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An Alternative to the Water Authority?

Barrington Town Council endorses creating an 'exploratory committee' to look at options to the Bristol County Water Authority, which has become a 'water delivery' system only.

Barrington plans to explore an alternative to the Bristol County Water Authority.

“Why not an alternative? Why not an option since it is now a water delivery system?” said Barrington Town Councilor Ann Strong at Monday night’s meeting in Town Hall. “They’re not making water anymore.”

Her fellow councilors seemed to agree. They voted to endorse her creation of some sort of "exploratory committee" that would probably include members from the two other Bristol County towns, Warren and Bristol, that rely on the water authority.

The water authority, in fact, has been distributing water sent to Bristol County from the Scituate Reservoir by the Providence Water Supply Board for many years. It only operates the treatment plant in Warren one day a month. And it is hoping to build a new pipeline through East Providence that brings in water from Pawtucket as a backup supply.

Strong asked: Is it necessary to have layers of bureaucracy and engineering between the three towns and its water source, with heavy-duty salaries and expenses simply to distribute water? 

“We can start small, but still look at all the issues,” Strong said.

Town Councilor Bill DeWitt, a liaison to the BCWA, asked Strong if she was suggesting a change in the business model -- or simply a push to make the water authority more efficient.

That could be the mission of the exploratory committee, she said.

“I don’t feel it works best in its current form,” she said. “What works best?”

Town Council President June Speakman said it does seem like the time might be right to explore other options, including locating other “water distribution entities” that could serve as models.

“It no longer treats water, and it doesn’t have it own source,” Speakman said of the BCWA’s movement completely away from relying on water from reservoirs in Massachusetts.

Longtime water authority watchdog Gary Morse of Barrington said the committee must look at the “hard numbers” as it explores alternatives.

“What’s missing are the hard numbers,” he said, referring to an audit done early in 2012 by the B & E consulting firm, which suggested having an independent consultant look at and come up with a “rigid set of cost controls.”

The BCWA was founded in 1986 with passage of the Bristol County Water Act; it purchased the former private Bristol County Water Company.

Gary Morse January 09, 2013 at 11:48 AM
For over two decades, BCWA and it's board have failed to adopt the due diligence required of water authorities who have to report to the Public Utilities Commission. Our rates are high in large part because BCWA reports to town councils who have historically also taken a path of least resistance. The B&E report recognized this problem and recommended that if the councils do not recommend PUC oversight, at a minimum, an independent third party should mediate rate increases on behalf of the rate payers. The BCWA board simply lacks the will to run the place as a business. While BCWA is showing signs of some improvement, they were historically operating at levels so low, anything would be an improvement. Rate payers need independent third party oversight who report to rate payers.
Lorraine F January 09, 2013 at 01:01 PM
Thank you Councilor Strong and Councilor DeWitt for being part of a minority on the Tri Town Council who see this problem for what it is, local cronyism. Management is highly compensated to do an exceptional job, the board is there to look after the interests of rate payers, and the legal counsel had two roles - to represent the interests of management, and to represent the interests of rate payers. It sounds like it's been a long term failure. As for most on the town councils, it's been little more than choreographed outrage. We all look forward to some common sense solutions.
BOB I January 09, 2013 at 04:06 PM
maybe it's time to have a real investigation of the BCWA,by the RISP
marina peterson January 09, 2013 at 08:12 PM
Thank you Ann Strong and Bill Dewitt!! You have spoken out and said what no other Town Councilors had the courage to say! It is time to look at other alternatives to our current BCWA. If it was dissolved it would end the union contracts and a new entity could be put in place to handle the distribution of the water. We have not had a redundant source of water for years so that should not make a difference. Are there finally enough people who are tired of throwing good money after bad to take a stand on this? I certainly hope so!
Manifold Witness January 09, 2013 at 09:26 PM
Thank you Ann & thank you to the Town Council for the vote in support of this suggestion.
Local Mom January 10, 2013 at 03:40 PM
Refreshing change of thought on this item - bravo!! As different path, can we get BCWA under auspices of PUC, which may provide better oversight and then, maybe hold some of directors/staff accountable for the current state of disrepair?

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