Is There an Alternative to the Bristol County Water Authority?

The Barrington Town Council on Monday night endorsed creating an 'exploratory committee' to look at options to the BCWA, which is set to vote tonight on proposed rate hikes.


Barrington Town Councilors said on Monday night that they plan to explore an alternative to the Bristol County Water Authority.

The BCWA is scheduled to meet today at 5:15 pm at its office in Warren, with a vote on proposed water rate increases expected.

“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 02:49 PM
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, and sometimes outright hostility towards residents who have spoken out. Consider prior Councilor Barboza, who too often belittled concerned residents over problems that are now proving to be valid issues. 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.
DownTown January 10, 2013 at 01:11 AM
The BCWA states they are broke because people are not using enough water. Since that also implies that their costs are lower from buying less water the logical assumption is that the BCWA has a massive unnecessary overhead which it is not even considering cutting. Let the BCWA go bankrupt. A fiscal overseer will be appointed by Federal Court and the whole BCWA can be dissolved as it no longer serves a legitimate purpose to the ratepayers or taxpayers.
marina peterson January 10, 2013 at 06:26 AM
After tonight's meeting, where they opted for one 11% increase, and take the rest year by year... I think we really need to think about alternatives. This is just not going to work. Gary Morse brought in a work sheet that was required by Kent County by the PUC in order to request an increase. It was amazing! They actually had to provide real facts and numbers as to why they needed an increase!!! Imagine!! We need to make some serious changes if we are going to be assured of water for our children and grandchildren. Most of the staff at BCWA will be retired in 5 years and it looks like they just want to hold it together until that time.
BOB I January 10, 2013 at 12:36 PM
time for a real investigation,by the RISP.


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