Chile isn’t the only place engulfed in protest over water privatization right now.
Residents of St. Clairsville are pushing back against the small Ohio city’s proposed sale of its water and wastewater systems.
“I think the city could do a much better job,” said resident Milton Sumner at a recent protest. “I think there’s other alternatives available besides just selling it to some company.”
The company vying to take over St. Clairville’s water is a subsidiary of Aqua America, a publicly traded corporation with a long history of buying up public water systems and hiking rates. In fact, Aqua America pioneered the use of surcharges to increase water bills without public scrutiny.
In Pennsylvania, for instance, a 2014 study found that typical households were paying nearly five times as much for water on average from Aqua America’s four largest privatized systems as they‘d paid before the company took over.
So, when St. Clairsville’s leaders in favor of the deal say their constituents shouldn’t worry, residents are smart to ask tough questions.
The same failed, neoliberal policies of lowering corporate taxes and cutting public programs that have crippled Chile are hitting places like St. Clairsville—and Flint, and Baltimore, and…—hard. It was at a 2016 campaign rally here that presidential candidate Donald Trump mentioned federal infrastructure spending only once before famously gushing about waterboarding.
Is there talk of water privatization in your neck of the woods?
We just developed a guide to help public decision-makers and community members understand the risks of water privatization deals, which are sometimes called “public-private partnerships.” No deal should go through until questions like these are answered:
- Will the contract limit public control over public policy decisions?
- Will the contract make it harder to promote conservation or keep water clean and free of toxins, such as lead?
- What are the impacts on rates? Corporate profits, dividends, and income taxes can add 20 to 30 percent to operation and maintenance costs.
- How long is the contract? Many public-private partnerships last for decades.
- How will the deal impact the government’s bond rating?