US communities demand right to public water supply

With America's biggest private water provider up for sale, local citizens are demanding the "democratic right" to buy their own water facilities, claiming that privatisation has brought them high prices, bad service and corporate meddling in politics.

But the current owner of American Water, German-based multinational RWE, has refused to negotiate with the individual communities, spread across Illinois, Kentucky and California, preferring to sell the company as a whole.

The mayors of nine US cities concerned issued a statement urging RWE to reconsider before the firm’s annual general meeting on Thursday. Community groups argue that over the three years the company has owned American Water, it has jeopardised health, safety and economic development, as well as accumulating debt.

One of the mayors, Laurel Prussing of Urbana, Illinois, said: “Our experience in Illinois has taught us that we need local control of our water systems.

“Ownership by a giant conglomerate has led to boil orders, fire hydrants which cannot be opened when our fire fighters rush to a fire, and perhaps most frightening, a huge interference in our local governments by RWE spending millions of dollars to influence our elections.

“We are willing to pay a fair price, and we believe investors will benefit more from selling to us than by wasting money on a political war while neglecting much-needed maintenance.”

He said that in buying their local water facilities his community would be joining 86% of Americans who get their water from public facilities.

In their joint statement, the mayors of the nine cities said: “The problem is that it is easier for corporations and other investors to purchase our water than it is for us to do so. We have been elected to serve our communities, but without local ownership we are hindered from doing our job.”

They accused RWE of putting fire hydrants in Illinois out of use, suppressing citizens’ right to vote on who should own the company in Kentucky, and overcharging customers in Illinois.

US citizen group Food and Water Watch said communities served by private water providers across the Americas were suffering: “Water privatisation has been under fire in the last year as one failed contract follows another across Latin America and the United States.

“RWE’s costly investment in Thames Water, which manages Britain’s water system, and American Water, the largest private water provider in the U.S., left the corporation ridden with debt and unable to satisfy its shareholders,” according to the group.

American Water owns utility businesses across 29 US states and three Canadian provinces, providing drinking and wastewater services to 18 million people.

Further details can be found on the Food and Water Watch website.

Goska Romanowicz

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