This month, residents in Monterey County, California, turned in more than 11,000 signatures from area voters to put a question on the November ballot that would move toward public control of their water system. Public Water Now, a local organization, faced an uphill battle to pose the question to voters: Should we study local, public ownership of our water service?
California-American Water (Cal Am), the California subsidiary of the nation’s largest water corporation, owns the water system serving the Monterey Peninsula and charges the highest household water bills in the country among large systems. Household bills, including surcharges, increased by 68 percent from 2015 to 2017. In 2017, a Monterey household using 60,000 gallons a year paid more than $1,200 a year for water service.
Cal Am aggressively fought the Public Water Now’s petition drive, by hiring staff to dissuade voters from signing the petitions, and robocalling and mailing voters asking them to remove their names from the petition, prompting Public Water Now to file a complaint with the state Fair Political Practices Commission. Thankfully, the company’s efforts fell flat.
“We were amazed to see that 2,500 of the total signatures had come in during the last two weeks,” said George Riley, director of Public Water Now (PWN). “The increase in signatures appears to be due to Cal Am’s mail and calling campaign asking voters to un-sign our petition. Many who had not yet signed the petition contacted PWN to find out where they could sign it. Voters are so disgusted with Cal Am’s greed and mismanagement of our water supply, they signed the petition in protest.”
Monterey is just one of several cities fighting for local control of their water service.
The Peoria, Illinois City Council will vote later this year about whether to study buying their water system from American Water. A local business group supports the effort, even offering to pay for the study. After a century of corporate water, there is broad support for public control.
Hingham, Massachusetts is weighing a buyout of its corporate water provider. Long Island residents are fed up with their service from New York American Water, and a Republican state legislator has introduced a bill calling for a study of a public buyout of the company. The city of Chesapeake, Virginia just announced a plan to buy a neighborhood water system from Aqua Virginia, after years of discolored and bad-smelling water. The city planning commissioner said he hoped to prevent what “would eventually be a Flint, Michigan.”
With cities and towns moving to democratize their water systems, now more than ever, we need to stand up to the Trump administration’s efforts to grease the wheels of privatization and endanger our public water supplies.