French Creek residents are unhappy about a proposal that could see their water bills increased by more than 45 per cent over the next three years.
The private company that supplies water to about 2,000 homes in the French Creek area — Epcor — has applied to the B.C. Comptroller of Water Rights for a rate increase that could see a resident’s monthly bill go to $66.17 in 2017 from $45.30 in 2014.
“No one is saying Epcor is dishonest,” said French Creek Residents’ Association (FCRA) vice president Rob Williams. “They know what they are doing — they run water systems all over the world. But we think they spend too much money on niceties and we pay for it.”
The association has achieved intervener status with the comptroller on the issue of the rate-increase application. All parties must have their submissions to the comptroller by next week and then a response period, which ends March 23. The comptroller is expected to provide a ruling on the application shortly after March 23.
The monthly bill numbers above can fluctuate from home to home depending on usage. The FCRA is disputing the rate increases on three fronts:
• Capital costs. “They want to spend too much money — we want to see that reduced,” said Williams.
• Riders, a portion of the bill moved forward from year to year to reflect the amount of water Epcor budgeted to deliver, but did not have the need to. Williams said that budget includes profit, and he said he doesn’t believe the profit portion of the riders should be moved forward.
“They shouldn’t be making a profit on something they didn’t deliver,” said Williams. “It’s the only business I’m aware of that makes a guaranteed profit whether or not they do the business.”
• FCRA is also asking for Epcor to do more accurate forecasting of the amount of water it expects to deliver each year, which Williams said will do much to reduce or eliminate the contentious riders.
“Overhead costs would be reduced as well” with more accurate forecasting, said Williams.
The French Creek area serviced by Epcor is unique in the region. Most other residents are serviced by systems that are owned by their local governments — the City of Parksville, the Town of Qualicum Beach or the Regional District of Nanaimo.
“I think I would rather be with the RDN,” said Williams. “They are more attentive to what we say in the RDN.”
The RDN rep for the area, Joe Stanhope, agrees.
“Water systems should be owned by local government, not private companies,” said Stanhope.
Epcor is owned by the City of Edmonton and has water systems in Sooke, White Rock, Alberta and Arizona. It purchased the water system from Breakwater Utilities in 2006.
An Epcor official was not immediately available for comment before press time Monday.
What does Stanhope think about the increases in Epcor’s application? “It’s excessive, in my considered opinion,” he said.