WHEREAS the Government of Alberta has recently initiated its “Water Conversation” consultation process with the aim of informing future water legislation and policy such as the Water for Life Strategy; and
WHEREAS contained within the background document supporting the consultation process the Government of Alberta is proposing a shift to regional management of water systems; and
WHEREAS this shift would be based on a loss of management control over the operation of municipally owned water utilities and the implementation of full cost accounting in setting water rates; and
WHEREAS the management of rural water utilities by local municipalities allows for the provision of water at subsidized rates to rural residents who would otherwise be unable to afford to connect to a treated water system;
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties oppose any forced regionalization of management control over municipally owned water utilities.
In February of 2013 the Government of Alberta released the document, Our Water Our Future: A Conversation with Albertans, which was the basis for a series of public input sessions that were then held around Alberta during February and March of 2013. The document identified four priority issues and put forward proposed directions for each with the goal of soliciting input as to whether or not the government should proceed with them further. Of the four priority issues identified, the proposed direction for drinking water and wastewater is of particular concern to Alberta’s rural municipalities. The proposed direction involves potentially legislating the regionalization of management over the operation of municipally owned water utilities as described in page 25 of the background document. While the government’s stated goals of increased financial sustainability and improved service is admirable it has failed to take into account the benefits of local management or show that residents are ill-served by the current model of funding and operation of municipal water systems.
Contained within the government’s proposal for “geographic management” of municipal water systems are references to economies of scale in management and other management efficiencies which could be gained by a move to regional management. However; even if this is the case, there has been no study analyzing the benefits and costs of the regionalization of multiple water systems in Alberta that has been done to support the government’s assertion of cost savings at this time. Additionally, recognition that the state of local water management varies significantly within the Province of Alberta would also require that any regionalization should only occur following a detailed cost-benefit analysis at the level of the actual utilities to be regionalized. If regionalization is to occur it should be supported by detailed research and planning and not just ideology.
The report also suggests that the future role of municipalities would be to have policy influence, among other local groups and individuals, on a new governance structure that would set direction and priorities for the local geographic management entity. This combined with a proposed new provincial regulatory body which would ensure compliance with provincial standards while also being used to regulate water rates implies a near total loss of control over the provision of water to local residents by their municipalities. As some municipalities use the subsidized provision of water to local residents as a method to ensure their communities remain healthy and vibrant and can support future growth this loss of control could contribute to the population exodus currently afflicting much of rural Alberta.
Even in a situation whereby municipalities retain ownership over their water utilities the ability to use the provision of water as a social and economic policy tool remains important. It is not clear that in a situation where a water management utility is owned by many small municipalities what influence over rate structures and future investment any individual municipality would have. Smaller municipalities could come to be dominated by the interests of larger municipalities which would likely have differing goals for the geographic management entity. This is not to say that all municipalities would prefer not to join such an arrangement and indeed some may. However, if the Government of Alberta wants to support regional water systems it should continue to fund the voluntary regionalization of this service through the options already in place. New legislation is not required for something that already makes sense for individual communities and would instead just force the regionalization of communities for whom it does not.
6-11F: Water for Life Program Funding for Rural Water Co-ops
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the AAMDC urge the Government of Alberta to provide capital grant funding for rural water supply through the Water for Life Program to connect as many rural residents as possible to regional water lines for the provision of safe potable drinking water.
recognizes the financial and operational challenges facing smaller communities and is reviewing the current regulatory framework for water to ease the burden of these challenges. It is critical that government works with municipalities to best address challenges around the sustainability of drinking and waste water systems, and collaborate on solutions that meet local needs and interests.
In February 2013, government held conversations with stakeholders regarding our water resources. The conversations were guided by the Water for Life strategy and focused partly on geographic management of water systems. During the conversations, concerns were raised about the potential forced regionalization. The conversations were mainly an opportunity for the Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties (AAMDC) to engage in dialogue, and do not imply the direction government will take. Over the next several months, the Government of Alberta will have many conversations with the AAMDC and Albertans to address drinking water and wastewater issues.
Environment and Sustainable Resource Development recognizes that small communities and municipalities are facing water shortages, difficulties attracting and retaining qualified operators, and expensive facility upgrades. The current Water For Life grant program is an unstable source of funding for communities, as it can be impacted by changes in tax revenues and budget priorities.
Geographic management addresses the operational and financial sustainability of systems, including capacity issues, aging infrastructure, and governance systems. The proposed geographic management approach means multiple systems in an area could be managed by a single entity that would be composed of communities in the area, including municipalities, not-for-profit agencies, or other associations. This entity would still be under government authority, but these communities and agencies would work together to create financially and operationally sustainable drinking water and wastewater systems.
The GOA actively promotes co-operation and collaboration between communities, small and large, to improve drinking water and wastewater system sustainability.
The AAMDC deems of the Government of Alberta’s response to this resolution as Unsatisfactory. The AAMDC understands that Water for Life funding is not a stable, predictable source for municipalities; however, the proposed geographic management approach included in the Water Conversations held in 2013 removes local autonomy for municipalities. The AAMDC will continue to advocate on the need for long-term, predictable funding for water and wastewater infrastructure and encourage the Government of Alberta to work with rural municipalities to find local solutions that will provide services needed and maintain municipally owned water utilities.