Banff wastewater treatment had always been privately managed, through a long string of providers, including Aquatrol, United Water, JMM, and Earth Tech. The constant revolving of contract holders left Banff residents questioning who was responsible and accountable for keeping their water safe. The changing of hands continued in 2008 when Earth Tech, the company contracted to run the plant at the time, was acquired by AECOM, which then sold the division that operated the wastewater plant to US-based United Water.
Sewage spill raises environmental concerns
Serious concerns with United Water were raised after partially untreated sewage was released into the Bow River. The river, which winds through Alberta’s foothills, before running through the center of Calgary, provides drinking water to several communities in Alberta and is also popular for recreational water sports.
Contract changes hands again
The Bow River spill, coupled with other problems, prompted Banff to begin the search for yet another company to manage the facility. The town issued a contract to EPCOR Utilities Inc. in 2009, but by 2011, as it was considering renewing EPCOR’s contract for another 10 years, Banff Council decided to compare the private costs to the benefits of possible public delivery.
Wastewater services brought in house
After three years of contract negotiations with EPCOR, and a careful consideration of the public option, Banff decided to bring full operations of its waste water treatment services in house. “I feel from everything we have seen that the Town is ready to take on management of the wastewater treatment plant … and I have total confidence in our staff and our team to do that,” said Councillor Chip Olver.
Banff saves big
The decision to bring wastewater services in house was partially motivated by a cost analysis that showed the town could save $350,000 annually. EPCOR quoted operations of the integrated utilities at $4.1 million – over 9 per cent higher than the amount Banff estimated it would need to provide the same service. “This is a significant price difference,” said Mayor Karen Sorensen. “$350,000 is a lot of money to a municipality of our size.”