Blog | July 10, 2014

By Mark Harvey, CBC News

The experience of an Edmonton man, left without water for weeks after a pipe burst on his property, is just one example of how EPCOR is putting profit before good service, according to a public advocacy group.

Wyatt Cavanaugh has been trying to find a contractor to restore water to his house ever since a pipe ruptured on his property in Westmount three weeks ago.He says the trouble started when he noticed water bubbling up in his driveway. He called the City about the issue, and says he was told to call EPCOR.

EPCOR came promptly, and shut off the main water valve to his property, but when he asked what to do next, he says he was told to call a plumber and not given any information on what to do in the meantime.Although EPCOR is the water utility, homeowners are responsible for fixing leaks which occur on their property.

Cavanaugh says he carried water into the house for 9 days until a neighbour allowed him to connect a garden hose to his tap to restore some running water.“The city washes its hands, EPCOR washes its hands. It’s just a continuous loop to nowhere,” Cavanaugh said.

Not given any options, Cavanaugh saysAlthough homeowners are responsible for repairing their lines, EPCOR would not leave customers high and dry without water, spokesman Tim LeRiche told CBC News.He said the utility can set up a temporary fix until the line is repaired.“If the property owner calls us back after a day or so we’ll certainly go back and give them some sort of temporary water hook-up. We’ll do what we can to help them, under the Terms and Conditions,” LeRiche said.But Cavanaugh said no one at EPCOR or the city offered that option or gave him any useful information.He estimates he’s reached out to more than 60 contractors so far during the busy summer season.“They don’t actually have a system and protocol in place to help people.”

Utility should focus on service: advocate“This guy could be anyone in the city, and that’s why I think citizens need to care about this,” said Bill Moore Kilgannon, the executive director of Public Interest Alberta, a non-profit, province-wide organization that advocates on public interest issues.The City of Edmonton is EPCOR’s only shareholder, although the company operates independently.He says Cavanaugh’s story shows the city is more concerned about EPCOR’s annual dividends than its service to citizens.“It isn’t just his problem – it’s a broader problem.”City council’s main involvement is ensuring the utility maintains its dividend to the city: about $135 million a year. Other than that, it stays out of EPCOR’s day-to-day operations.Now, Moore Kilgannon is calling on city councillors to become more involved in EPCOR.“The number one issue is profit as opposed to providing quality services,” he said.

Not much the city can do, councillors say“There’s not much we can do,” Ward 11 councillor Mike Nickel said about problems such as Cavanaugh’s.“While the city is a shareholder of EPCOR, they are independent and we are not a voting shareholder and cannot direct EPCOR on their specific operations,” Ward 5 councillor Mike Oshry wrote in an email to CBC.“That’s not good enough,” Moore Kilgannon said.“City council needs to represent us at the shareholders’ meeting with EPCOR and say ‘No, our citizens deserve to have quality public services and water is one of the most important ones.’”“It’s a public utility, it’s a monopoly, and therefore the typical rules of the marketplace don’t apply in this circumstance,” Moore Kilgannon said.