Category Archives: Water.&.Sewer

Towns sell their public water systems — and come to regret it

Source: Elizabeth Douglass, The Washington Post, July 8, 2017

Neglected water infrastructure is a national plague. By one estimate, U.S. water systems need to invest $1 trillion over the next 20 years. Meanwhile, federal funding for water infrastructure has fallen 74 percent in real terms since 1977, and low-interest government loans have not filled the gap. … The prospect of offloading these headaches to for-profit water companies — and fattening city budgets in the process — is enticing to elected officials who worry that rate hikes could cost them their jobs. Once a system has been sold, private operators, not public officials, take the blame for higher rates. But privatization will not magically relieve Americans of the financial burden of upgrading their water infrastructure. … One of the biggest inducements for water deals is the “fair market value” legislation that has been passed in six states — Indiana, California, Illinois, Missouri, New Jersey and Pennsylvania — and is being considered by others.  …

… Even as more cities consider selling their water infrastructure, others are trying to wrest control of their systems back from private operators, usually because of complaints about poor service or rate hikes. Since private owners are rarely willing to surrender these lucrative investments, cities usually end up pursuing eminent domain in court. That means proving that city ownership is in the public’s interest and then paying a price determined by the court. Those prices can be exorbitant. …

Atlantic City Votes To Protect Its Water From Chris Christie

Source: Daniel Cohen, Alternet, July 14, 2017
 
On Tuesday, the Atlantic City Council unanimously passed an ordinance to ensure its residents get to vote on any action by the state to sell or lease the city’s water system.  Why might New Jersey sell or lease Atlantic City’s water? Well, because Christie has been laying the groundwork for such a deal for years. In 2014, he passed a statewide law making it easier for struggling municipalities to sell off water infrastructure. Turns out, Atlantic City has been struggling—mainly due to a rash of casino closures, including Trump’s failed Taj Mahal. Last summer, after the state bailed the city out, Christie made it loud and clear there were strings attached: “I want [the loan] secured by every asset they have, so that if they don’t pay it, I get to take the assets, sell them and pay you [the taxpayer] back.” Late last year, he delivered on that promise and took control of the city’s assets and most of its decision-making power.

Related:

Atlantic City residents, activists file petitions for vote on sale of MUA
Source: Erin Serpico, Press of Atlantic City, June 14, 2017

Residents and activists crowded City Hall’s lobby Wednesday afternoon to illustrate the support they’ve gathered against the state takeover. With signs such as “Water is a human right” and “Our water, our voice,” about 20 people walked into the city Clerk’s Office to deliver 2,400 signatures — 1,200 were required — on a petition aiming to force a vote on the sale of the Municipal Utilities Authority.

Standing Up for Atlantic City: “Water Rights Are Civil Rights”
Source: Food and Water Watch, April 21, 2017

NAACP president and CEO Cornell Brooks came to Atlantic City on April 20 for the public launch of a campaign to prevent the privatization of the city’s public water system.  Brooks spoke in support of the campaign to protect the civil rights of city residents as a result of last year’s takeover law, and tied it to his group’s advocacy for water justice in Flint, Michigan. “Water rights are civil rights, and civil rights are human rights,” he told the audience. … In addition to many Atlantic City community groups and neighborhood associations, the AC Citizens Against the State Takeover campaign has been endorsed by statewide organizations like the New Jersey Working Families Alliance and the New Jersey National Organization for Women, labor unions like AFSCME, AFL-CIO and the Communication Workers of America, as well as national groups like the Center for Constitutional Rights and Color of Change. …

Continue reading

This Is How the Trump Administration Will Privatize Our Infrastructure

Source: David Dayen, The Nation, June 20, 2017
 
North Miami Beach’s Norwood water treatment plant is a major source of revenue, serving a region with almost five times as many customers as city residents…. Critics, including plant employees and members of the local Public Utilities Commission, blamed the city for intentional lack of investment and reduced staffing. “It’s on the city workers somehow that the system has fallen into disrepair,” said a spokesman with AFSCME Florida. “If you’re a journalist, and the newspaper is not making money, is that on you?” … As for plant workers, they could lose benefits under CH2M immediately, since the city’s contract with AFSCME expired in 2015. The CH2M contract calls for $2.4 million in annual savings in labor costs starting in year two. And with a fixed fee for operations and maintenance, CH2M can only extract profits and deliver long-term cost savings by cutting corners. …

Related:

North Miami Beach Gives Public Water Utility Serving 180,000 People to Private Firm
Source: Jerry Ianelli, Miami New Times, May 17, 2017
 
None of those facts stopped the North Miami Beach City Commission last night from voting 4 to 2 to outsource its public water utility to global engineering firm CH2M Hill. From here on out, the company will control virtually every operational facet of a water plant that serves more than 180,000 people in North Miami Beach, Aventura, Sunny Isles Beach, and Miami Gardens. … On April 3, the city held a special meeting to begin formal negotiations with CH2M. In the leadup to that meeting, the city’s municipal worker’s union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, spoke out against the privatization plan as an attempt at union-busting. The ASFCME warned that privatization deals tend to lead to job or benefits cuts to workers.  Though the final contract guarantees that all city workers who pass a drug test and physical must be rehired by CH2M, the contract does not say what will happen to those workers in the following years. (During that April 3 meeting, multiple city workers accused the government of willfully underfunding the plant to create an excuse to privatize it.) …

North Miami Beach to Vote on Privatizing Its Water System Tomorrow Despite FBI Probe
Source: Jerry Iannelli, Miami New Times, May 15, 2017
 
On April 3, the City of North Miami Beach started negotiating with a global engineering firm to take over the city’s water utility, which services close to 200,000 people in north Dade. Clean-water activists vehemently opposed the move, citing research that water utilities run by private companies tend to get much more expensive over time, and typically provide services at “cheaper” rates by cutting staff or services. … But those facts have not mattered at all to North Miami Beach’s elected officials. Tomorrow, the city commission will vote on whether to hand the utility’s operations over to CH2M Hill Engineering for an annual fee of $18.8 million per year. (The city would retain ownership of the utility, but CH2M would handle the plant’s day-to-day operations. The city will also pay CH2M $19.3 million in the first year to cover startup costs.) …

North Miami Beach Moves Forward With Water-Privatization Deal Despite FBI Probe
Source: Jerry Iannelli, Miami New Times, April 4, 2017

At the beginning of North Miami Beach’s meeting last night about a plan to privatize its water system, City Manager Ana Garcia asked residents to trust the city based on the commission’s track record. That was an odd appeal, considering Mayor George Vallejo is the subject of an ongoing Miami-Dade County criminal probe and the FBI and Miami-Dade County Public Corruption unit have launched investigations into the water negotiations. Despite all of those red flags, commissioners voted 4-2 last night to move forward with the plan after a testy meeting that lasted close to three hours. … The city also did not disclose that an affiliate of the leading company bidding for the project, global engineering firm CH2M Hill, has held a temporary contract to operate portions of the plant since October 17, 2016. The contract raises additional questions as to whether the city’s bidding process has been fair. … The vote authorizes the city to begin negotiating a contract with CH2M, which is angling to take over the full operation of the city’s water plant.

… Per the terms of the city’s request for quotation, the private company is expected to take over full plant operations and take over the contracts of every employee at the utility. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), a union that represents the utility workers, says roughly 80 employees could be affected. The union warned last week that privatization deals tend to lead to benefit cutbacks and employee layoffs as the new company tries to cut costs. AFSCME does not have an active contract with the city, and union representatives warned last week that, without a contract, a private company could cut benefits and salaries from day one. …

Continue reading

Lexserv to Temporarily Shut Down While City Takes Over Service

Source: WTVQ, May 8, 2017

A temporary shutdown of the LEXserv online and phone bill payment system has been scheduled as Lexington’s Division of Revenue takes over the service from Greater Cincinnati Water Works. Beginning May 15, the city will manage all LEXserv customer service and billing services, eliminating the need for outsourcing. Officials say some of the many benefits include:

  • City will save taxpayer dollars by moving system in-house;
  • Customer service will be handled by LFUCG staff in Lexington, creating jobs;
  • Payments will be mailed to a Lexington address for processing;
  • New web portal for customers to make payments, review billing. …

Pittsburgh Tries to Avoid Becoming the Next Flint

Source: Kris Maher, Wall Street Journal, April 30, 2017

As its soot-filled skies cleared, this city built on the steel industry gained a reputation as one of the nation’s most livable places. But it now has another environmental issue to contend with: It is one of several major American cities with lead levels in drinking water above the federal limit.  A total of seven U.S. water systems, which each serve more than 100,000 people, had lead concentrations above the federal action level of 15 parts per billion in recent months, according to Environmental Protection Agency data. They include Portland, Ore., and Providence, R.I., which both exceeded the limit at least one other time in the past five years.  Since the lead crisis in Flint, Mich., cities have been under greater scrutiny from regulators and pressure from residents to reduce lead in drinking water. In most cases, there is no easy fix, and more cities are looking at the costly prospect of replacing vast networks of pipes buried under streets and private property. …

Related:

Flint And Pittsburgh Have More In Common Than Lead In Their Water
Source: Donald Cohen, The Huffington Post, March 10, 2017

… Around the same time, the city’s water utility was laying off employees in an effort to cut costs. By the end of the year, half of the staff responsible for testing water throughout the 100,000-customer system was let go. The cuts would prove to be catastrophic. Six months later, lead levels in tap water in thousands of homes soared. The professor who had helped expose Flint, Michigan’s lead crisis took notice, “The levels in Pittsburgh are comparable to those reported in Flint.” The cities also share something else, involvement by the same for-profit water corporation. Pittsburgh’s layoffs happened under the watch of French corporation Veolia, who was hired to help the city’s utility save money. Veolia also oversaw a change to a cheaper chemical additive that likely caused the eventual spike in lead levels. In Flint, Veolia served a similar consulting role and failed to detect high levels of lead in the city’s water, deeming it safe. … On Wednesday, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto announced the city would provide filters for drinking water, which is the right thing to do. But he’s also considering partnering with another for-profit water company to clean up Veolia’s mess. … For-profit water corporations will always have a financial incentive to cut service, shrug off maintenance, and fire employees. When they’re in charge, the high costs of doing business are passed on to residents: privately owned water systems charge 59 percent more than those that are publicly owned. …

Activists press Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority to oppose any privatization of its public assets
Source: Bob Mayo, Pittsburgh’s Action 4 News, February 24, 2017

Some activist groups and residents of neighborhoods affected by Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority problems are urging the PWSA board to oppose any fix for water authority problems that would involve privatizating the water system. During public comment at the board’s meeting Friday, they also criticized the PWSA over recent health and safety issues, including chlorination concerns that led to a boil water advisory and ongoing concerns about the detection of lead in the water of some customers. …

Continue reading

Why Water Privatization Is a Bad Idea for People and the Planet

Source: Adam Hudson, AlterNet, April 18, 2017

… As climate change increases global temperatures and causes odd weather patterns, multiple cities across the United States are experimenting with some form of water privatization.   In February 2015, Chris Christie, the Republican governor of New Jersey, signed a law green-lighting the privatization of municipal water systems. The bill, called the Water Infrastructure Protection Act (WIPA), allows municipalities to sell their water systems to private companies without a public referendum. … Wisconsin is another front for the battle over water privatization. A bill proposed by a Republican state legislator, at the behest of Pennsylvania-based water utility company Aqua America, would make it easier for private companies to buy Wisconsin’s municipal water systems. …. The record of water privatization efforts is far from rosy. A report by the Pacific Institute, an environment, development and security research organization, points out numerous problems with water privatization. … A June 2016 report by Corporate Accountability International found that water privatization, in the form of public-private partnerships (PPPs), not only fails to solve the problem of fixing public water systems to ensure safe and clean drinking water but actually exacerbates it. …

Related:

You Had Me At H2O: A look at who owns your water supply
Source: Beryl Lipton, MuckRock, February 14, 2017

… According to one estimate, municipalities may be spending an estimated $500 billion in capital improvements over the next decade. But between private water companies looking to consolidate their regional reach and activists that insist the federal government should be spending more to help towns keep their water treatment local, there willl need to be a lot of room to talk about how we handle this most precious resource, which the UN has recognized as a basic human right. Action will be most important on the local level, and the people will have to speak up for themselves. We want to help by offering to file your water-related records request this week. …

America can’t trust public water, so it’s turning to private companies
Source: Renuka Rayasam, Quartz, October 25, 2016

While most Americans don’t have to think too hard about whether their water is safe to drink or not, people in Camden, New Jersey are used to not having clean water. When a water main breaks, which has happened at least twice this year, residents are advised to boil their water. When it rains hard in the city, sewage backs up (pdf) and floods the streets. And kids in school there drink from water coolers instead of water fountains, which were shut off in 2002 after officials found lead in the pipes of older schools. … It’s probably no coincidence that nearly 40% of the population lives under the poverty line. But soon it won’t just be poor cities like Flint, Michigan or Camden that have to worry about water. A perfect storm of aging infrastructure, stretched municipal budgets, and changing climate conditions are putting even more of the country’s water systems under pressure. Faced with the steep cost of fixing their broken and ill-prepared infrastructure, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are turning to private money in their search for an answer to the country’s water woes. While the record of private companies handling water supplies has been mixed, this trend toward water privatization seems to be some kind of tacit acknowledgment that local governments can’t fix the problem on their own. …

… The ground for large-scale privatization is already being prepared. On the federal level, for example, President Obama signed the Water Resources Reform and Development Act in 2014, which has a provision that promotes private investment in water efforts, such as repairing water pipes, boosting water monitoring, and desalinating ocean water to make it safe to drink. In New Jersey, where lead has been found in at least 137 schools, Governor Chris Christie signed the Water Infrastructure Protection Act in February of 2015, which allows municipalities to contract out water services to for-profit companies without a citizen vote. For municipalities, bringing in private players is often the easiest and most politically expedient solution. …

… Those pushing for privatization believe that for-profit companies are more efficient at managing water systems and have the expertise to do so. But opponents believe that for-profit companies charge too much for water services in order to meet corporate bottom lines. Food and Water Watch, a consumer rights group, for example, reports that large, for-profit, privately-owned water systems charged households 59% more for water than large, publicly-owned systems. In reality, private companies are no better or worse at holding down costs than public entities, says Warner. She looked at published studies from 1965 to 2009 and found no difference in costs between privately-controlled and publicly-controlled systems. …

Continue reading

Republicans Vote to Privatize Wisconsin Water

Source: Senator Jennifer Shilling, Urban Milwaukee, April 5, 2017
 
Access to clean drinking water has become a major concern across Wisconsin. Pollution, contamination and over-pumping of groundwater have depleted water supplies and created major health and economic concerns. Rather than promoting a sustainable management plan, Republican politicians are rushing to pass Senate Bill 76 which will privatize water rights, eliminate oversight and prohibit the DNR from reviewing the cumulative impact of high capacity wells on local communities. … Republican in the State Senate passed Senate Bill 76 despite strong opposition from residents, health advocates and conservationists. Wisconsin’s water challenges have intensified in recent years as over-pumping has become more common and lax pollution enforcement from the Walker administration and Attorney General’s office has resulted in dangerous water contamination. …

Related:

Water privatization bill probably can’t be revived, GOP leader says
Source: Steven Verburg, The Journal Times, February 18, 2016

A spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said Wednesday that Republicans who control the Senate weren’t satisfied with the proposal. “Senator Fitzgerald has said that while he believes the proposal has merit, AB 554 is likely dead this session after efforts to craft an amendment which addressed our members’ concerns were not successful,” spokeswoman Myranda Tanck said. The GOP-controlled Assembly passed the bill Jan. 12 and a Senate committee approved it on a 3-2 party-line vote Jan. 28. Late Monday, the proposal was added to the Tuesday agenda for the full Senate, but during the floor session it was removed without public discussion or announcement

Wisconsin Senate scraps water privatization vote
Source: The Wisconsin Gazette, February 17, 2016

Despite a push from private water companies, Senate Republicans failed to reach a consensus on a bill that would have made it easier to privatize water systems in the state. The measure was pulled and no floor vote took place earlier this week. The measure, which had passed in the Assembly, was opposed by union members, environmentalists, municipal water and sewer operators, local cities and citizens from across the state.

Continue reading

Private water system in Haughton faces audit over billing complaints

Source: Melody Brumble, KTBS 3, March 17, 2017

A private water system in Haughton is in hot water over widespread billing complaints. Auditors will comb the books of Country Place Utilities after the Louisiana Public Service Commission decided to investigate the company. Country Place Utilities serves about 300 homes in Country Place subdivision in Haughton. The company provides water directly to residents and has a contract with the Bossier Parish Police Jury to bill for sewer service. … The PSC ordered the audit after residents complained that bills weren’t mailed for months at a time. Customers also complained of irregularities and discrepancies in usage and charges on bills; and the failure of the system’s staff to communicate with customers. Foster Campbell, the public service commissioner for north Louisiana, said the PSC also tried — without success — to resolve the situation by talking to the system’s operators. … The company could even lose the right to operate the water system, Campbell says. Country Place Utilities also is in hot water with the Bossier Parish Police Jury. In October, the police jury sued, claiming the company owes at least $60,000 in unpaid sewer fees. …

Boyertown considering privatization of services

Source: Holly Herman, Reading Eagle, March 19, 2017

Following a nationwide trend, Boyertown officials are considering a proposal that would privatize water and sewer services. Borough officials have met with Aqua Pennsylvania, which provides service to 1.4 million customers in Pennsylvania. Council President Frank J. Deery said the company has inquired about purchasing the town’s water and sewer facilities. … “We are listening to what they have to offer,” Deery said. “It’s too early to say what will happen. We are in the study stages. We are a long way from anything happening.” … Nationally, with aging water and sewer systems in need of maintenance and repair, there’s been a rise in municipalities entering public-private partnerships for all or part of their water supply systems. Currently there are more than 2,000 community water and wastewater facilities across the country being served by these partnerships, according to the National Association of Water Companies. … Loder said the next step would be to determine if the borough wants to sell the two facilities. The borough’s public utilities committee will meet Wednesday to discuss the proposal. Loder said the committee will decide whether to recommend that Council hire an appraiser to determine the price of the facilities.

Labor agreements impede shared services, cities say

Source: Rob Ryser, News Times, March 23, 2017
 
… The inability of willing neighbors to share services when it makes sense for both sides is part of what keeps local governments from finding more efficiencies, Boughton said, and one reason he was in the state capital this week. Boughton spoke in favor of legislation that would waive certain restrictions in municipal labor contracts when towns and cities make agreements to share services. … The bill, which was extracted from a larger report containing recommendations by the statewide Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, was the subject of public hearings this week in the state legislature’s Planning and Development Committee. … In Danbury, Boughton and the City Council have been exploring partnerships with neighboring Putnam County – a six-town region of 100,000 people across the border in New York, and with Waterbury, the state’s fifth-largest city. Neither partnership needs the legislation pending in Hartford to proceed. The agreement with Putnam County involves a potential deal to provide city sewer service to a Brewster-area commercial zone, and the potential to capitalize on mutual economic interests such as infrastructure projects, recreation initiatives and cultural events. The proposed partnership with Waterbury aims to build an economic development zone along the Interstate 84 corridor, anchored by the two cities. …