Mountain Water Company

Mountain Water Company, Missoula, MT.
Cheri Trusler

The City of Missoula has hit a speed bump in its effort to take ownership of the city’s water system. 

The current owner, the Carlyle Group, is trying to sell Mountain Water Company of Missoula, and several other local water systems, to Liberty Utilities, a company that operates an assortment of water, electric and gas utilities around the country.

Tuesday attorneys from the City of Missoula pleaded with the state Public Service Commission to stop, or at least slow down the sale to Liberty, while the city pursues its own attempt to take over the water utility through condemnation. Attorney Scott Stearns, representing Missoula, says the city wants to start making repairs to the aging and leaky system.

Mountain Water Company, Missoula, MT.
Cheri Trusler

Missoula's mayor says he's glad a judge agrees with the city that public ownership of the local water utility is better than private ownership. But John Engen says there’s still a lot of work to be done , not the least of which is determining a fair price for Mountain Water Company.

Mountain Water Company, Missoula, MT.
Cheri Trusler

Closing arguments were heard Monday in the condemnation trail for the City of Missoula’s water system.

The city has been trying to buy the privately-owned Mountain Water Company since 2011.

Mountain Water Company, Missoula, MT.
Cheri Trusler

Attorneys presented their opening arguments today in the city of Missoula’s lawsuit to force the sale of its water utility from current owners, Mountain Water Company and the Carlyle Group. The city filed the suit nearly a year ago, claiming it's in the best interest of Missoulians for the city to operate it instead of a private company.

Josh Burnham

The city of Missoula’s attempt to seize ownership of its water from its current owner will begin in district court tomorrow. The city is suing The Carlyle Group, a global private firm, for ownership of Mountain Water Company.

Gathered in front of the county courthouse Tuesday afternoon, nearly 70 Missoulians sang, spoke and chanted in support of the city's effort.

City Councilman Jason Wiener was quite clear about where he stood on the issue.

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Media outlets including Montana Public Radio earlier reported that the legal bill for the City of Missoula in its condemnation action against Mountain Water Company had reached $3.5 million. Missoula Mayor John Engen says that number is not accurate.
 

Mountain Water Company has maintained throughout the condemnation proceedings that the city is better off leaving its water supply to the private sector, and that money being spent on condemnation would better be directed to more pressing municipal needs.
 

The Missoula City Council may vote tonight on a proposal that would allow the mayor to continue his effort to force the sale of the local water company to the city.

The Carlyle Group currently owns Mountain Water Company. A Canadian firm, Algonquin Power,  has entered into an agreement to purchase Mountain Water and its California based parent company for $327 million.

The city's attempt to use eminent domain to take ownership of Mountain Water has proven to be costly and raised a few eyebrows.

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The employees of Missoula’s privately-owned Mountain Water Company today asked the city to give up its quest to buy the company via condemnation.

Missoula Mayor John Engen says the city won’t abandon its efforts to buy Mountain Water.

Eric Whitney

Missoula Mayor John Engen says he understands Algonquin's intent in buying Mountain Water, but he's not convinced the company can actually buy it, given the city's attempts to take ownership by condemnation from The Carlyle Group. Engen spoke at a press conference in his office this morning after meeting with Algonquin's CEO.

Danny Dauterive

Montana Public Radio’s Edward O’Brien sat down with Algonquin Power and Utilities CEO Ian Robertson. Robertson says "we would like to be part of the Montana utility landscape forever."

Edward O'Brien

It looks like Missoula's city water system could be sold to a Canadian company.

Liberty Utilities, a subsidiary of Algonquin Power & Utilities, has reached an agreement with The Carlyle Group, which currently owns Missoula's water system.

Algonquin is expected to pay an estimated $327 million for Missoula's system and three other utilities. That price includes assumption of about $77 million of existing long-term debt.

A Canadian utility has reached an agreement with global equity firm, The Carlyle Group, to acquire the parent company of Missoula's Mountain Water  Company.

Park Water owns and operates three water utilities that serve approximately 74-thousand customers in Southern California and Western Montana.

Gordon McLean (CC-NC-BY-2.0)

Missoula’s water company has secured enough water for a new development in Missoula.

Ross Miller, Missoula Mountain Water's chief legal officer says getting a new water rights permit is not easy. There aren’t any more permits to draw water from the Clark Fork or Bitterroot rivers.

"You can get a new groundwater permit," Miller says, "however, you have to mitigate the effects of that new permit on the river flows. What that essentially means is all the water you consumptively use with a new groundwater permit, you have to put back into the river."

Missoula and the southern California town of Apple Valley are separated by over 11-hundred miles, but both have at least one thing in common; officials from both towns want their local water systems under public ownership.

Leaders from both communities met earlier this week in Missoula to discuss ways to do just that.

Apple Valley's water system is owned and operated by Apple Valley Ranchos Water Company. In Missoula, it's Mountain Water Company.

Sally Mauk

The city of Missoula has filed to obtain its privately owned water system through eminent domain. The complaint was filed in District Court. The city has been trying to negotiate a purchase of the Mountain Water company from its owner, the Carlyle Group, but has not been able to reach agreement. Missoula is the only major Montana city not to own its water system, and Mayor John Engen says it's in the public's best interest to control its water. He says the current owner is only interested in profit and has not been a good steward of the water system.

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A public hearing will be held later this month before the Missoula City Council on a proposed ordinance that would give Mayor John Engen authority to open negotiations with The Carlyle Group to purchase Mountain Water Company.

Carlyle, a global alternative asset manager, purchased Mountain Water about two years ago, with the stipulation the city of Missoula would get the first shot at buying the utility if it ever went up for sale.

In this feature interview with Edward O'Brien, Engen explains why he thinks it's important to pursue this discussion - and why now.