The Town of Alden is the latest Erie County municipality to get out of the water business.

The Erie County Water Authority board of commissioners on Thursday unanimously approved an agreement to take over the town’s water operations.

Alden had been in a lease arrangement with the Water Authority since August 1997. Thursday’s action by the authority now recognizes Alden as a “direct service” customer.

The consolidation took about a year to complete and is an important aspect of the Water Authority’s mission, said Brian A. Gould of e3communications, a spokesman for the authority.

Getting communities “out of the water business when they can’t afford to do it anymore” is probably one of the most important things the authority does, Gould said.

With the direct service agreement, the Water Authority now owns and operates Alden’s water system and is responsible for all that ownership entails, including customer service, billing, meter reading, system maintenance and all capital improvements.

In other instances, the authority has arrangements where it just sells bulk volumes of water to individual municipalities that operate their own water systems. It also has contracts with some towns and villages in which the authority assumes responsibility for customer service, billing, meter reading and maintenance, while the municipality remains responsible for any capital improvements to its system. That is the previous arrangement that the Town of Alden had with the authority.

The authority serves 35 municipal customers under each of these three models and has been aggressive in assisting municipalities in the county that are seeking to get out of the water business, which has become increasingly expensive for many.

“Through economies of scale, ECWA is able to provide water service more efficiently and cost-effectively than most, if not all, smaller municipal systems throughout Erie County and beyond,” Gould said.

It does take a great deal of planning for at least a year before such mergers are completed, according to Gould. Municipalities are generally required to first make some basic upgrades to their systems so they are compatible with the Water Authority’s system.

“Let’s say a system is very aged and it has a lot of 2-inch or 4-inch water lines. Well, we should be able to work with those towns and villages and have them update those lines to 8-inch before (coming under the ECWA system) because that’s the minimum size line under the ECWA system,” Gould said.

Wesley C. Dust, an authority commissioner, said Alden had very little infrastructure associated with its water system, such as tanks or a pump station to maintain. So much of the town’s savings from the merger will come from no longer being responsible for any future capital investments.

The Village of Blasdell completed its merger with the Water Authority in June 2011, saving about $200,000 annually on system maintenance, infrastructure and personnel costs. The Town of Hamburg estimated a $1 million in annual savings on maintenance following its merger with the authority in July 2011.

The Town of Marilla and the Village of Williamsville are both currently in various stages of consolidating their systems with the authority.