Governance and Finance

Water Water Everywhere…and can we afford it?

Urban Systems Co-Authors BC’s first Ever Quantitative Review of the Financial Sustainability of Our Water and Wastewater Systems

Are BC’s Municipal Water and Wastewater systems financially sustainable? If you ask Urban Systems’ John Weninger, he has a lot to say on the topic, and along with BCWWA he has in fact just co-authored the province’s very first quantitative report on the matter, tentatively scheduled to be released mid-February.

WaterWhile there is much anecdotal discussion around the financial sustainability of our water and wastewater systems, up until this report there has been very little quantitative analysis. “This is the first real review in the province,” says John. “It will be getting media attention and getting talked about, and the Urban Systems brand is part of it. It was something that needed to be done and I’m proud I work for a company where we see value in doing projects like these.”

Interestingly, this kind of detailed and quantified report wouldn’t have been possible prior to 2009 because the accounting standards changed for local governments in 2009. Prior to that, assets weren’t recorded on financial statements and depreciation expenses were not acknowledged. Since 2009, governments have had to keep an inventory of assets–their value and depreciation—over useful lifespan. “This kind of useful information means we can now do a much more thorough analysis.”

The idea for the report was born six months ago when John was having coffee with Tanja McQueen CEO of BCWWA, “Tanya was telling me she wished she had more hard facts about how sustainable water and wastewater utilities were in BC – something she could hold in her hand and wave around to build awareness. I mentioned I’ve always had this idea of doing exactly that. So we put our heads together and dug up some funding and decided to move forward on a joint report.”

A Two Pronged Approach

The project has two stages. The first stage is the soon to be released review, which is primarily a desktop analysis. The second stage is the development of a tool for local governments to use to analyze how they’re doing and to assess their readiness to move toward full financial sustainability. That assessment tool is currently in the works.

“Our report may point out that we have some soft spots, but we also want to provide solutions. We want to say, okay here is an assessment tool that will help analyze and address those weak areas, to do more than simply point out shortcomings.”

Going Forward

And as for the future? John says he hopes this report will be an annual project. “I hope that this report is something local governments look forward to seeing updated each year. Ideally we can track our progress and see some meaningful improvement over time. Ultimately the hope is to help create dialogue, discussion and improvement.”

The final report will be published tentatively mid-Feb and John encourages anyone with questions before or after its release to reach out to him over email at jweninger@urbansystems.ca

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