ABBOTSFORD – Water Watch Mission-Abbotsford is sounding alarm bells over the City’s steamroller campaign to privatize drinking water delivery.
The City of Abbotsford launched a costly new campaign at taxpayers’ expense Monday to convince residents to give away their drinking water rights for the next 25 years.
The campaign is a lead-up to a November 19 referendum vote on Mayor George Peary’s pet project – a proposed $291-million Public-Private Partnership (P3) to control drinking water supply from Stave Lake. The deal would be built with public money then handed over to a private for-profit corporation.
The City announced it has appointed senior staff to work on the propaganda push, hired 13 students to distribute materials for the ‘Vote Yes’ side and contracted Pace Group Communications for advertising. Also unveiled today is a new city website on the water project claiming that Abbotsford’s current water supply will not be able to meet demands after 2016. The City also claims its plan can’t go over budget and that it will definitely get funding from Ottawa.
Peary told media yesterday that the campaign is “the ultimate in participatory democracy,” but Watch Watch called that “unbelievable.” The group says the process so far has been so secretive it has had to resort to freedom of information requests just to try to get information like the questions on a city-sponsored public poll.
The main focus of the “comprehensive communications campaign” appears to be the fear-based claim of a pending water supply shortage. But former City engineer Ed Regts says the figures just don’t add up.
Regts says the current water sources for Abbotsford are not even close to capacity and are “more than capable of providing enough water for Abbotsford until at least 2023.”
Here’s how Regts adds it up: “All the current wells we use that have been upgraded to include treatment could immediately be increased by 20 million litres per day. If we upgraded the pipeline from the treatment facility at Norrish Creek we could add another 51 million litres per day. If you add that capacity, you are far from a shortage.”
Regts adds eventually more water must be found, but that “Stave Lake is only one of several possible supply sources.” He says it has become the City’s only option “because of the federal P3 grants it’s the one that would give a private corporation the biggest profits.”
Apart from the City’s spin on projected water supply figures, Water Watch Mission- Abbotsford says it has major concerns over the proposed referendum question. Buried in the three paragraph question is “agreement with a private sector partner that will….operate a water supply and distribution system…”
Water Watch says this is the real crux of the problem with Peary’s plan. WWMA spokesperson Lynn Perrin explains that “our No. 1 priority is that water must remain a right – not a commodity. The adequate supply of water for all Abbotsford residents must not be tied to giving away control of our most precious resource. It is bizarre to try to convince people that the only way to ensure our water supply is to hand over control to a private corporation.”