all

A blood drive in support of 1-year-old Rielynn Gormley of Agassiz is scheduled for Monday, June 28 at Tzeachten First Nation Community Hall in Chilliwack. Rielynn lives with type 3 von Willebrand disease, which makes it difficult for her to stop bleeding. (Screenshot/Canadian Blood Services)
Upcoming blood drive in honour of Fraser Valley toddler with rare blood condition

The Gormley family has organized a blood drive in Chilliwack on June 28

One Reconciliation Pole and two Welcome Figures were unveiled during a ceremony in honour of truth and reconciliation on National Peoples Indigenous Day at the Vancouver School District in Vancouver, B.C., on Friday, June 21, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Horgan marks Indigenous Peoples Day by urging recognition of systemic racism

National Indigenous Peoples Day has been marked in Canada since 1996

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Deepak Sharma of Abbotsford has been convicted of the sexual assault of one of his cab passengers in West Vancouver in January 2019.
Former Abbotsford Hindu temple president convicted of sexual assault

Deepak Sharma assaulted a female passenger when he was a cab driver

A man makes his way past signage to a mass COVID-19 vaccination centre at the University of Toronto’s Mississauga campus during the COVID-19 pandemic in Mississauga, Ont., on Monday, May 17, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Canadians encouraged to see mRNA shots as interchangeable as more 2nd doses open up

Doctors urge people not to hesitate if offered Moderna after getting Pfizer for their first shot

Chief of Defence Staff Jonathan Vance sits in the front row during a news conference in Ottawa on June 26, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Defence committee rises without report on Vance allegations

Committee had been investigating the government’s handling of complaints against former defence chief

The Coquihalla Lakes washroom is getting upgrades. (Submitted)
Coquihalla to get upgrades to aging washrooms

The Ministry of Transportation is providing $1 million in funding to upgrade 3 rest areas

Most Read