Legislation proposed in the Rhode Island House of Representatives last week could change the way many Rhode Islanders get their drinking water.
House Bill 6099 would create a non-governmental authority called the Ocean State Regional Water Authority. According to the legislation, this group would have the ability to acquire, lease, manage, sell, contract, develop, operate and maintain all water-related properties, water and water systems.
This group would be able to purchase or lease portions or entire water systems currently operated by 20-plus local water districts and redirect that water to other portions of the state.
Brett Smiley, chairman of the Providence Water Supply Board, explained that the intent of this legislation is for the authority to have the ability to more adequately and efficiently distribute water throughout the state.
Northern Rhode Island is often considered to be water rich, while southern Rhode Island is often deemed water poor. The southern portion of the state often suffers from periods of drought.
This authority could acquire water systems from the northern part of the state and redirect that water to the southern part. Smiley said that redirecting the water could require the addition of pipes between existing systems.
The legislation, which was presented by Representative Christopher Blazejewski on behalf of the city of Providence, has the ability to transform Rhode Island water systems from a 19th century model to a 21st century network, according to Smiley.
This modern network could supply all areas of the state except independent and self-sufficient islands such as Aquidneck Island and Block Island.
This legislation could also ultimately lead to a consolidation of water systems throughout the state.
“We need to modernize how we distribute water in Rhode Island,” said Smiley.
Smiley added that consolidation will be beneficial in the long run because certain systems have resources that others don’t. For example, Providence Water Supply Board has six full-time engineers ensuring the system runs properly; other systems do not have that. By combining systems, resources can be shared.
“The benefits of consolidation are where we will find efficiency,” said Smiley.
Consolidation also has the potential to lead to financial savings for the various water systems in the long run.
Although the Authority would purchase or lease systems, Smiley said the Providence Water Supply Board is not going away.
“The Providence Water Supply Board has no interest in selling the board and we would never support this,” said Smiley.
When asked how this newly formed Authority would affect individual cities, such as Warwick, Smiley explained there are two minor ways Warwick could see a change.
Since Warwick receives its water from Providence Water Supply Board, Smiley explained that the city is considered a wholesale customer. The Board of Directors for the newly formed Authority would include a seat for a representative of all wholesale customers; this is the first time that group would be represented on such a board.
Either the governor or the mayors of Providence, Cranston and North Providence will appoint the other eight seats.
The second way Warwick residents may see a change is in their source or supply of water. While Warwick has never been considered an area in need of water, such as areas in southern Rhode Island, Smiley says residents may need to be “flexible” should any redirection occur. Warwick buys its water from Providence.
“There is no doubt Rhode Island has enough water, just not in the right place,” explained Smiley.
Smiley is confident that the Authority will prove to be a successful entity because many water suppliers, businesses and legislators have already shown their support.