Too many drinking water and wastewater systems across Canada threaten public health and the environment, according to a report released today by the C.D. Howe Institute. In A Bridge Over Troubled Waters: Alternative Financing and Delivery of Water and Wastewater Services (click here for PDF), author Elizabeth Brubaker reports that many of the municipally owned and operated systems that treat and distribute drinking water perform poorly and lack the financial resources and expertise to meet the challenges posed by aging infrastructure. More than 1,000 systems across Canada violate provincial requirements or are subject to boil-water advisories (see an illustration from Water Canada’s May/June 2011 issue here).
Environment Probe’s Brubaker recommends reforms to the financing and operating of utilities to ensure their long-term sustainability. These include introducing competition for water and wastewater services and taking steps to attract more private expertise and capital investment. To encourage municipalities to seek competitive offers for water and sewage construction and operation, upper levels of governments should:
- insist that municipalities properly price the drinking water and sewage treatment services they provide;
- publish information on their performance; and
- enforce laws governing public health and the environment.
To get the most out of their partnerships with private service providers, says Brubaker, municipalities should use competitive procurement processes and vigorously enforce performance-based contracts. Public-private partnerships, with safeguards to ensure competitive pricing and to deliver suitable performance, are the best solution to a growing and potentially very serious problem, she concludes.
Join the Ontario Society of Professional Engineers as it discusses public-private partnerships on June 1. Water Canada’s Kerry Freek moderates.