A citizens organization wants Saint John council to delay its plans to apply to a public-private infrastructure funding program for a new water treatment system.

Wayne Dryer, with the Saint John chapter of the Council of Canadians, said he believes council is being pushed in the direction of Public-Private Partnerships Canada — or P3 — which could lead to a decades-long arrangement with a private company operating the city's new water treatment system.

The private option has to be considered if the city is to get federal help to pay for the project.

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The P3 process could put Saint John's water in the hands of a private company for decades. (CBC)

Dryer said he doesn't believe the municipality's consultant, PricewaterhouseCoopers, is truly independent of the industry groups involved in public-private partnerships.

"Access to water is a human right and not a commodity that can be sold or purchased," said Dryer.

"We believe the diligence in this matter must include the city seeking advice from independent experts other than those who are in the business of advocating public-private partnerships."

A P3 deal could see a private company design, finance, build and operate the new water treatment system, likely for 30 years. It could be worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

Under the private option the water supply and watermains would continue to be owned and maintained by the city.

Former Mayor Ivan Court agreed councillors need to bring in an additional consultant who can supply costs for the competing public option.

"Where the city hires a company to work for them, independent from a company that works for P3s," he said.

Council has set a deadline of April 5 to have the city's business case application ready to send to P3 Canada.