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Who Owns Our Water And Why That Matters
I became friends with André-Tascha Lammé through his telemarketer-stopping site killthecalls.com, but I marvel all the issues he takes on in his community. One of them is the Sacramento water rates, and overcharging by the German company that actually owns the Sacramento water utility! The site he built for that is sacwaterrates.com. Today, there was a story about the issue by Tara Lohan on Alternet. Here are a couple of excerpts:

It turns out the United States is an attractive place for multinationals looking to make inroads in the water business. The three main players are the French companies Suez and Veolia (formerly Vivendi), and the German group RWE.

The companies first pushed water privatization in developing nations. "But in many instances, those attempts didn't pan out as planned, it being difficult to gouge governments and customers that don't have a lot of money," Public Citizen reports. "The U.S., by contrast, presented the promise of a steady, reliable revenue stream from customers willing and able to pay water bills."

The companies that already controlled the small percentage of U.S. water held privately were bought by the big three: Veolia picked up U.S Filter, Suez got United Water and RWE took over American Water Works.

The results have been disastrous, as "Thirst" shows -- rates are increasing, quality is suffering, customer service is declining, profits are leaving communities and accountability has fallen by the wayside.

In Felton, Calif., a small regional utility ran the water system until it was purchased in 2001 by California American Water, a subsidiary of American Water, which is a subsidiary of Thames Water in London, which has also become a subsidiary of German giant RWE. Residents in Felton saw their rates skyrocket, "Thirst" reports. A woman who runs a facility for people in need saw her water bill increase from $250 to $1,275 a month.

RWE also bought the company controlling the water system in Urbana, Ill., and locals have been unhappy with the service it provides. "A few months ago, I got a notice on my door saying the water was turned off, and that when it came back on, I needed to boil it before I used it," said the city's mayor, Laurel Prussing. But when she called the number, the company didn't know what was going on -- and it was no wonder, because the call center was located in Florida.

As somebody who doesn't like a lot of government intervention, this is an area government belongs in -- seeing to it we have clean, reliable public water source:

Corporate interest in water systems in the United States exists for very good reason -- we have a water crisis. Our drinking and wastewater systems were largely designed a hundred years ago and in many places, little improvements have been made.

Aging systems combined with the pressures of increasing population, development, and pollution have left many communities close to disaster.

As a result, corporations have swooped in to offer public officials an easy out -- not only will they run these aging plants, but they'll save the city millions of dollars in the process. At least that's the promise. So far, it hasn't panned out.

In 2005,"Thirst" reports, 200 mayors of large and small cities said they would consider privatization if it would save money. In addition to lobbyists, publicists and ad campaigns, the corporations have also directly gone after public officials to sell their wares.

"The U.S. Conference of Mayors has become an engine of water privatization through its Urban Water Council," they write in "Thirst." "One mayor described a Conference of Mayors session he attended as a kind of feeding frenzy, with companies bidding to take over everything from his city's school-lunch program to its traffic lights and water services. Financed by the private water industry, staffed by former industry officials, the UWC works hard to give its corporate sponsors 'face time' with mayors."

And the federal government is not doing anything to help -- in fact, it's doing the opposite. "The administration has backed language in legislation to reauthorize existing federal water funding assistance programs that would require cities to consider water privatization before they could receive federal funding," reports Public Citizen. "And in lockstep with private industry's goals, the EPA is increasingly playing down the role of federal financial assistance while actively encouraging communities to pay for system upgrades by raising rates to consumers -- exactly the strategy the industry hopes will drive cash-strapped and embattled local politicians to opt for the false promise of privatization."

Posted by aalkon at April 25, 2007 6:13 AM

Comments

Thanks for the mention, Amy.

Now if only I could replicate myself. Two all-nighters since Sunday night, numerous projects (paid and pro-bono). Feel like I am gonna implode...

As an ardent capitalist, I almost always side with business, but as several prominent Republicans (some elected) in my area have pointed out to me vis-a-vis this water issue, RWE has a monopoly over a critical resource: water. Myself and a few other folks are having to take on RWE and their $400/hour San Francisco attorneys and it is a difficult battle. (Please note that they get to charge back all their legal fees to the rate payers.)

Just the Sacramento rate case filed with the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) is about 4000 pages. Considering that the CPUC has hundreds of rate cases going on and limited staff...well you can see how much work needs to be done by chuckleheads such as myself...

Time for me to get back to working making the Republican Party relevant in California...(grin)

Posted by: André-Tascha at April 25, 2007 7:59 AM

I would also say you side with the ethical. I don't believe in taxing the life out of people, and I don't think tax dollars should pay for NPR or schools for any but the water system isn't something we should be selling off.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at April 25, 2007 8:22 AM

Schools for any but the poor, that is. Middle class? Pay for your own damn kids to go to school. Have one or two less if you have to to afford it.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at April 25, 2007 8:35 AM

"Pay for your own damn kids to go to school."

Oh, Amy - and you were doing so well:)

Seriously, you and Andre are amazing on this water story. You both make me want to learn more, and power to you both.

But on Baldwin vs. Basinger, we are told putting the kid's best interests ahead of the parents' - even when they appear to conflict - is the Right Thing.

Providing basic education for all across the board is the mark of a civilized society with decent priorities. And if you approve of that benchmark, that means paying for basic education for all. Kids' interests come first and all that.

Posted by: jody tresidder at April 25, 2007 8:56 AM

Thanks, Andre-Tascha for your work, and Amy for bringing attention to this issue. I've been concerned for a long time about the trend to sell off public infrastructure (water, power, roads) to private enterprise. As far as I know, this has always been a loser for the public. Infrastructure concerns are almost always monopolistic, a feature that takes away the fundamental driving force of private enterprise - competition! Without that, there's little recourse in the case of bad service, poor quality products, or high prices. The choice in these circumstances is to suck it up or move. I'm convinced that the current privatization trend will undermine the quality of things that the success and well-being of our society depends upon; I'm also quite certain that it will be a steeply uphill battle to turn the tide back.

Posted by: justin case at April 25, 2007 10:25 AM

Schools for any but the poor, that is. Middle class? Pay for your own damn kids to go to school. Have one or two less if you have to to afford it.

Wont this create resentment among the Middle Class?

Posted by: PurplePen at April 25, 2007 10:52 AM

"create resentment among the Middle Class."

Ha! If the Middle Class person is a bien pensant Communist (calling himself a "liberal" or a "socialist" or even a "progressive"), he will probably resent having to pay while the great unwashed go free.

Of course the "Middle Class" is a weasel term. A big chink of it is completely non-prodctive and ought to be taxed for breathing. These either are paid at public expense ("work" doesn't quite seem the right verb) or work for parasitic organizations that get their major income source from the unwilling contributions of the public. For example, in the UK, Capita, an organization that Al Capone would have been ashamed of running (known to its employees, customers and victims alike as "CRAPita").

Meanwhile, the rightful indignation of the productive class, in practice is not "resentment." Such whiny sentiments tend to belong to those who have an entitlement view of the world. Productive people have no time for resentment.

Posted by: Antoine Clarke at April 25, 2007 3:41 PM

But on Baldwin vs. Basinger, we are told putting the kid's best interests ahead of the parents' - even when they appear to conflict - is the Right Thing.

It is the right thing - for those who chose to have children. Leave me out of it. I will pay for the very poor, and we all need to, to have an educated populace (which we don't exactly have now) in order to maintain a democracy.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at April 25, 2007 5:18 PM

Antoine, great to see you're up and posting -- but weren't you or Perry being sent over to rip me a new one about the water posting? I wrote back to Jackie (laughing) and came to see, and...rien...except for the bit about the "Middle Class" above...which isn't used quite as I meant it (as people of a certain income level - comfortable, but not filthy rich, who should pay their way and not suck off the tax teat for their children's schooling...ie, have five kids, pay for five...for their schooling, clothing, doctor visits and the rest.)

Having kids is not a right -- it's a privilege. I didn't get a dog until I could be sure I could pay her medical costs. If only people would think that way before they spawn!

Posted by: Amy Alkon at April 25, 2007 5:22 PM

Amy, Antoine had just left the hospital when he left his comment above. It would take a lot more energy than I suspect he has to refute the claims that only the government can provide clean water in a way that doesn't screw people. No mention of ripping you a new one was made, and I don't "send over" anyone (I WISH I had that much power over other people!). I do often point my friends in the direction of ideas which need refuting (I give priority to ideas from people I consider too intelligent to believe in such ideas) - I've received similar emails from you, so I know you're familiar with the practice.

It's 3AM, and I don't have the energy either, having been awake for over 24 hours. But I can point you towards this (http://tinyurl.com/34ro3f), which I think will provoke some thought.

Posted by: Jackie Danicki at April 26, 2007 12:11 AM

Jody - if the public education system actually provided something that resembled an education, I might not have a problem paying for it. But it does not, can not, and was intentionally designed not to. It should be scrapped.

I'm one of the biggest fans of privatization you're likely to meet, but there are a few infrastructure things that I think need to be run by local or regional governments or government/private partnerships. One of those is roads. Another is municipal water/sewer systems.

It certainly makes no sense to let a foreign entity run a critical resource like water or power, but we allow it to happen - and yet refuse to let a foreign company run port management on national security grounds.

Sounds like cephalo-rectal impaction to me.

Posted by: brian at April 26, 2007 4:30 AM

Brian,
How was public education "intentionally designed" not to provide education?

I can see a number of ways you might be (privately) intending this to be understood, but it's not terribly clear. Can you take pity - and amplify?

Posted by: Jody Tresidder at April 26, 2007 6:01 AM

Jody, do a google search for "Agenda 21". There are many links that back up what Brian posted about the public education system being intentionally designed not to provide education, in that the only education being provided is what the government wants children to learn, as opposed to actually teaching them various truths about history, etc. Grammer and mathematics are pretty much tamper-proof, but history, not so much. Especially when a lot of history is being rewritten via legislation.


Getting back to the water issue, when I read this: "A woman who runs a facility for people in need saw her water bill increase from $250 to $1,275 a month.", I was appalled, to say the least. I live in Connecticut, near Long Island Sound, and my water bill is about $95 per quarter year (which is how we're billed by the New Haven Regional Water Authority).

Posted by: Flynne at April 26, 2007 6:28 AM

Sorry, that should have been grammar, not grammer! Sheesh.

Posted by: Flynne at April 26, 2007 6:30 AM

Jody -

One merely needs to look at the results of the public school system to determine the truth. The "education" provided is intentionally slanted to benefit female students. Whether this was done to correct a perceived deficit in the education of girls, or to hold back boys is up for debate.

One also sees that the vast majority of schools have dumbed down the education offered so as to not offend the slowest learners. How many kids graduate that high school today know calculus? How many of them can read and write in English at their grade level?

Compare that with how many of them know how to install and operate a condom.

I graduated from high school 20 years ago. Even then it sucked. I learned in spite of the school, not because of it. The "honors" U.S. History class started with the pilgrims, and ended with the civil war. And took two terms to get there. There was nothing past WWII in the text book, and even then, pretty much everything from 1860 on was in the span of a couple chapters.

If someone wanted to design a system of education with the intent of creating a generation of under-educated unthinking government-worshipping sheep, they could not have done a better job.

Incompetence this stunning is never an accident.

Posted by: brian at April 26, 2007 7:28 AM

"Incompetence this stunning is never an accident."

You are right,Brian. It isn't.
In terms of all the glaringly obvious reasons that produce poor public education, that is.

However, that doesn't make it a dastardly conspiracy.

Most countries teach a digest of their own history first and foremost. I know this because I was left floundering repeatedly with the "wrong" basic history facts when my family kept moving to different countries and continents until my mid-high school years. Big deal, really. It all comes out in the wash by the time you're ready to fit things together.

I don't know where you're coming from with your boy/girl stuff.

However, you say: "I learned in spite of the school, not because of it."

Maybe, baby. But at least you're thinking! "They" couldn't crush that! Right?


Posted by: Jody Tresidder at April 26, 2007 8:16 AM

Providing basic education for all across the board is the mark of a civilized society with decent priorities.

Oh, yeah? How civilized is it to force people, under threat of violence, to finance these priorities? It's a question that begs to be answered.

Compulsory education is a fairly recent tradition, and not one created out of necessity. (I highly recommend the book Saturn's Children by British MP Alan Duncan and Dominic Hobson.) Nor are the results, by any measure, enough to justify education conscription. Compulsory education has been encouraging intellectual passivity in children since its (again, fairly recent) inception, as well as inculcating misplaced trust in authorities.

It is only since the introduction of compulsory education that illiteracy, innumeracy, and general ignorance have been worn as badges of honor by huge numbers of children. What's so civilized about that?

As for roads needing the government...Huh? The best-maintained roads I have ever lived on were private roads (in the UK of all places, which is generally quite hostile to privatization). You'd have to go deep into the countryside to find a private road with potholes, poor signage, and crappy lighting - and there, that's a feature, not a bug.

Posted by: Jackie Danicki at April 26, 2007 5:37 PM

"Oh, yeah? How civilized is it to force people, under threat of violence, to finance these priorities? It's a question that begs to be answered."

Jackie,

Not sure I follow where the "threat of violence" comes in regarding paying taxes that are used for public education?

Posted by: Jody Tresidder at April 27, 2007 4:05 AM

Try not paying your taxes and you'll soon find out where it comes in.

Posted by: Jackie Danicki at April 27, 2007 5:07 PM

Ah, the old IRS knee-capping clause, Jackie!

Posted by: Jody Tresidder at April 28, 2007 7:43 AM

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