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Florida Legislation Paves Ground for Water Privatization

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn open to selling water for industry, agriculture; may consider "toilet to tap" measures

Recent moves by Tampa Mayor Buckhorn and state Rep. Dana Young (R-FL) have some residents fearing privatization of the state's water is on the way.

Buckhorn and Young have a bill pending in legislature, HB 639, that would transfer public drinking water and reclaimed wastewater from being a public resource to being owned by the utility company.Maude Barlow: "Who's going to own the water itself?" (photo: Annika Timmins)

In a time of increased attention to water scarcity, part of Young's goal, to use reclaimed wastewater instead of potable drinking water for lawn sprinklers, appears laudable.

Yet, as The Tampa Tribune reports:

Critics say Buckhorn's proposal is the first step toward privatizing the state's water supply. They also say the proposal could turn the state's water cycle – from well to city supply and back – into a one-way street should utilities and other big users sell their wastewater instead of returning it to the environment.

"When that water is taken out of the aquifer, it could end up in China or Timbuktu or anywhere," said Charles Van Zant, a Republican state representative from Keystone Heights in Clay County. "Day by day by day this will destroy the Florida aquifer."

[...]

He wants to swap reclaimed water for the drinking water in thousands of sprinkler heads across the city. He is also open to offering it to the highest bidder for industrial or agricultural use, though he said he has no potential buyers.

And that reclaimed water may end up not only on lawns but in drinking water as well:

Buckhorn also hasn't given up on putting the reclaimed water back into the drinking supply, a process, dubbed "toilet to tap," that Buckhorn conceded comes with an "ick" factor that must be overcome in order to work.

In Texas, recent water privatization efforts have left residents overwhelmed by rate increases, as an in-depth report in the Statesman showed:

Across the state, a growing number of suburban Texans are getting their water from large, private corporations owned by investors seeking to profit off the sale of an essential resource. State figures show private companies are seeking more price increases every year, and many are substantial.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, which regulates water and sewer rates for nonmunicipal customers, doesn't keep numbers, but "their rate increases tend to be 40 and 60 percent," said Doug Holcomb, who oversees the agency's water utilities division.

Water rights activist and author Maude Barlow sounded the alarm on water privatization to Amy Goodman in a 2008 Democracy Now! interview:

And my concern -- and the more research I did on this, the more concerned I got -- was that this government, in particular, the United States, but many governments, are putting all their water eggs in the basket of cleaning up dirty water, instead of conservation, instead of protecting water at its source. What they're coming at -- the way they're coming at it now is to clean up water after it's been polluted. And there's huge amounts of money to be made. And my concern is, who's going to control that? Who's going to own the water itself? If Coca-Cola can own the water it sells you, why wouldn't General Electric or Suez be able to say, "Well, we own the water that we cleaned up, and we will decide how much money we make, and we will decide how much -- who gets it and who's not going to get it"? So it's very much an issue of control and also control about regulation at the other end.
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