There’s a storm brewing over Halifax Water because of – storm water! The question is, how do we “unclog” things?
First, some background: Halifax Water was given responsibility by previous councils for all water, sewer and storm-sewer operations and facilities in the municipality. It was established as an autonomous, self-financing utility with its own Board of Commissioners reporting to the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board. Council has representation on the commission, but has no authority over its operations.
Today, the utility provides HRM residents with the best drinking water in Canada and operates a state-of-the-art waste-water collection and treatment system, (think Harbour Solutions.) The problem is with the third area of Halifax Water’s responsibility, namely: storm-water management. Judging by the number of complaints which members of council and I receive, a growing number of residents are frustrated with flooding issues, ditch problems and inadequate storm-sewer infrastructures. It seems to me that many people are making a noise, but they are not being heard.
Before going further, let me emphasize that my criticism of Halifax Water is not directed at its hundreds of employees. I know that they are committed individuals who are dedicated to serving more than 80,000 customers in our community. My concerns are with the utility’s policies and practices which don’t seem to be meeting the expectations of residents, particularly regarding the kinds of storm-water issues I just mentioned.
Also, I am bothered by the duplication of resources which exists between HRM and the utility, especially in terms of administration and call centres. (Consolidations are definitely needed here.)
I believe that the new council should re-examine Halifax Water’s operations, especially its level of service and responsiveness to residents. Questions need to be asked on behalf of the community. Can the commission be convinced to be more sensitive to residents and their water issues? Can the problems be solved by merging the services and equipment inventories of Halifax Water and HRM’s public works department? Or is the only answer to fold Halifax Water into a line-department of the municipality? (At least then it would be directly answerable to council and residents.)
When HRM expanded Halifax Water’s mandate to include waste- and storm-water systems, it was done believing that the public would enjoy more transparency and greater responsiveness. Instead, the opposite appears to be true to the degree that the whole situation needs to be re-examined, and sooner rather than later.
I welcome your feedback. Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 490-4010.