Category Archives: Water Infrastructure

Solving City Council Problem

Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored. Aldous Huxley

Henry Braun’s suggestion that Abbotsford City Council adopt a policy of gathering ALL the facts, examining all these facts to determine what the issue/problem truly is and then basing Council’s actions and decisions on what the issue/problem was revealed to be……… is so contrary to the way Abbotsford’s City Council approaches issues and problems one has to wonder if Mr Braun’s approach stands any chance of being adopted by Council?

Council has consistently chosen to decide what they want to do, ignoring any and all evidence that does not support their desired course of action, commissioning reports to support Council’s intentions and hiring PR to develop a plan to Sell, Sell, Sell Council’s desired course of action to voters.

Mr Braun’s proposed approach abounds with common sense, perception and savvy – all behaviours Council has demonstrated aversion to employing; standing in marked contrast to Council’s commandment: Thou shalt not look in dusty corners where unknown answers hide.

So, is this a matter of distribution?  of supply?.

It is imperative that, in addressing this issue, we remember there is a major difference in the delivery of the Utility Services Water and Electricity.

There is currently no way to economically store and then distribute large amounts of electricity, while water is easily stored for later distribution.

That is why an electrical utility such as BC Hydro has to have the capacity to meet peak demand as it is occurring. BC Hydro’s ability to generate electricity overnight while people sleep and there is little demand, is of no importance because BC Hydro has no way to store the electricity and deliver it later to meet peak demand.

It is why southern Ontario is dotted with water towers. During scorching summer weather with its peak water demand, the water stored in the towers is used to meet peak demand for water and then refilled overnight (when demand is low but the supply remains fully accessible) to meet the next day’s demand.

The ability of water to be efficiently and economically stored was reflected in the report from experts after the ‘crisis’ of high water demand as a result of abnormally hot weather.

I had the opportunity to read this report where the experts stated that the problem was not with the water sources the City had, but with poor planning and design with the City’s reservoir which cannot be refilled overnight because the intake system is incapable of processing water to refill the reservoir quickly enough.

In light of this the experts recommendation that Abbotsford 1) build a second reservoir with intake capacity that would permit refilling the reservoir in a portion of the off peak hours available and 2) when the new reservoir is on line the old reservoir’s intake system be renovated to be capable of refilling in a timely manner and brought back on line.

As to redundancy, others experts hired to evaluate whether Council should fully upgrade the capacity of the Norrish Creek water system to the levels planned when Norrish Creek was originally developed had an interesting comment on redundancy.

Noting that the recommended full upgrade would mean the existing pipeline lacked the capacity to carry the total amount of water available, it was suggested that council consider building another pipeline which would permit all the water available after upgrade to be available for use. That not only would the second pipeline increase the water available from the upgrade, but it would reduce the stress on the original pipeline increasing lifespan and decreasing the probability of a leak or failure. And pointing out that having a second pipeline from Norrish Creek would provide protection of supply in the form of redundancy.

This leads to the conclusion that the water problem Abbotsford has is not supply but distribution; concurring with Mr Braun’s judgment that it is distribution, not supply, that the City needs to address.

Suggesting that Mr Braun is also correct in advocating a change from the current Council policy of deciding what course of action to undertake, finding or creating evidence to support the desired course of action and using a high pressure, ‘the sky is falling’ sales campaign to scare voters into accepting the need for Council’s desired actions; to a policy of gathering all the facts, analyzing the facts and setting out a course of action (or non-action) based on what the facts and analysis of the facts reveal.

P3 – What’s really going on?

Participating in the all candidates meeting and listening to all of the incumbents, with one notable exception, toe the party line about the desperate need for more water right NOW citing the report. THE REPORT. They did not cite any facts or figures, they just cited the report.

I have no doubt that the City of Abbotsford has purchased an excellent rep[ort to support its desired course of action. And before staff, mayor, council or chamber begin throwing Deloitte & Touche around as the preparers of the report let me respond with Arthur Anderson. Arthur Anderson who was once one of the ‘big five’ accounting firms with PricewaterhouseCoopers, Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu, Ernst & Young and KPMG providing auditing, tax, and consulting services. Arthur Anderson that no longer exists because it provided a client what they wanted in exchange for the extremely large fees the client was paying.

There were several items contained in the report in fine print that the counselors willfully have chosen to ignore because these items were counter to what they want to hear. When the effect these fine print points would have on the cost of a P3 were raised and questioned at the all candidates meeting every Council incumbent chose not to respond, ignoring the fact the fine print in the report would significantly increase the cost of the P3.

In other words, council used the parts of the report that supported its desire to use a P3 and ignored the parts of the report that would negatively affect council’s desire to use a P3.

The one noticeable exception to united front presented by council, the united citing of THE report and the desperate need for water NOW, was Patricia Ross.

I felt sympathy for Ms. Ross as the other candidates piled onto Ms. Ross because she sits on the Abbotsford/Mission joint sewer and water commission which had unanimously recommended looking further into using a P3 to upgrade the water supply.

To the jabs her fellow counselors were throwing at her, seemingly for daring to not toe the party line on the P3, Ms. Ross made the most intelligent comment about the P3 I heard from any of the incumbents over the course of the entire evening.

Ms. Ross stated that she had voted to proceed with an examination of using a P3 to upgrade the water supply, but that the more she had learned about P3s the more she felt that a P3 was NOT the way to proceed in upgrading the water supply.

That rather than following mayor, council and staff off a cliff like a lemming Ms. Ross, actually paid attention and took the time to think about and look into P3s. Discovering what anyone who takes the time to look into and think about P3s does….

……reports that explains why P3s are so much more expensive than other ways, particularly well managed public projects, of accomplishing projects. You also find the experiences others around the world have had with using P3s for their water systems. There is analysis available that clearly shows that the idea the private sector is more cost effective and efficient at constructing and bringing online capital projects than the public sector is a myth; that the private sector can be as bad, or worse, than the public sector at constructing capital projects; that P3s can be less efficient, and cost effective than even poorly managed public projects; and that a well-managed public project is always more efficient and cost-effective than any other method for constructing and bringing online capital projects.

I was against using a P3 from the very beginning. Having spent 25 years as a Chartered Accountant I have the financial experience and experience negotiating contracts to know/calculate/understand a P3 is the most costly option and that the nature of a P3 has the private partner maximizing the amount charged and minimizing what is delivered to meet the contract. You pay the most and get the least.

Reading the article addressing the P3 question with the economics PhD from the University of the Fraser Valley I was left with the impression that he went out of his way, had to go out of his way, and was being be very, very careful not to say that the P3 was a bad choice to upgrade Abbotsford’s water.

My background did let me understand the major point the economics professor made about the reality that because the contract is negotiated using words to set out the work to be accomplished rather than precise plans, once the design is produced reality (the difference between the design/plans drawn up on the basis of word versus the actual physical needs to upgrade Abbotsford’s supply) exerts itself. In order to bring the proposed design up to snuff (to meet the actual needs of the task rather than meeting the task set out by the words describing the task) the contract will require add-ons. Which is how a negotiated ‘guaranteed’ contract price easily soars from $291 million to half a billion dollars.

Listening to John Smith speak about how the price would not go up and how many contingencies (35%) had been built into their estimated price caused a flashback that had my blood running cold. Mr. Smith and fellow councilors had used almost exactly the same words about Plan A and we all know how that ‘guaranteed’ contract price worked out – it doubled. Listening to John Smith talk about contingencies and how the price would probably be less than the estimate of $291 million, told those who have followed this mayor and council’s actions and gaffes that Abbotsford will be in serious trouble if the P3 is not voted down with loud NO.

As I say I was against the P3 because I understood the financial realities of a P3.

One of the abilities I seek to bring to council is listening to what others are saying well enough to actually hear and understand the point or points they are making.

We have a retired city engineer telling us we are nowhere near running out of water on the time schedule the city is screaming ‘the sky is falling’ about, that in fact Abbotsford has enough water to last into the next decade; we had Henry Braun drawing attention to the fact that peak water usage has declined 33%; others have spoken about conservation – which mayor, council and staff blow off saying “conservation isn’t capable of being the whole answer” – making a significant contribution to our overall water supply situation; that I have heard from the contracting sector of Abbotsford’s business community about this not being necessary, that there are things we could do that would be far cheaper to increase peak capacity,

One of the advantages of water, as opposed to electricity, is that it is easy to store. You can process your water overnight pump it into reservoirs and if your peak demand exceeds your processing capacity you simply draw down your reservoir levels. I grew up in southern Ontario where all the towns had water towers which allowed them not to have to build water processing systems that could meet peak demand. Overnight, the towns would fill the water towers, and during the day any demand above the system’s capacity to process water was met by drawing down the water levels in the reservoirs a.k.a. the water towers.

No matter what assurances Abbotsford’s mayor, council, staff and the federal government make – their behavior has demonstrated their lack of trustworthiness on issues they have a vested interest in. Now I cannot say who is right Water Watch or our politicians on the question of water exports. What I can say is that Canadians will only know the answer when the question is decided by the Supreme Court of Canada and that if Water Watch was proven correct it is too late to do anything about it. I believe that on matters of this importance the only course of intelligent action is to not run any risk by the simple expedient of not going down that possibly disastrous path without compelling reasons. Especially in light of the reality that the cost and nature of a P3 provide compelling reasons not to use a P3 for the upgrade.

Mr. Lowen and others went on about how we had almost lost the Norrish Creek water source in 2003, a fact that was also cited by the Chamber of Commerce in support of the incumbent mayor, council and the continuation of business as usual at Abbotsford City Hall.

If an alternate water source, is that important why have they been unconcerned about providing an alternative water supply until now? If an alternate water source, is that important, why did council assure the citizens of Abbotsford during their plan A hard sell sales campaign that there was no need to address the water infrastructure?

Why was it that when council didn’t want to do anything about the water infrastructure our water supply was fine with no concern about needing a second source; yet now that council is desperately seeking to sell the P3 to voters suddenly there is a great concern about and need for a second water source?

What has happened between plan A (a point in time, much closer to the 2003 near loss of Norrish Creek) and now that suddenly, a second source of water is a desperate necessity. What had happened since our last municipal election in 2008 that has suddenly turned a second source of water into a desperate necessity?

Why is it that after eight years of no further interruptions to our Norrish Creek water supply suddenly we’re supposed to be panicking about needing a second source of water?

If there was a real concern about a second source, why have we not heard about this need before? If there was a real concern about a second water source why did mayor, council and staff build plan A?

It is typical behavior for our incumbent council to be suddenly concerned with the need for a second source as an additional threat and/or reason to panic and rush headlong into the P3 Council wants to enter into.

The question that the contracting sector posed to me about the P3 proposal was what’s going on here? To these professionals the P3 proposal makes no sense. The one point they feel sure of is that the cost is likely to skyrocket.

Exactly what is going on at City Hall? The evidence is clear we are not going to run out of water in 2016, that we have water enough to run into the next decade. There are numerous ways that would allow us to not have to spend that kind of money we’re talking about. There are things we can do so we do not have to spend that kind of money.

All of which raises the question “What is really going on with the P3?”

Concerned for Council’s P3 not for Citizens Pocketbooks or Wellbeing

Note: An Addendum has been added to the end of this piece.

On November 19th the voters of Abbotsford will be voting Yes/No on using a P3 to finance, design and build an upgrade to Abbotsford’s water supply/infrastructure.

The use of a P3 has proven highly controversial and generated a great deal of opposition to private control of Abbotsford’s water supply and the higher cost to taxpayers of using a P3 to finance/design/construct the upgrade.

The large sign pictured is one of two that are erected at the corner of George Ferguson Way and Tretheway Street in Abbotsford, diagonally across the civic plaza and employee parking lots behind Abbotsford City Hall and was up as incumbent councillors were in the all candidates meeting (November 8th) denying the city was using intimidation and threats, or deceptive information to mislead voters to believe the vote on November 19th was about whether the water supply would be upgraded or not, in order to get voters to vote Yes to the P3.

The smaller sign sprouted on the corner of Clearbrook Road and Maclure Road on November 10th.

Given: that the November 19th in Abbotsford vote is only about whether or not to use a P3 to finance, design and build an upgrade to Abbotsford’s water supply/infrastructure and that the November 19th vote has NOTHING to do with whether Abbotsford needs to, or should, upgrade its water supply.

Then: the clear intent of this sign – “On November 19 Say YES to Water” – is to deceive voters into voting yes for Abbotsford’s Mayor and Council’s P3 proposal by misleading voters into believing the vote on November 19th is about whether or not to upgrade Abbotsford’s water supply/infrastructure.

And that: the appearance of the second, smaller sign makes clear that there is an organized attempt being made to deceive the voters of Abbotsford into believing that the P3 vote on November 19th is about whether Abbotsford’s water supply is upgraded/expanded and thus deceive voters into voting Yes to the P3 based on the false belief created about the purpose of the November 19th by this organized effort to deceive.

1. Who are the ‘concerned citizens ‘ who paid for these signs which are clearly designed to trick/deceive voters in Abbotsford into voting yes to the P3 by causing them to falsely believe that the November 19th vote is about whether or not to upgrade the water supply, when in truth the vote is only about whether to use a P3 to finance, design and build the upgrade?

2. How many more of these signs are posted around Abbotsford to deceive voters into voting yes to the P3 proposal put to referendum by Abbotsford’s Mayor and Council?

3. Can any group of ‘concerned citizens’ put up signs designed to trick and deceive voters into voting the way the ‘concerned citizens’ want them to vote during a municipal election and/or on referendum issues?

4. Or are the signs of these ‘concerned citizens’ being treated in a special manner because the signs refer people to the City’s site promoting the P3 and the signs are intended to deceive voters into voting Yes to the P3 proposal of Abbotsford’s Mayor and Council?

5. Does not the existence of these misleading signs bring the validity of a Yes vote and approval of the P3 into question as the signs will cause people to vote Yes based on false information?

6. If anyone can post misleading and/or deceptive signs or the ‘concerned citizens’ posting the signs are not required to identify themselves – do we not require the laws governing municipal elections to be changed to prevent the use of clear deception to bring about a desired result on a referendum or who is elected to civic office?

 Addendum:

The signs referred to in the story have suddenly been joined by numerous other signs that have appeared across Abbotsford. Given the cost the signs represent it is clear that someone (or several someone’s) is spending a great deal of money in an attempt to deceive voters into voting Yes to the P3 by creating the false belief that a yes vote is a vote to increase the water supply while a no vote is a vote against expanding Abbotsford’s water supply.

It appears someone (or several someone’s) is prepared to spend a great deal of money and go to extraordinary lengths to ensure that the mayor and council’s P3 plan is approved.

Which raises several new questions:

Who are these wealthy ‘concerned citizens’?

Why are they spending so much money to ensure mayor and council’s P3 passes?

What, if any, effect did these ‘concerned citizens’ and their deep pockets have on the decision to go with a P3 despite the overwhelming evidence it was the poorest choice to u for the upgrade?