The Bristol County Water Authority needs help from the town councils in Barrington, Warren and Bristol and the county’s state legislators to implement its first-ever “strategic plan,” which seeks an alternate supply of water from Pawtucket and upgrades to the entire water system.
That was the focus of an 8 am session on Tuesday, Dec. 11, at the water authority’s offices in Warren.
Executive Director Pamela Marchand made the pitch – but it was heard only by 2 of the 15 town councilors and Barrington Town Manager Peter DeAngelis Jr. No legislators attended.
“What do we need to do?” said Barrington Town Councilor Bill DeWitt, the only one from Barrington to attend the session. Edward Stuart attended from Bristol.
“At the least, support a resolution to the legislature that amends the Bristol County Water Supply Act,” said Marchand. “It’s important that the three towns endorse what we do.”
Specifically, the BCWA wants the act amended so that it no longer needs to maintain an alternate supply of water from Massachusetts. But it also wants the $6.9 million set aside by the state for the water authority to maintain that supply to be shifted to the BCWA’s cost of setting up a new interconnection through East Providence to Pawtucket.
Marchand said the board would use that cash to cover its 25 percent share of the cost of the interconnection, estimated at around $20 million. Whether that cash can be used to tie into Pawtucket remains in limbo right now, she said.
Ken Burke, of the RI Water Resources Board, who also attended the session, agreed. He said the money is earmarked specifically for maintaining the water authority’s Massachusetts supply. Whether it can be shifted is being assessed by bond attorneys right now.
A key step, though, in developing an alternate supply route from Pawtucket requires the water act to be modified, Marchand said.
The water authority’s infrastructure also needs to be upgraded, she said.
“We’ve underinvested to keep rates lower,” Marchand said.
The system includes 100-year-old cast iron pipes that, fortunately, “are very thick" so they can be cleaned of talcum powder-like rust that has built up inside, and then lined with concrete, she said.
But that will require new capital over the next 20 years. Much of that capital will have to come from rate increases of around 12 percent across the board next year and 3 to 4 percent a year after that.
“That’s about $5 a month for the average customer,” she said, who right now spends about $476 a year for water – the highest rate in the state.
The board will be holding a public hearing on the BCWA’s proposed rate increases next Thursday, Dec. 20, at the water authority headquarters.