Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

water flows from a sink faucet to a bottle

Progressive advocacy groups are urging the White House and Congress to exclude water privatization provisions from any federal infrastructure package. (Photo: Dougal Waters/Getty Images)

200+ Groups to Congress: 'No Water Privatization' in Any Infrastructure Deal

"We urge you to reject this proposed water privatization scam and fight for a bold package that provides the support our communities need. Do not compromise on water."

Jessica Corbett

In a letter to congressional leaders on Thursday, 218 organizations urged against water privatization "in all its forms" and called on federal lawmakers to enact a "bold, uncompromising infrastructure package."

"This White House-approved infrastructure deal would lead to communities handing over public infrastructure to Wall Street profiteers."
—Mary Grant, Food & Water Watch

The letter (pdf), sent to top Democrats and Republicans, was organized by Food & Water Watch, which has repeatedly criticized privatization provisions that the White House and members of Congress are considering for a bipartisan infrastructure deal that Democrats plan to pass alongside a broader reconciliation package.

"The U.S. is long overdue for bold federal investment in our public water systems—but the proposal on the table will not get us there," said Neil Gupta, associate research director at letter signatory Corporate Accountability.

The bipartisan infrastructure framework announced last week by President Joe Biden and centrist lawmakers, Gupta explained, "promotes privatization schemes dressed up as 'public-private partnerships' and 'asset recycling,' which create dangerous, avoidable problems and ignore people's needs."

"Water privatization has failed communities across the country and must be rejected in all its forms," Gupta continued. "We need an infrastructure plan that directly invests federal dollars in communities, keeps water systems in public hands, and equitably addresses our nation's infrastructure crisis for the long haul—not more corporate handouts."

As Food & Water Watch Public Water for All director Mary Grant put it: "This White House-approved infrastructure deal would lead to communities handing over public infrastructure to Wall Street profiteers."

The letter outlines key arguments against water privatization, including that it:

  • Is an incredibly expensive financing option;
  • Will lead to rate hikes on households already struggling to afford their water bills;
  • Is not a viable or just solution for rural, small, or disadvantaged communities;
  • Can trap communities in expensive deals; and
  • Is not a solution for our nation’s water needs.

"Water privatization can increase costs, worsen service quality and allow infrastructure assets to deteriorate," the letter says. "There is ample evidence that maintenance backlogs, wasted water, sewage spills, and worse service often follow privatization."

"In fact, poor performance is the primary reason that local governments reverse the decision to privatize and resume public operation of previously contracted services," the letter adds.

The groups also argue that "communities need real federal dollars spent on drinking water and wastewater infrastructure," making a case for the Water Affordability, Transparency, Equity, and Reliability (WATER) Act of 2021.

The WATER Act—reintroduced in February by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Democratic Reps. Brenda L. Lawrence (Mich.) and Ro Khanna (Calif.)—would provide nearly $35 billion a year to drinking water and wastewater improvements, among other provisions.

Grant echoed that message from the letter, saying that "communities need real support, like the WATER Act, not sneaky privatization scams."

Flint Rising executive director Nayyirah Shariff knows just how badly investments in the nation's water infrastructure are needed; her city in Michigan is infamous around the world for its drinking water issues and resulting impacts on public health.

"Our water systems are struggling because the federal government has chosen to divest from water infrastructure," said Shariff, whose group also endorsed the letter.

"We have a funding issue," she added. "Privatization is not the answer because it will contribute to unaffordable drinking and wastewater bills. We need bold investment that includes grants for our water utilities, like the WATER Act."

"We need bold investment that includes grants for our water utilities, like the WATER Act."
—Nayyirah Shariff, Flint Rising

Other signatories include the Center for Biological Diversity, Friends of the Earth, In the Public Interest, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, Public Citizen and dozens of additional national groups as well as state organizations from Maine to Alabama to Hawaii to Alaska, and beyond.

Donald Cohen, executive director of In the Public Interest, pointed out that "every public dollar that ends up in the pockets of water corporations and investors is one less dollar we can use to fix America's crumbling water infrastructure."

The "no water privatization" letter concludes with a clear message to lawmakers: "We urge you to reject this proposed water privatization scam and fight for a bold package that provides the support our communities need. Do not compromise on water."

The letter came in the midst of several days of action on Capitol Hill pushing for bold climate provisions and other progressive priorities for infrastructure legislation.

It was also sent to lawmakers as House Democrats, joined by just two Republicans, passed a water and transportation infrastructure bill called the INVEST in America Act, which calls for putting $117 billion toward drinking water infrastructure and assistance.

As Common Dreams reported earlier Thursday, Grant of Food & Water said the House measure "offers a bolder response than the Senate’s water bill," but "the funding levels for water improvements are still not enough."

Grant urged Congress to "seize the opportunity provided by ongoing infrastructure negotiations and ensure the critical, transformative water funding the country really needs."


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

GOP Silence on Trump's Call to Axe Constitution Reveals 'Full Embrace of Fascism,' Says House Dem

"Last week the leader of the Republican Party had dinner with a Nazi leader and a man who called Adolf Hitler 'great,'" said Rep. Bill Pascrell. "Yesterday Trump called for throwing out the Constitution and making himself dictator."

Kenny Stancil ·


Protesting Fuel Poverty, People Tell UK Government to 'Keep Everyone Warm This Winter'

As energy bills—and fossil fuel profits—continue to soar, demonstrators around Britain demanded immediate action from Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and members of Parliament.

Kenny Stancil ·


'Turn Off the Tap on Plastic,' UN Chief Declares Amid Debate Over New Global Treaty

"Plastics are fossil fuels in another form," said U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres, "and pose a serious threat to human rights, the climate, and biodiversity."

Kenny Stancil ·


EPA Urged to 'Finish the Job' After Latest Move to Protect Bristol Bay From Pebble Mine

"Local residents, scientists, and the broader public all agree that this is quite simply a bad place for a mine, and it is past time for the EPA to take Pebble off the table permanently," said one activist in Alaska.

Jessica Corbett ·


'Zero Tolerance for Corruption': Grijalva, Porter Demand Answers on Alleged Trump Pardon Bribery Scheme

The Democrats believe a real estate developer donated to a Trump-aligned super PAC in exchange for the pardons of two other men.

Julia Conley ·

Common Dreams Logo