South Carolina City's Water Privatization Proposal Threatens Public Control

Columbia, S.C. is looking at the possibility of privatizing its water and sewage system. (Photo: Steve Johnson/flickr/cc)

South Carolina City's Water Privatization Proposal Threatens Public Control

Organizer says plan could worsen services, increase rates

South Carolina's capital city is exploring the possibility of privatizing its water and sewage system, prompting warnings that it could spell higher costs and lack of public control over "our most essential resource."

Reporting for South Carolina's The State, John Monk wrote

A move to solicit written expressions of interest from private companies was approved by council in open session at an early January meeting, Mayor Steve Benjamin said at Tuesday night's council meeting. However, that approval received virtually no publicity.

Renee Maas, Senior Southern Region Organizer with Food & Water Watch, told Common Dreams that the privatization could take different forms, with Columbia leasing or selling its assets, hiring consultants, or privatizing its management system.

Previous efforts to privatize the municipal systems elsewhere have show they can be costly for consumers, Maas said.

"Water rates tend to increase at three times the rate of inflation. This is pretty common," she said, adding that the private companies can cut corners and worsen service.

Further, "there's no incentive to conserve water for private companies because it becomes a monopoly. There's no incentive for private companies to fix a system, install green technologies or best practices. There's no competition for them."

Yet the "public does have a way to vote out the people running their water systems out or complain," she said. "When water is controlled by elected officials, the public can go to the elected officials." The private companies, in contrast, "are accountable to their stockholders, not the people they serve."

Mass stressed that it "is not at all a partisan issue because water belongs to everybody."

While there's been a trend of efforts to push forth water privatization, Mass said that "communities are fighting back."

She said her group and others in the community "plan to educate the public about the truth behind privatization and how it often leads to increased rates and loss of control over our most essential resource."

Water needs to be protected "in a way that is sustainable and equitable" now and for generations to come, she said.

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