Photo Credit: Jenn Ireland for Yes! Magazine. Retrieved from: AlterNet.org
“In 2008, weeks after communities all over the United States celebrated the Fourth of July, the tiny town of Felton, Calif., marked its own holiday: Water Independence Day. With barbecue, music, and dancing, residents marked the end of Felton’s six-year battle to gain control of its water system. The fight, like the festivities, was a grassroots effort. For when a large, private corporation bought Felton’s water utility and immediately raised rates, residents organized, leading what was ultimately a successful campaign for public ownership and inspiring other communities nationwide.
“Like many other communities with a privately controlled water system, Felton quickly experienced some of the drawbacks: skyrocketing rates, and little public recourse. But officials of some cash-strapped towns seek privatization because they believe a corporation will help lift their burden. Across the country, public water systems require massive repairs to deteriorating infrastructure, at an estimated annual cost of about $17 billion over the next 20 years. Our aging water mains result in some 240,000 breaks a year, and more than a trillion gallons of wastewater spill into our waterways annually. Federal funds typically help communities pay the repair bills, but escalating costs have prompted many cities to look for alternatives.
“Providing clean, accessible, affordable water is not only the most basic of all government services, but throughout history, control of water has defined the power structure of societies,” Alan Snitow and Deborah Kaufman, filmmakers who documented the effort of Stockton, Calif., to fight privatization, wrote in the book Water Consciousness. “If we lose control of our water, what do we as citizens really control through our votes, and what does democracy mean?”
“Food & Water Watch has studied the effects of water-system privatization and has helped Felton and other communities turn—or return—to public control. In a 2009 report that examined nearly 5,000 water utilities and 1,900 sewer utilities, the organization found that the private entities—which have a fiduciary obligation to shareholders—charge up to 80 percent more for water and 100 percent more for sewer services. Privately owned utilities cost more to operate, too: They typically have to pay income and property taxes, while public utilities are exempt. In all, according to Food & Water Watch, operation and maintenance costs of privatized water systems can spike 20 to 30 percent, when dividends, taxes, and profits are factored in. It follows that corporations make more money if more water is used; conservation and repairs, then, can fall off the priority list. When Stockton, Calif., privatized its wastewater system, higher-than-promised rate hikes, poor maintenance, and sewage overflows followed. When 8 million gallons discharged into the San Joaquin River, the spill went unnoticed for 10 hours and unreported to the public for three days.”
read more: AlterNet