Category Archives: Water.&.Sewer

$300 Billion War Beneath the Street: Fighting to Replace America’s Water Pipes

Source: Hiroko Tabuchi, New York Times, November 10, 2017
 
America is facing a crisis over its crumbling water infrastructure, and fixing it will be a monumental and expensive task.  Two powerful industries, plastic and iron, are locked in a lobbying war over the estimated $300 billion that local governments will spend on water and sewer pipes over the next decade. … To more directly reach towns and counties across the country, the plastics industry is also leaning on the American City County Exchange, a new group that gives corporations extraordinary capacity to influence public policy at the city and county levels. The group operates under the auspices of the American Legislative Exchange Council, a wider effort funded by the petrochemicals billionaires Charles G. and David H. Koch that has drawn scrutiny for helping corporations and local politicians write legislation behind closed doors. …

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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. …

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. …

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The water systems in these 3 towns are broken. Now corporations stand to make millions

Source: Michael Sol Warren, NJ.com, November 5, 2017

… After decades of neglecting their water and sewer systems, three New Jersey towns now find themselves in similarly unenviable positions: On Election Day, voters in High Bridge, Long Hill and West Milford will choose whether to sell the systems to private corporations and give up local control — or to borrow large amounts of money to make the repairs themselves. And no one seems especially happy with either choice. … The three largest of the companies in New Jersey — New Jersey American Water, Suez Water New Jersey and Aqua New Jersey — are all subsidiaries of larger publicly traded corporations; American Water Works, the parent company of New Jersey American Water, is worth more than $13 billion. But privatization is especially widespread here. According to a Washington Post article published last December, 43 percent of New Jersey water is privatized, the third most in the nation.

… Yet not everyone thinks water privatization is such a great idea — and some say that a recently passed law, the Water Quality Accountability Act, is only compelling more municipalities to go private. The law demands that water systems around the state be updated. But the cost of those updates is often too much for smaller municipalities to bear. … Smith and other opponents of privatization point to broken promises by the companies and argue selling a system is a short term fix that could lead to bigger problems in the long run. For one thing, that rate stability that the companies tout doesn’t always pan out. … Another wrinkle to privatization plans: Many municipalities end up with a lot less money than their water systems are actually worth. … And whereas public utilities are accountable to the taxpayers, private corporations are accountable to their shareholders — which leads to situations like the one in Camden, which contracted its water and sewer systems to Suez in 1999. … The heated arguments in High Bridge last week centered around the questions of whether local residents have been given the full picture of the issue as they head into polling stations on Election Day. Jane Karp and other opponents of privatization are angry that High Bridge borough councillors requested bids without first finding out how much their water system is worth. …

New Orleans’ summer of floods revives the threat of privatization

Source: Aviva Shen, ThinkProgress, October 20, 2017
 
This year’s spate of floods prompted sudden scrutiny of the city’s long-neglected infrastructure, but everyone knows the system is not fully prepared to manage the city’s regular downpours. … After the August flooding, the Sewerage and Water Board admitted that at least 14 of the pumps that constantly churn water out of the ground had been offline. Outrage erupted. Several board officials resigned in political sacrifice, and Mayor Mitch Landrieu (D) called for a private company to intervene and potentially take over the agency. … Private firms Veolia and CH2M quickly snapped up no-bid contracts to analyze New Orleans’ systemic failures after the August flood, stoking suspicion that the mayor would quietly transfer power over the water systems to for-profit companies. CH2M and its subcontractors have been tasked with servicing turbines that power the city’s pumps and finding back-up power sources. Veolia, which already manages part of the city’s wastewater system and its entire mass transit system, has been authorized not only to analyze the failings of the stormwater system but to “start taking the right steps to any necessary maintenance efforts.” The cost of fulfilling these contracts is still unclear…..

Veolia’s US growth hopes run into trouble

Source: Luc Olinga, AFP, September 23, 2017

Veolia’s hopes of taking advantage of municipal privatizations and promised Trump administration public works projects to expand its US presence, are being strained by its role in water crises in Flint, Michigan and other cities. … A push by more US local governments to privatize water systems and promises by President Donald Trump of a $1 trillion public infrastructure investment are seen as opportunities to Veolia to expand. … But Veolia’s operations have not been without controversy, especially in Flint, where a lead contaminated water system became a notorious symbol of American social injustice. Veolia issued a study of the city’s water quality before the scandal erupted but did not flag any issues with lead, an issue it says it was told to exclude from the report since city and federal authorities already were looking into it. … Veolia continues to face numerous investigations and class-action lawsuits connected to the crisis. … Veolia also has run into controversy in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, which also suffered from elevated levels of lead in its water system. The Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority has accused the French company of mismanaging the infrastructure system, including botching a shift in chemicals used in corrosion control. The Pittsburgh authority is in mediation with Veolia, according to two people familiar with the matter, but if that process fails it could result in another protracted court battle. …

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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. …

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. …

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Taking the P3 Route to Reinvent Downtown

Source: Charles Renner, Public Management, July 27, 2017

… The past decade has seen a steady increase in the use of P3 structures, and 2016 was something of a watershed year with multiple high-profile projects coming online that address a variety of public needs, including a $1 billion water infrastructure project servicing San Antonio, Texas, the site of ICMA’s 2017 Annual Conference. In each case, the public sector identified a future need aimed at supporting the attraction of mobile talent, evaluated the limits of going it alone, engaged a P3 partner, and found leadership to achieve results. …

A Sioux Falls Renaissance … A key part of the updated Downtown 2025 Plan is increasing the CBD’s available commercial and residential real estate. To help accomplish this, Sioux Falls opted for a P3 solution to design, build, operate, and maintain a mixed-use facility with retail, office, and residential uses that will ultimately increase the density of downtown. …

Nebraska Innovation Campus and P3 … Located adjacent to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, NIC is a research campus designed to facilitate new partnerships between the university community and private businesses. …

San Antonio’s Vista Ridge … As a result, the San Antonio Water System (SAWS) crafted the vision of a 142-mile water pipeline project called Vista Ridge that will deliver enough water for some 162,000 new families by 2020, providing a 20 percent increase in water supply. … SAWS opted for a P3 undertaking in order to engage private equity and much needed development expertise in securing and constructing a resource delivery project that requires roughly $1 billion in investment, thousands of private water commitments, along with the 142 miles of built-to-last water pipeline. …

Pennsylvania municipalities and utilities benefit from privatization, says Moody’s

Source: Paul Burton, Bond Buyer, August 15, 2017 (subscription required)
 
Pennsylvania municipalities and regulated investor-owned utilities will benefit from legislation removing hurdles for local governments to sell water and wastewater systems, Moody’s Investors Service said.  Moody’s in a report Tuesday projected more privatizations. Municipalities within the commonwealth Pennsylvania see utility sales as a way to cope with financial distress and sidestep maintenance and compliance costs.  The report examined the $195 million sale of the Scranton wastewater system and the pending $162 million sale of the McKeesport wastewater system outside Pittsburgh to the Pennsylvania-American Water Company. Regulators must still approve the latter. …

Is Privatization on Its Way Out?

Source: Donald Cohen, HuffPost, July 27, 2017

According to a new report by the Transnational Institute, cities across Europe are increasingly deciding to reclaim public goods like water, energy, and health care from corporations and private investors. For example, fourteen cities in the Catalonia region of Spain have brought their water under public control in the past two years alone. … As always, the movement is starting at the bottom.  There’s Milford, Connecticut, a small city pushing to purchase its water system after learning that the corporation that owns it plans to raise rates by nearly 30 percent.  There’s New York, which just brought back state workers to provide IT help desk services after concerns about rising costs in a contract with IBM.  There’s Atlantic City, New Jersey, which earlier this month passed an ordinance to ensure residents get to vote on any action by the state to sell or lease the city’s water system.  There’s Baltimore, Maryland, where teachers just recruited hundreds of new public school students after weeks of knocking on doors. And Miami, Florida, where parents and teachers rallied over the weekend to demand more funding for public education and regulation of charter schools.

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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.

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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. …

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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. …

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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. …

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