The Water for the World Act 2009 sets the goal of bringing safe drinking water to 100,000,000 people for the first time. This is an important goal for which the U.S. should strive. However, the bill contains a corporate-biased peripheral component that encourages public-private partnerships, which have been used in the U.S. and abroad, to privatize municipal water systems. Act now by telling Congress to remove this corporate-biased component of the bill.
Chances are good that you, like 85% of Americans, receive your household water from a publicly owned and managed water company. This ensures that decisions are made locally and that revenue is reinvested at home.
The Water for the World Act 2009 was introduced in the House as H.R.2030 by Rep. Blumenauer (D-OR) and in the Senate as S.624 by Senator Durbin (D-IL). Food & Water Watch has written alternate language that removes the privatization loophole, and we are lobbying the bill's sponsors to get it corrected, but Congress needs to hear from you. Tell them it is unacceptable for the U.S. government to be pushing privatization on poor countries.
In the United States, 86 percent of people on community water systems receive their drinking water from a public utility, and these public operators have kept drinking water safe and affordable for most households. Public utilities provide nearly 250 million people with high quality water that costs less than a penny per gallon.But even the best management can’t stop the effects of time.
Across the nation, water and wastewater systems are aging, pipes are crumbling and growing populations are straining already overburdened water supplies. The mounting repair and replacement costs are taxing many municipalities, especially small towns that have limited financial resources.
The federal government has traditionally provided assistance to these struggling utilities, but that funding is going dry. In the face of seemingly insurmountable improvement costs, as a last resort, cash-strapped municipalities are selling their water and sewer systems to corporations that are aggressively marketing themselves to local officials.
Aqua America, Inc., is one company trying to cash in on the infrastructure crisis. It is voraciously eating up small systems.
With nearly 200 acquisitions over the last 10 years, Aqua America has grown into the second largest publicly-traded water and wastewater corporation based in the United States, serving three million people in 13 states (including Florida, Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina, Texas, Illinois, Missouri, New York, New Jersey and Ohio). It has pushed its way to the top through a strategy of aggressive acquisitions and drastic rate increases.
Aiming to make several dozen acquisitions a year, the company targets smaller systems to avoid a citizenry armed with resources to fight the takeover. And it pursues systems in states that have fast growing populations, corporate friendly regulatory environments, and considerable investment needs. Of course, all of this is done with an eye toward its bottom line.
Not long after taking over a system, the company begins its almost continual process of increasing rates. In just the first nine months of 2007, the company increased rates in nine locations. It has nine additional rate increases pending and plans even more over the course of 2008.
While families see skyrocketing water bills, the company sees booming revenue growth: 13 percent in 2007 alone. But rather than reinvesting all the money from community bills into improving their water and sewer systems, as a public utility would do, the company is “delivering solid returns to its shareholders.”
Discontent is growing among its customers, and many communities are beginning to speak up. In some cases, they even are kicking out Aqua America and reclaiming public control over their vital water and sewer infrastructure.
Aqua America is failing to protect the public interest. Instead of private control of their water systems, communities need — and overwhelmingly support — a national trust fund for clean and safe water. Federal support for public utilities will do what Aqua America has not done; and a trust fund will help ensure families across the country have access to clean, safe and affordable water.
- Aqua America is hiking up water bills through rapid-fire rate increases and infrastructure surcharges.
- Aqua America is aggressively acquiring new systems, especially places with high population growth, little competition and weak regulation.
- Aqua America is cutting and running on communities with the greatest needs and least profitability.
- Aqua America is expanding into unregulated industries to avoid public oversight of pricing.
- Communities are fighting to kick out Aqua America and reclaim public control over their vital drinking water and clean water infrastructure.