WASHINGTON, D.C. – Mayors across the United States should push for increased federal funding to maintain and upgrade their communities’ aging water systems instead of turning them over to corporate water providers, said Food & Water Watch today as it released a new report that depicts the multitude of problems that consumers face under privatized water. It is available at http://www.foodandwaterwatch.org/publications/reports/faulty-pipes.
Water was on the agenda at the annual meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, which concludes today in Las Vegas, Nev. The nation’s mayors passed a resolution during the conference that recognized aging water infrastructure as a primary concern among the nation’s mayors and demanded that Congress increase funds allocated to state improvements of these systems, reflecting the higher priority with which local leaders are tackling the problems associated with a critical public resource.
“The real answer to our water woes lies in federal funding, not corporate takeovers that have led to higher rates, poor customer service, and dismal accountability,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch. “It’s time for our government to support local ownership of water, managed in the public interest – we can’t abandon our water services to corporations that don’t have the public interest in mind.”
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Congressional Budget Office and the Government Accountability Office estimate the funding gap for clean water in the U.S. to exceed $300 billion over the next 20 years. But in its 2007 budget, the House Appropriations Committee cut funding for water from $887 million to $688 million.
Food & Water Watch has been advocating the idea of a national trust fund for water, similar to the funds created for the nation’s roadways, airports, and social security. In fact, there are 110 trust funds in the United States, covering a huge range of projects, but none for water. If a water trust fund were created, it could provide dedicated capital for municipalities that need to upgrade their pipes, adhere to clean water standards, or invest in needed infrastructure.
“We have trust funds for the Butterfly Weed and for the frescoes inside the Capitol Rotunda, but apparently, our lawmakers don’t consider water to be as important,” said Hauter. “If given a choice, I’d bet the American people would choose water over blooming flowers or paintings, no matter how pretty they might be.”
The report, Faulty Pipes, captures a series of case studies in towns such as Urbana, Ill., Lexington, Ky., and Felton, Calif., where community members are battling multinational water corporations such as RWE, Suez, and Veolia, after experiencing the negative impact of private water providers. In many cases, local officials originally turned over their water systems to corporations because they couldn’t afford to adequately maintain the pipes and water supply due to insufficient funding.
But the lure of “cost efficiency” and “community investment” – buzz words used by the corporate water industry to entice struggling communities - didn’t materialize after the contracts were signed; instead, many communities now want to cancel their long-term contracts because they are experiencing higher rates, poor customer service, a loss of public accountability and a lack of local control. Moreover, a new trend of mergers and acquisitions of water corporations has led to an even greater risk for communities. Right now, RWE is selling its U.S. subsidiary American Water – the largest private water provider in the United States – through an Initial Public Offering, leaving communities in 29 states uncertain about the future of their water systems.
“It’s past time for our government to prioritize the lifeline of all communities – our water,” said Hauter. “We cannot depend on corporations that are more interested in profits than the welfare of our nation. Our mayors need to send a message to the federal government: Water is a public responsibility and must be managed in the public trust.”
To read the report, go to http://www.foodandwaterwatch.org/publications/reports/faulty-pipes. To read the letter to the mayors, go to http://www.foodandwaterwatch.org/water/UWC/.