Chatham-Kent Public Utilities Commission
The Municipality of Chatham-Kent was created on January 1, 1998 as a result of the Ontario government restructuring, and amalgamating 23 separate communities into one. Chatham-Kent now encompasses 2500 square kilometers, which means it is the second largest municipality in all of Ontario, by geographic boundaries.
The region is home to approximately 110,000 individuals, and combines 41 former municipal/county governments, utilities and police services. It boasts over 110 kilometres of shoreline on Lake St. Clair and Lake Erie and contains three major river systems. The area is also home to southwestern Ontario’s largest forest area: Rondeau Provincial Park.
When taking on a story about the Chatham-Kent Public Utilities Commission, one of the most important enterprises in the municipality, it only made sense to speak with Tom Kissner to find out more information, as he is current general manager. Read on to learn more about the ins and outs of the Commission, which was formed in 1998 from the amalgamation of 13 public utility commissions (in the former City of Chatham and the former Kent County), in an exclusive interview with IRJ’s Editor-in-Chief.
Sara Kopamees: Can you give me some background how this size of an amalgamation worked?
Tom Kissner: Since 1998, we have been successful in creating a utility servicing 87,000 customers. This includes a major construction program of water main connections between the former townships and communities. The joining of the former utilities created an opportunity for staff to review and address all cost savings.
So our design takes into account the competitive environment in which we operate. Savings have been found due to the combined water and wastewater operations, the joining of hydro and water/wastewater collection and billing systems, as well as the partnership for bill and payment processing.
The Public Utilities Commission currently operates the following: six water treatment facilities/supply systems, nine water distribution systems consisting of approximately 1700 km of watermains, 3300 hydrants and 39,000 customer connections, 10 wastewater treatment facilities, and 13 wastewater collection systems consisting of approximately 500 km of sanitary sewers, 50 km of combined sanitary/storm sewer mains and 29,000 customer connections.
The Public Utilities Commission currently employs approximately a total of 55 full time employees in operations, maintenance, compliance and management roles.
SK: What is the mandate of the Commission?
TK: The Chatham-Kent Public Utilities Commission maintains modern, sophisticated drinking water systems to ensure that all residents of Chatham-Kent can rely on a water supply that is both plentiful and safe.
SK: How does it maintain the safety of water?
TK: Chatham-Kent’s water systems draw from both surface water and ground water sources. Public Utilities staff conducts over 125,000 tests a year on the potable water to ensure that the quality of water delivered to customers’ homes meets or exceeds all health-based federal guidelines and provincial standards.
Commission’s mandate is to supply the best quality water to its customers while maintaining reasonable water rates. Commission also believes in the optimal and efficient operations of its wastewater treatment facilities in order to ensure value for dollar to its customers while ensuring the protection of the environment. A total of 22,000 tests are conducted annually at our wastewater treatment facilities.
SK: Who are the members of the Commission, and how is the community represented?
TK: The Public Utilities Commission is comprised of seven Council members including the Mayor. Each ward of Chatham-Kent (six in total) has a representative on Commission. Commission regularly meets once per month and the public is welcomed to Commission meetings.
The Commission has been very proactive and has maintained a very progressive agenda since its inception in 1998. Commission has approved a number of projects to upgrade and/or expand a number of our treatment facilities. Approximately $140 million has been spent over the last 12 years on capital projects. The Commission’s total assets for water have been estimated at $350 million and for wastewater $330 million.
SK: What are the Commission’s overall areas of responsibility?
TK: The Public Utilities Commission is a local board of Council. As a local board of Council, the Commission is responsible but not limited to the following: the safe and efficient operation of the water and wastewater treatment facilities that are owned and maintained by the PUC, approving water and wastewater rates, approving water and wastewater budgets, approving policies pertaining to the operation of Commission, maintaining the infrastructure and assets that are owned by the Commission, replacement and upgrading of infrastructure and assets as necessary in order for the efficient operation and to meet the demands placed on facilities, water and wastewater master plans, approving financial plans, approving the extension of watermains and sanitary sewers in order to service additional customers, and ensuring that the water and wastewater facilities have the appropriate level of staffing at required levels of certification.
SK: What then are current initiatives that the Commission is working on?
TK: There are several initiatives that will either begin or continue in 2010: The commissioning and start up of a new wastewater treatment facility in the Community of Ridgetown (approximate construction cost of $16 million), sewer separation and sewer rehabilitation projects being partially funded through the Infrastructure Stimulus Funding (approximate costs of $22 million), update and review of the Water and Wastewater Master Plans, update and review of the Water and Wastewater Rate Study, update and review of the Chatham-Kent Public Utilities Commission Succession Plan, full implementation of the Chatham-Kent Public Utilities Commission Drinking Water Quality Management System, and lastly the investigation of a joint venture project with two partners involving the production of hydro utilizing digester methane gas (a green energy initiative).
SK: It looks to be a busy year then?
TK: It is anticipated that 2010 will be another busy year for the PUC. There are a number of significant projects to be completed this year.
All of the necessary applications and supporting documentation has been submitted to the Ministry of the Environment regarding our Drinking Water Permits and Licencing and we are expecting to receive those Permits and Licences shortly.
The past two years (2008 and 2009) have seen a reduction in water consumption of approximately 15 per cent. This reduction can be attributed to the economic times as well as cool, wet summers. To date, in 2010, a slight increase in water consumption has been realized in comparison to 2009 figures. We attribute this consumption increase to the beginning of the economic recovery.
Administration is also anticipating the passing of Bill 237, Sustainable Water and Wastewater Systems Improvement and Maintenance Act, in 2010 and is working on plans and recommendations with regards to implementing the requirements of that Act.
SK: What about community issues in water and wastewater—are there any the Commission is looking at?
TK: The Chatham-Kent PUC has been fortunate to have the levels of lead in water sampling reduced due to the good results obtained.
A large part of rural Chatham-Kent has been serviced with municipal water over the last 12 years. These projects were mostly initiated through petitions for people that wanted to change from their private well to municipal water. Other wastewater (sanitary) servicing projects into non-urban areas of Chatham-Kent also proceeded during the last six years. These water and wastewater serving projects were based on a full cost recovery for the project. The remaining portions of the municipality are not as densely populated and therefore the costs for servicing for these properties are too high. These servicing strategies cannot be undertaken without the additional support of provincial or federal assistance.
The large water and wastewater treatment plant expansions conducted over the last 12 years as well as the loss of substantial water and wastewater industry customers with Chatham-Kent has fortunately positioned the Chatham-Kent PUC very well with an abundance of capacity at almost all of the water and wastewater treatment facilities with Chatham-Kent. Chatham-Kent is positioned great for any new large volume water or wastewater industries in almost any municipal community.
SK: Do you invite, or currently have, any major corporate strategic partnerships?
TK: The Chatham-Kent PUC has developed service level agreements with the Municipal departments for various aspects of maintaining and operating an organization. A major partnership is with the Municipal Public works department which operates and maintains the water distribution and wastewater collection for the Chatham-Kent PUC. The agreement enables the Municipal Public Works department to maintain the 1800km of water distribution lines and 500km of sanitary sewers. Other municipal departments providing service to the PUC are the financial services, information technology department, human resources (also includes payroll), municipal engineering and GIS, and fleet services.
In 2006 a unique partnership was created with Corix Utilities Inc. The partnership created the Chatham Kent Corix (CKS) Water Services Inc. company. This partnership is providing water and wastewater operations and maintenance to municipalities outside of the Chatham-Kent municipal border. It allows CKC to enter into agreements with other municipalities to provide water and wastewater operations and maintenance contracts for their facilities, as well as the in-depth knowledge and staffing support the PUC employees currently have.
The billing and meters aspect of the PUC is provided by Chatham-Kent Utility Services whom also provide the service for the Chatham-Kent Hydro. This cost sharing between the water and electrical meter reading and billing provides for cost savings.
The PUC also has a partnership with the University of Guelph (Ridgetown Campus). This partnership allows for students enrolled in the Environemntal program at Ridgetown the opportunity to have a co-op work placement at one of the PUC water and wastewater facilities.
SK: It seems that there would be many opportunities out there.
TK: Another opportunity recognized by the PUC is for wireless internet companies. These external companies are able to utilize the 10 water towers within Chatham-Kent to mount electrical equipment to provide wireless internet service in rural areas of the municipality.
SK: It definitely seems like it’s going to be a busy year—so good luck.
TK: Thank you.