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Facts About Aquatera

Aquatera is an important organisation. It provides us with our water, sewer, and waste disposal. It pays the City a few million dollars per year. In the past, it has been the subject of heated political debate. It is our biggest example of regional partnership. Most relevant: it costs most of us a decent amount of money every month.

Today I had a coffee meeting that I setup to learn more about Aquatera. I've also been reading everything I can about it. Following are some facts that will interest many of you. Most of this is based on my own notes from conversations, not from reading official documents. So if I have an error or have been given inaccurate information, please let me know.

  • THE BIG ONE: there are three big issues concerning Aquatera that our new Council will need to consider soon. 1) Wembley wants Aquatera service, letting them in would require re-visiting the shareholder agreement that governs the company. 2) The City, County, and MD of Greenview have an agreement to develop industrial land near Grovedale: Aquatera would love to service it. 3) Infrastructure charges need reviewing- shareholders need to decide if they are the best way to charge for new service (I explain what they are below)
  • Aquatera is a private company. But its only shareholders are the City of Grande Prairie (majority shareholder), the County of Grande Prairie, and the Town of Sexsmith.
  • Any dividends paid by the company are paid to these shareholders. Two years after an infrastructure project, there is a mandatory 5% dividend paid to the shareholders who invested in it. So if the City puts $100,000 into a project, two years later Aquatera will start paying it $5000 per year. When all the shareholders agree to it, Aquatera can also payout some of its profit in discretionary dividends.
  • Even though the City is a majority shareholder, there is a Unanimous Shareholders Agreement. This basically means that all three shareholders need to agree before the company can make any major decisions. Examples of these types of decisions include board appointments, discretionary dividend payments, and acquisitions from or of other companies.
  • There are two ways that new water and sewage service can get paid for. One is through Offsite Levies. Through this method, when a developer begins to develop a chunk of land, they pay the water utility company to service it based on the size of land. This cost is then passed onto builders, who pass it onto purchasers. Aquatera uses a different method: Infrastructure Charges. This has also been called a meter charge because it is charged when a water meter is installed. It is based on the size of the pipe going into the building. It also means that it is charged closer to the time of house purchase, which means the fee has less carrying cost.
  • Each municipality picks its own rate for water. But so far, all municipalities have followed recommendations made by Aquatera. If a municipality charged less than the recommendation, it would need to subsidize Aquatera for the lost revenue (it could do this using its dividends).
  • Aquatera rates are below the Alberta median for water and sewer. But Aquatera is charging above the median for garbage and recycling. Garbage/recycling is more expensive in part due to competition with the Clairmont landfill (owned by the County).
  • Non-residential rates for water are 10% higher than residential rates. This is mostly due to the cost of fire prevention- hydrants in residential neighbourhoods don't need the same speed of flow as hydrants elsewhere.
  • There has been some complaints about new meters leading to higher charges. The new meters being installed aren't any different than what has been installed for ten years. However, sometimes old meters malfunction. When they do, they tend to under-measure consumption (consumption is measured by a moving part which occasionally gets gummed up). So it is conceivable that a new meter will charge more than an old meter due to a more accurate reading. For this reason, commercial and industrial meters get tested occasionally. But residential meters don't usually get tested.

    I'd love to hear from you. What facts do you have that people might find of interest? What else would you like to know about? What is your take on the direction Council should take with the three issues going before it?