Protecting Municipal Corporations in Granting Water-Works Franchises.
This is the subject matter of a paper by J. N. Tubbs, C. E., of Rochester, N. Y., read at the Twelfth Annual Water-works Association meeting. Mr. Tubbs argues from a standpoint not always possible to assume in light of experiences developed by controversy. If the assumption be correct that all private water companies ultimately expect to surrender their charter to the municipality that granted it, it also may be a reasonable assumption that the water company will seek to secure a broad and general franchise which will be capable of several interpretations, and finally will require judicial action to determine conclusively and explicitly any question that may arise as to the rights and privileges of the water company on the one hand and the municipality on the other.
The reason why municipalities fail to build waterworks may be traced to a variety of reasons. Prominent among them is : First. The expense entailed upon the municipality. Second : The expense necessary to make the proper preliminary examinations and surveys as to source of supply ; and third, the absence of public spirit sufficient to warrant the officers of the municipality to make an attempt to create a sentiment in behalf of a public water supply.
Under these conditions private corporations are organized and capitalized. Liberal franchises are granted. In fact, if such were not the case capital would not be obtained. A municipality unable to build water-works are always glad to have a private corporation undertake it, and generally under such circumstances the charter is made a liberal one. It is unreasonable to exact of the corporation any of the possible requirements equal to the future demands of the cities’ growth without guaranteeing to the company an interest upon the outlay, to enable them to pay the interest of their debt thus created. Capital in any event does not seek investment without the hope of immediate returns for interest.
Mr. Tubbs, in paragraph No. 1, remarks that in his opinion the required quantity of water should not be less than one hundred gallons per capita per day for the estimated population at the expiration of twenty years. If this be intended as a prerequisite consideration before granting a charter to a private water company, we doubt very much if any corporation would accept it, and for obvious reasons, viz., the corporation may in its inaugural steps agree to supply the people of the city for a stated time a stated quantity of water under a given head or pressure, and under those conditions would gladly assume any responsibility incident to a particular period of time, reckoning the growth of population to be a certain ratio of increase year by year. To guarantee, however, a supply for twenty years, and equal to the demand within the limit of one hundred gallons of water per capita, and considering the variable conditions under which water is consumed, be it wasted, or otherwise, would be inequitable and unfair to the water company. If, however, the company were allowed to impose and insist upon certain restrictive features in connection with the plan of distribution, they might be induced to accept a franchise.
Mr. Tubbs’ second paragraph explains itself, and has the merit of thoughtful consideration upon the subject. The water company, however, would be powerless to carry out the terms of such an agreement unless it was implied in the contract or franchise that the State or local board of health would compel the observance of law enacted to prevent pollution and contamination of the sources of water supply. This phase alone is a vexatious one, and has not thus far been definitely determined either in the interest of private or municipal water-works.
The third paragraph is important in all respects, and is the comprehensive feature of any water-works system ; nevertheless, it is assumed that a given quantity of water under a fixed pressure, can only be delivered and distributed under arbitrary rules of hydraulic practice. If the company guarantee a certain pressure and delivery, it can only be accomplished by certain size water mains and a fixed pressure or head.
The fourth paragraph can be connected to the third without violating any principle of hydraulics in connection with a system of distribution. In any event whether by gravity or direct pumping a constant head or pressure can only be maintained by adequate size of trunk main and sufficient pumping power.
The fifth paragraph is associated with the third and fourth paragraphs.
The sixth paragraph is purely a question of the water company to determine, and it in the conduct of construction they fail to observe its ersential requirements, as to depth of placing water mains, location and style of hydrants and gates, it will be to the detriment of the water-works.
The seventh paragraph may be associated with the sixth, and cannot in reason be disassociated from it.
The eighth and ninth paragraphs have the same relation—as implied—with reference to previous paragraphs.
The tenth paragraph is an important one, and will be difficult to adjust in view of the fact that increase of population only will determine the measurement or figure of requirement.
The eleventh paragraph relates to test of pressure, in our judgment they are conservative in expression.
The twelfth paragraph is important and essential as to rates.
The thirteenth paragraph, as to life of franchise, should be determined by conditions that are eontinguent upon the growth and progress of the town or city.
The fourteenth paragraph is also a local question. The earning capacity and character of the works in its relations to the future growth of the town or city, and also the manner of the conduct of its administration, will be an important factor in condemnation proceedings. It may safely be said that Mr. Tubbs has bestowed a great deal of time to the consideration of all the important questions that suggest themselves. Yet, in view of the variable influences that are in operation and work in and out of local conditions incident to each waterworks administration, it would indeed be a didicult and impractical task to institute a rule or line of practice that would successfully apply in all cases. If municipal authority could appreciate what Mr. Tubbs has stated in his paper and employ competent engineers to review all plans suggested for a water supply by private corporations, no doubt many vexatious questions and complications would be avoided. We believe Mr. Tubbs is animated by experience and observation concerning this important question, and it is with no small amount of satisfaction to us and the American Water-works Association that it has been our privilege to give to the people interested in such matters his paper, which no doubt will be an interesting subject of study among water-works corporations of a private character.
In conclusion, we simply remark if capital, intent on being invested in water-works plants, were more circumspect regarding the possible and, indeed, probable difficulties incident to the scheme, and employed experienced and able engineers to review, criticise and amend their plans and specifications for the intended construction of waterworks, they would in many, if not all, respects avoid the troubles which form the basis of Mr. Tubbs’ paper, and which, undoubtedly, is the occasion of the paper, namely, the omission of competent engineering authority and consultation, costing but little money compared to the cost of litigation necessary to adjust differences, when the city propose to condemn and purchase the plant of a private water company.