Water Authority Needs Cash Or Else

The Bristol County Water Authority will run out of cash for operating expenses by the end of next year without more revenue, town councilors are told Wednesday. They also hear that the water authority is being sued.

The Bristol County Water Authority is in bad financial shape.

Pamela Marchand, executive director of the water authority, delivered that message to the town councils of Barrington, Warren and Bristol Wednesday evening, Dec. 19, in Barrington Town Hall. 

The Tri-Town Meeting was set up by the water authority to brief the 15 councilors on its new strategic and financial plans and its need for a double-digit rate hike for next year. That rate hike will be explained at a public hearing for ratepayers tonight at 6 at Mt. Hope High School. 

“We’re not in a good financial situation right now,” Marchand said. “We will run out of cash by the end of next year” without a significant boost in revenue. 

Marchand explained after the meeting that she was referring to cash used to pay operating and capital expenses. The water authority still has millions of dollars set aside in reserves to pay off bonds. But that cash cannot be used for day-to-day expenses, she said.

The town councilors also learned Wednesday that the financial situation might be even a bit worse than Marchand explained. Two representatives from the Anawan Club in Rehoboth, Mass., informed the councilors that the club filed a lawsuit against the water authority in Superior Court in Taunton, Mass., on Tuesday, Dec. 18. 

The club, which has had an agreement with the water authority for water in the Shad reservoir for decades, is suing the authority for approximately $300,000. The club said it is owed that amount of cash for maintenance and repairs to the dam that feeds the Shad pipeline.

The costs have accumulated over 18 years, and through mounds of correspondence with water authority officials, according to the club representatives. Anawan filed the lawsuit after being unable to reach a settlement agreement with the water authority over the costs.

Marchand spent most of the meeting outlining the water authority’s new strategic plan, which was crafted based on a “situational analysis” that shows an aging infrastructure, a single water source, declining demand for water, and outdated management systems. 

The board has set goals, therefore, to maintain a secure source of high-quality water, address infrastructure that is 100 years old in some cases, improve management systems, ensure financial stability, and improve customer relations. 

“Those goals are all interrelated,” Marchand said. “They must be met together.”

The water authority plans first to secure a backup water supply by building a pipeline through East Providence to Pawtucket, which can supply all of Bristol County’s water if necessary.

But that will take some political muscle to “modify” the Bristol County Water Act, she said, which requires the authority to maintain its supplies and facilities to Massachusetts. 

The authority then wants to start making upgrades to pump stations, water tanks, the meter system and 60 miles of water mains, including a main that runs under Maple Avenue in Barrington, over the next 20 years.

“We’re running out of time to do that before we see water quality issues,” Marchand said, referring specifically to cast-iron mains that must be cleaned and lined of deposits.

All of the above requires a boost in revenue, which has been dropping because rate payers have been conserving water. The average rate payer in Bristol County uses 41 gallons of water a day, far less than the state’s goal of 65 gallons a day, she said. 

The authority already has reduced costs, Marchand said, by cutting debt service, negotiating a favorable contract with the union and reducing retirement expenses. All that remains is to raise rates – by 12 percent next year and 4 percent a year on top of that for four more years.

“I guess we don’t have the water system we thought we had,” said Warren Town Councilor Joe DePasquale. “Now we need a big increase.”

Lorraine F December 23, 2012 at 12:43 PM
What made this BCWA meeting illegal? Just curious. And how do I find out about these meetings?
marina peterson December 24, 2012 at 02:26 PM
Lorraine, at the present time you need to check the Secretary of State's site on a regular basis to find out about the meetings. They usually only post them with the bare minimum notice of 48 hours so you have to be vigilant. Publicity has been very scarce. I usually send out notices to folks that are on my "interested in BCWA list". What made this meeting illegal is that to comply with open meetings regulations they are supposed to let readers know if they will be taking a vote on an issue. This way the ratepayers can ask questions beforehand, etc. They did not do this. There was no indication in the agenda that a vote was going to be taken. The re-appointment of Ms. Mack is/was a very contentious matter with most people who have been following BCWA for the last few years realizing that, if nothing else, it will be next to impossible to get the forensic audit of the Bristol County Water Authority Act that is needed to "clear the air" with her in that position. She blocked it with the B&E report. Hope this helps. The most important issue right now is to make sure that the 6.9M that was allocated to the Shad line does not get re-allocated WITHOUT a complete audit first. This is imperative!
Lorraine F December 24, 2012 at 05:21 PM
Is BCWA going to be sued for this?? Or at least a complaint to the town councils? I'm unfamiliar with what this is all about, but it now seems to be both illegal and just plain wrong in view of their request for a huge rate increase. Will they ever learn that their public image is horrific?
Gary Morse December 26, 2012 at 11:48 AM
Back to BCWA's rate increase. Here are some facts: The BCWA 2011 Performance Audit outlined in detail their high labor costs: http://bristol-warren.patch.com/articles/water-authority-performance-audit-shows-excessive-labor-costs-2 The new labor contract locked in those costs with a "no layoff" clause where it appears not a single production employee will be impacted by the shutdown of the water treatment plant. The benefit packages are still out of line with benefits provided in the private sector, and even with most government sector jobs. I admire the union for its work on behalf of its members. It's management and the board I call into question who have failed to examine parity with water authorities like East Providence. They have never done that simple task. Then there is the statutory mandate of the 1993 Bristol County Water Supply Act. That mandate required ongoing legal advice by their attorney who was charging BCWA $495 per hour. At this point, it appears not only is BCWA relying on $6.9 million in state taxpayer money they may not be entitled to, it also appears BCWA might actually owe money back to the state ($1.7 million) for transfers in 2001 for work on the water treatment plant before the Shad Pipeline was installed. This is the mess we have, in part, because BCWA is not under the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) and instead run by unqualified volunteers. BCWA should finally be placed under the PUC for the sake of its rate payers.
Local Mom December 26, 2012 at 05:20 PM
This issue is a prime example of why people need to experience living in other parts of the country, instead of assuming things may not be much different elsewhere. We moved here from Denver a few years ago. I have been shocked at the cost of water here where water (potable or not) is far more abundant. Our average quarterly bill in Denver was $45, vs my averge bill of $140/quarter here. In Denver, water is relatively scarce but resources are much better managed - one public entity manages the water supply for 1.3MM people (Denver and immediate suburbs) and costs are much more reasonable. For BCWA to not be able to reasonably manage abundant local resources for a mere 15,000 Bristol County customers smacks of a long standing power and/or money grab somewhere. Am not a huge fan of government intervention, but if there was ever a case for PUC oversight, this is it.


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