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Applauding Sanders and Warren's Rejection of Privatized Water Systems, Group Calls On All 2020 Hopefuls to Follow Suit

"We need presidential candidates who recognize the importance of keeping water in public hands, no ifs, ands, or buts."

Elizabeth Warren rejected privatized water systems

Advocacy group Food & Water Action praised Sen. Elizabeth Warren after she declared that water "should be owned by and for the public." (Photo: EPA/Flickr/cc)

Advocacy group Food & Water Action on Wednesday demanded all White House hopefuls publicly oppose water privatization after Sen. Elizabeth Warren became the second 2020 candidate to do so.

"As the country continues to grapple with how to respond to climate change, federal investment in publicly controlled water should be at the forefront of the conversation as part of a just and fair transition to 100 percent renewable energy," Food & Water Action executive director Wenonah Hauter said in a statement. "We need presidential candidates who recognize the importance of keeping water in public hands, no ifs, ands, or buts."

Hauter's comments follow Warren's release Wednesday of her plan to "center environmental justice in the fight to end the climate crisis."

In the plan, Warren affirms that "access to clean water is a basic human right." She notes how "runoff into rivers and streams by Big Agriculture has poisoned [rural communities'] drinking water. In urban areas, lack of infrastructure investment has resulted in lead and other poisons seeping into aging community water systems."

Warren outlines a number of steps her administration would take to ensure all communities have access to safe drinking water. They include a vow that water systems would be in the public hands. She wrote:

America's water is a public asset and should be owned by and for the public. A Warren administration will end decades of disinvestment and privatization of our nation's water system—our government at every level should invest in safe, affordable drinking water for all of us.

Other steps she says a Warren White House would take include reinstating the recently revoked Obama-era Waters of the United States rule, declaring PFAS a hazardous substance, enforcing the Safe Drinking Water Act standards for all public water systems, helping infrastructure by fully funding the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund and the Clean Water State Revolving Fund, and increasing funding for the Conservation Stewardship Program to tackle runoff. 

"America's water is a public asset and should be owned by and for the public."
—Sen. Elizabeth Warren
Another Democratic 2020 presidential candidate has previously spoken out against water privatization: Sen. Bernie Sanders (V-Vt.).

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In February, Sanders introduced the WATER Act, which would help municipalities or state agencies bring treatment works back into public ownership. And the Green New Deal plan the Sanders campaign put forth in August calls for passage of that legislation.

Months earlier, in November 2018, Sanders gave a forceful rejection of privately controlled water after voters in Baltimore easily passed Question E, which bans the privatization of the municipal water and sewer systems.

"Congratulations to Baltimore for not only becoming the first major U.S. city to ban water privatization," said Sanders, "but also for setting an example to the rest of the country that clean water is an unalienable right, not a commodity that can be sold off for profit."

Other 2020 hopefuls, said Hauter, would do well to follow the progressive senators' leads.

"We welcome Senator Warren joining Senator Sanders in opposing water privatization and call on all presidential candidates to do the same," she said.

"Safe, affordable water for all is non-negotiable," Hauter continued, "but access is at risk if elected officials relinquish control to private, profit-driven water corporations. More and more communities across the nation are facing dangerous water crises, from lead poisoning to infrastructure failures, from PFAS contamination to mass water shutoffs. That's why communities need a strong federal commitment to safe water by passing the Water Affordability, Transparency, Equity, and Reliability (WATER) Act in Congress."

According to Hauter, the track record on water privatization speaks for itself.

"Previous ploys to privatize water service show time and time again that giving over control of water to corporations exacerbates these problems," she said, "and means worse service, increased costs, and less accountability."

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