Editorial: Goodbye, Bristol County water supply

Posted 9/17/20

The Providence Water Supply Board wants to raise water rates 20 percent. The Bristol County Water Authority wants to end a century-old contract for water. Are they related? Yes. Does anyone care? Not …

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Editorial: Goodbye, Bristol County water supply

Posted

The Providence Water Supply Board wants to raise water rates 20 percent. The Bristol County Water Authority wants to end a century-old contract for water. Are they related? Yes. Does anyone care? Not really.

Well, that’s not true. We care.

For the past few years, we’ve objected repeatedly to the water authority’s plan to dismantle its former primary water supply. It doesn’t matter. No one’s listening, and they’re doing it anyway.

The authority determined years ago that it would cost too much to invest anything more in the old water supply. Fed from reservoirs in Massachusetts and protected by legal agreements going back to the early 20th century, the water flowed through dams, streams and pipes across state lines and into the Kickemuit Reservoir in Warren. From there, the authority’s own plant cleaned and pumped the water to tens of thousands of customers throughout the three towns. It worked amazingly well for about 100 years or so.

Well, the plant is dormant and the water isn’t flowing like it used to. Through a series of separate but related maneuvers, the water authority is taking down dams, walking away from contracts and allowing salt water to flow into the freshwater reservoir.

There’s not much to be done about it at this point. The water authority is far down its path. The plant is dead. The water supply will be lost soon.

Yet we again share our regret as we watch it happen. The authority will be asking the Rhode Island General Assembly to authorize abandonment of the legal rights to the Massachusetts water supply. If local legislators support them and move the bill forward, it will be the final nail in the coffin.

Then we can look forward to watching the water authority spend enormous sums of money to take down the dams ($2 million), build a new emergency connection to East Providence water ($7 million), and create a new pipeline to the Pawtucket water supply (perhaps another $30 million or more).

When all that’s done, the water authority will have two pipelines — one from Providence under Narragansett Bay and one from Pawtucket running through the streets of East Providence — plus the East Providence emergency connection. It should have access to plenty of water for this little region.

Of course, it won’t truly control any of that water, and it won’t actually produce any of it. It will simply buy the water, from one city or the other.

Which brings us back to the City of Providence asking to raise the price of water by 20 percent. The city didn’t get what it wanted. The Public Utilities Commission approved “only” a 17 percent increase. Phew! That’s a relief!

Moving forward, this will definitely be a much better system. We won’t have to worry about all the hassles of getting, cleaning and pumping that old water. We can just wait to see what the bill is and mail in the check. Bristol County is much better off this way.

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Scott Pickering

Scott Pickering has been on the East Bay Newspapers team for more than two decades, since starting as a reporter for the Sakonnet Times. He's been editor of most of the papers, was Managing Editor of all the papers for many years, and became General Manager in 2012. Today he can be found posting to EastBayRI.com, steering news coverage, writing editorials, talking to readers, working with the sales team, collaborating on design, or helping do whatever it takes to get the papers out the door. Reach him at spickering@eastbaynewspapers.com.