Category Archives: Water.&.Sewer

Pittsburgh mayor Bill Peduto says PWSA at financial crossroads

Source: Bob Bauder, TribLive, September 4, 2018

The Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority has two choices: squeeze more than $2 billion needed for replacing outdated and failing infrastructure from 80,000 ratepayers, or partner with a private company to defray some of those costs, Mayor Bill Peduto said Tuesday. Peduto is adamant about maintaining PWSA as a publicly owned system, but he’s open to suggestions from private enterprise on a partnership that would generate additional revenue. The mayor said he’s received more than a dozen offers from companies interested in providing the city with water, including Peoples Gas and Pennsylvania American Water. Peduto said Pennsylvania American, which provides water to the city’s South Hills residents, has offered to purchase the authority outright, but the company said it has not offered an official proposal. …

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From Pittsburgh to Flint, the Dire Consequences of Giving Private Companies Responsibility for Ailing Public Water Systems
Source: Sharon Lerner and Leana Hosea, The Intercept, May 20, 2018
 
The lead crises in Flint and Pittsburgh have many unfortunate parallels. Residents of both cities unknowingly drank water with high levels of the potent neurotoxin, which has long-term health consequences. The rise in lead levels was preceded in both cases by a miscalculation related to chemicals used to control corrosion in water pipes. And in both places, officials have faced criticism for their inaction and failure to alert the public. The two lead crises have another important thing in common: a private water company named Veolia. The world’s largest supplier of water services, Veolia had contracts with both Flint and Pittsburgh around the time that lead levels rose in their drinking water. And in both places, Veolia wound up in legal disputes over its role in the crises. …

Pittsburgh’s Water System Is Why We Shouldn’t Run America Like a Business
Source: Jordana Rosenfeld, The Nation, November 30, 2017

Pittsburgh, in an attempt to deal with entrenched infrastructure problems, turned to the private sector in 2012 when it partnered with the French management firm Veolia North America, the same water-management company that would fail to disclose Flint’s lead-contamination problem in 2015. … The organization lauded Veolia for identifying $2.3 million in new PWSA revenue and $3 million more in operating savings, a move incentivized by their contract that stipulated the company could keep 40 percent of every dollar it saved the city. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette published a glowing account of PWSA’s partnership with Veolia, despite reports that it laid off 23 employees, many of whom were longtime employees with critical institutional knowledge. … But this August, a consulting group hired to assess the organization’s current state announced in a public meeting that PWSA was “a failed organization atop a dangerous and crumbling structure” with “an aging system in demonstrably worse condition than any water utility of its size in the country.” Not only that, water tests showed that since the partnership began, Pittsburgh’s water had been tainted with dangerously high levels of lead. …

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Keeping Baltimore’s Water in Public Hands

Source: Kevin Zapf Hanes, AFSCME Now, August 23, 2018 

Water profiteers have long sought to call Baltimore home. AFSCME Council 67 members joined with community allies years ago to educate city residents about the dangers of private water companies taking over the city’s water utilities.  At the continued urging of community and workers, the Baltimore City Council passed a resolution this month barring the sale of the city’s water utility. Mayor Catherine Pugh signed the measure soon thereafter. The measure will now be placed on the November ballot for voter approval. It’s expected to pass. … AFSCME Council 67 President and International Vice President Glenard Middleton testified before the city council.  He said, “Poor people and communities of color would be disproportionately harmed by water privatization. The water rate hikes needed to generate corporate profit would lead to water shutoffs in low-income neighborhoods and communities of color. And water corporations would likely invest more resources in wealthier areas of the city because these companies have a track record of cherry-picking projects to generate the highest returns for their investors, instead of keeping the public’s best interest at heart.” …

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Baltimore Set To Ban Privatization of Water System
Source: Ayana Byrd, Color Lines, August 8, 2018
 
Legislators in Baltimore have taken historic steps to ban water privatization in the city—a move that will benefit lower-income earning communities in the majority Black city.  On Monday (August 6), members of the Baltimore City Council approved a resolution that will ban water privatization via a nearly unanimous vote. … Baltimore, a city of approximately 611,000 people, is 63 percent Black. Twenty-one percent of its residents live below the federal poverty line, according to the latest Census information. Glen Middleton, the executive director of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Maryland Council 67, said, “Not only will water privatization increase water rates across the city, but it will also deprive low-income communities and communities of color access to clean and safe water…. Keep water privatization away from our communities.” …

Responding to activists, Mayor Pugh, DPW director assure they don’t want to privatize Baltimore’s water system
Source: Ethan McLeod, Baltimore Fishbowl, June 13, 2018
 
Fear not, Mayor Catherine Pugh and Baltimore City Department of Public Works Director Rudy Chow say: Baltimore’s water system will remain in public control, despite any charter amendments that activists worry could open up a pathway for privatization.   In a joint statement issued Wednesday morning, Pugh and Chow assured they’re not looking to let companies like Suez Environment in on managing Baltimore’s drinking water supply or any of its resources.  “Baltimore City’s drinking water system is a jewel that must be maintained in the public trust,” Pugh and Chow said. “From the reservoirs in Baltimore and Carroll counties, to our filtration plants in the Ashburton and Montebello communities, we share the commitment of prior generations of civic leaders to keep this life-sustaining resource in public hands.” …

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State orders $293,000 in refunds for Sea Cliff water customers

Source: Mark Harrington, Newsday, August 9, 2018

A state agency on Thursday ordered New York American Water to refund nearly $293,000 to Sea Cliff customers, as a Nassau County probe revealed that water bills issued by the company had spiked at two county parks. The developments come as American Water customers on Nassau’s North and South shores call for public takeover of their water supply after complaints of high bills and the Department of Public Service probe. There also are separate reviews of customer complaints by the Nassau district attorney’s office and state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli. The state Public Service Commission said it ordered the company to refund $292,804 to Sea Cliff district customers as a result of the company’s “gross mishandling” of its property tax filings. A state probe earlier this year found a $2.3 million tax overpayment by New York American Water resulted in $281,421 in overpayments by customers in the Sea Cliff district. According to the PSC, although the company paid the $2.3 million, the vast majority was never billed to customers. A second stage of the investigation found that certain company employees intentionally deceived state regulators during rate-hike proceedings in 2016. …

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Public Service Commission seeks court order against New York American Water
Source: Chau Lam, Newsday, July 12, 2018

The New York State Public Service Commission on Thursday asked its chief lawyer to get a court order directing New York American Water to follow all its regulations, including providing accurate information during rate-hike proceedings. The commission, which regulates the state’s utilities, called for judicial intervention to “help restore consumer confidence” after its report last month revealed that the water company’s employees intended to deceive state regulators in 2016 when the company requested — and regulators approved — its increase to customers’ water rates. The report said company employees were aware of “material errors” in tax calculations starting in 2013, but failed to disclose those errors to state regulators at the time the company was seeking approval for rate hikes. The errors led to customers in the Sea Cliff water district being overcharged, state officials found. … In December 2017, after state regulators had approved the company’s request to hike rates, the company’s senior management and legal counsel admitted the errors to the Department of Public Service, the investigative arm of the PSC. … Assemb. Michael Montesano (R-Glen Head), who has called for criminal investigations into the water company, said that with a court order, New York American would face harsher penalties if it violated state regulations in the future. …

Contracting Models Shift Dynamics of Engineering and Construction

Source: Jean Pedley, Journal of the American Water Works Association, July 31, 2018

Whether it’s construction of a new treatment plant or a water main replacement project, successfully delivering capital projects in the water industry requires utilities, engineers, and construction experts to work together effectively. Faced with the need to address aging infrastructure and challenged by restrictive regulations, concerned citizens, and attention to budgets, the water industry needs to explore efficient and innovative models for engineering and construction now more than ever. … This article identifies some of the best practices and tools for alternative project delivery that have been tested in a variety of markets, including power generation and water. Successful alternative delivery projects always involve stakeholders who are adaptable and open to collaboration. In addition, the success of alternative project delivery often depends on integration of advanced tools and technology that create efficiencies in tracking and identifying opportunities to avoid project pitfalls. …

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Bill to Privatize Providence Water Raises Objections

Source: Tim Faulkner, Eco RI News, June 11, 2018
 
Drawing comparisons to Flint, Mich., and other cities that have suffered from privatizing public water systems, environmentalists oppose the latest legislative effort to monetize the Providence Water Supply Board and its source, the Scituate Reservoir.  The Conservation Law Foundation, The Nature Conservancy, the Rhode Island Land Trust Council and Audubon Society of Rhode Island all raised doubts about changing ownership of the state’s largest public water source. Without protection, the move threatens open-space land buffers and risks polluting the watershed and public drinking water, according to opponents of the idea.  Mayor Jorge Elorza recently made the annual mayoral Statehouse plea to monetize the city’s public water system and real estate worth some $400 million — all to pay down Providence’s unfunded pension liability. …

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Providence to look at sale of water system
Source: By Daniel Barbarisi, Providence Journal (RI), Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The city is considering selling the Providence Water Supply Board and the network of reservoirs and treatment plants it controls in order to pay down the huge debt in the city’s pension system.

…… The money from a sale would be used to pay off the debt to the city’s pension system, which is owed roughly $700 million.

Mayor Curry ‘will not submit JEA privatization plan to Council’

Source: Jim Piggott, News4Jax, April 26, 2018
 
Months into a political firestorm over the prospect of the city selling the JEA, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry issued a statement Thursday morning, writing, “I am choosing to state unequivocally that I will not submit any JEA privatization plan to the City Council.” … While Curry has been consistent in his public statements that he is not pushing the agenda, members of City Council and the council auditor believe that his administration was working behind the scenes to valuate the electric/water/sewer utility for possible sale. …

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JEA names private investor, a utility newcomer, interim CEO 
Source: David Bauerlein and Nate Monroe, Florida Times-Union, April 17, 2018

The JEA board of directors named a 38-year-old private investor with little experience managing a large utility the agency’s interim chief executive officer Tuesday, rejecting a bid by the finance chief to remain in the top spot, and marking a major departure from the kind of leaders JEA courted in the past. Aaron Zahn immediately assumed the interim CEO role and refused to take questions after the board meeting. The move to hire Zahn was contingent upon making a push to retain Melissa Dykes, the agency’s chief financial officer, as a high-level executive to run the day-to-day operations of the agency. Dykes, whose own bid to remain the interim CEO only garnered two votes from the five-member board, said she was open to staying but it’s not clear whether she will. …

Opinion: JEA union leaders explain opposition to sale
Source: Kathleen Crowe, Valerie Guiterrez, Rick Lehman, Ronnie Burris, Randy Hilton, April 15, 2018

Question: Would a private utility better serve the city of Jacksonville and the JEA ratepayers of Northeast Florida better than JEA? Answer: It is the official position of the JEA union leadership that a privatization of JEA would have severe, harmful and long-term detrimental economic impacts on all stakeholders. … While we have attempted to counter much of the noise regarding the privatization of JEA, there is a very simple reason for not selling JEA that overcomes all the noise. Any company or entity willing to buy JEA, whether it is $1 billion or $20 billion, must have the resources to ensure the price it pays will definitely be paid back in full with interest. This is not like selling your house for a premium and walking away with no further commitment to that house. The customers of JEA will still be on the hook for the premium paid in the initial purchase price, as well as the interest or earnings above and beyond that premium paid to the city. …

Jacksonville utility unions pan potential JEA sale as ‘harmful’
Source: A.G. Gancarski, Florida Politics, April 6, 2018
 
Even as well-connected lobbyists for major utility companies hover over Jacksonville’s JEA ahead of a potential sale, five utility unions combined in opposition to any moves Friday. Per a statement from the five unions: “It is the official position of the JEA Union Leadership that a privatization of JEA would have severe, harmful, and long term detrimental economic impacts on all stakeholders.” … Signatories include American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. Jacksonville Supervisor Association, Labors International Union of North America, and the Professional Employees Association. …

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Wastewater company to pay state $1.6 million to settle spill

Source: Sarah Betancourt, Associated Press, April 10, 2018

A wastewater treatment firm agreed Tuesday to pay $1.6 million to settle a lawsuit with Massachusetts for a spill in which more than 10 million gallons of raw sewage flowed into state-owned woodlands in Plymouth and Plymouth Harbor. The settlement by Veolia Water North America Northeast is believed to be the largest ever paid for violations of the state’s Clean Waters Act, officials said. Attorney General Maura Healey said the company failed to properly maintain a piping system that carried wastewater from customers to the treatment facility in Plymouth, causing a spill from December 2015 to January 2016. Veolia also allegedly discharged hundreds of thousands of gallons of untreated wastewater into Plymouth Harbor in three separate incidences in 2012. … Veolia continues to operate the Plymouth wastewater plant. Plymouth has a separate suit against Veolia North America that contends the company also is responsible for a 2015 sewage spill that officials claim impacted the town. The Attorney General’s office also has a separate lawsuit against Plymouth, filed in 2016.

Over 1,600 towns, cities worldwide now reversing privatization

Source: Michael Makabenta Alunan, Business Mirror, February 13, 2018
 
Over 1,600 cities and municipalities in 45 countries have acted to claim back public utilities and services from private companies, of which 835 were successful cases, showing people’s initiatives to wrest control over earlier privatization moves the past two to four decades that only resulted in spiralling prices, nondelivery of services to the poor and more misery. … Significant deprivatization models and best practices worldwide were also discussed in a book, entitled Reclaiming Public Services, which is a compendium of studies documenting actual experiences from different countries and edited by Satoko Kishimoto of Transnational Institute and Olivier Petitjean. … Conference delegates told journalists that while privatization and the neoliberal policies the past decades may claim to have contributed to growth, they helped worsen global inequality. … Even in the United Kingdom where privatization started under Thatcher, there are already 64 cases of public takeovers from the private sector, called in Europe as “municipalisation” of running services for people not for profit. …

Trump’s Infrastructure Plan Could Destroy Our Nation’s Water Systems

Source: Michelle Chen, The Nation, January 30, 2018
 
The draft outline of the zombie infrastructure program has resurfaced again with a leak to Axios—and confirms what many feared: The White House hopes to privatize areas of government at a discount, opening up more public services to abuse at the hands of corporations. Trump plans to expand private-activity bonds for infrastructure construction, “to benefit the public,” with a definition of “public benefit” that’s more solid-gold toilet than Hoover Dam. Exhibit A is the plan to expand private management of our waterways, including efforts to mitigate pollution and environmental harm that tends to result from the same private-sector control. In other words, laundering public money to help corporate America break stuff and then buy it. There’s a heavy focus on funding privately managed road and bridge projects, and goodies like highway-rest-stop commercialization and encouraging private leasing of infrastructure. …

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Cashing in on Water Crises: Public-Private Partnerships Are Not the Solution
Source: Julia Kassem, Truthout, January 13, 2018

Across the US, cost-cutting municipalities are looking to private companies and contractors to fix aging infrastructure. However, these privatization practices contribute to increased water bills and jeopardize water quality, endangering one of residents’ most basic needs. We can gain some perspective on the consequences of water privatization by looking to a glaring overseas example: In Lebanon, mismanagement of infrastructure has provided ample opportunity for privatization to proliferate. … The International Finance Corporation (IFC), the privatizing wing of the World Bank Group, continues to invest in water privatization companies such as Veolia, and more recently, SUEZ. The companies are setting their sights on ailing infrastructural systems in the Global South in places like the Arab world, particularly in response to the abandonment of public-private contracts in some large US cities. … In Lebanon and around the world, the basic issues of water quality and safety must find a place in policy-oriented discussions over water. If this occurs, countries and municipalities stand a chance of eschewing private-public partnerships — and ensuring that water is not treated as simply another commodity to be sold.

$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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Atlantic City Water Services to Remain in Public Hands

Source: Jocelyn Alcox, AFSCME Now, January 9, 2018
 
Members of AFSCME New Jersey worked hard to make sure Atlantic City’s water system remains in public hands. Just before the Christmas holiday, the state announced that it will not lease or sell the city’s water system to a private company. This followed more than a year of concern from residents and activists about the fate of the Municipal Utilities Authority (MUA), and is due in large part to the hard work and dedication of AFSCME members in and around Atlantic City. “We immediately knew we had to do something,” said April Gould, president of Local 3408. “Atlantic City is already struggling and outsourcing the water would have been disastrous.  AFSCME members have always been on the front lines of community issues and this time was no different. This is the community that we live in and that we work in, you can’t just leave those problems up to somebody else and hope they work out.” …

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State says it won’t sell or lease Atlantic City MUA to private company
Source: Erin Serpico, Press of Atlantic City, December 20, 2017
 
Following more than a year of concern from city residents and local activists about the fate of the city Municipal Utilities Authority, the state announced it will not lease or sell the water system to a private company. … The state has previously urged the city to dissolve the MUA, but the city either pulled or voted down measures to do so before the state took over in November 2016. For months after, more than 100 people from civic associations, the local chapter of the NAACP, Food and Water Watch and a group called “AC Citizens Against the State Takeover” knocked on doors and collected signatures to protect the water system from being sold. …

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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