For Immediate Release

Organization Profile: 

Kate Fried, Food & Water Watch (202) 683-2500

Lease of Milwaukee Water System Would Require 
Public Referendum

New Analysis Released by Food & Water Watch Finds Expensive, Lengthy Political Battle for Potential Privatization

WASHINGTON -  Food & Water Watch, a national consumer advocacy organization,
presented to Milwaukee Common Council legal precedence indicating that
the proposed lease of Milwaukee’s water system to a private company
must be subject to a city-wide referendum. According to Food &
Water Watch analysis, Wisconsin state statute section 66.0817 (4)
indicates that “prior to a city consummating a proposed agreement to
lease a public utility it owns, the ‘proposal shall be submitted to the
electors of the municipality[,]’ to be determined be a majority.” Food
& Water Watch submitted this finding today in a letter to Milwaukee
Common Council President Willie L. Hines.

“Food & Water Watch’s conclusions regarding the referendum
requirement are based upon careful review of state law,” said Wenonah
Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch. “Studies show
that customers of privatized water systems in Wisconsin pay as much as
$150 dollars more a month for service than those who receive their
water from a public entity and are more likely to encounter water
quality and service problems. In addition to ripping-off consumers
through rate increases, it looks as though privatizing Milwaukee’s
water will add to the city’s financial woes through a draining and
pricey referendum process.”

In October 2008, the Milwaukee
Common Council took initial steps toward leasing its Water Works as a
means generating new revenue for the city. The plan would involve
handing over the city’s drinking water system for 75 to 99 years in
return for an upfront payment to the city, and revenue from the lease
would be invested in a fund and used to address the city’s serious
financial situation. In May, Food & Water Watch joined with a broad
range of local groups to form Keep Our Water Public (KPOW) to stop the
privatization of Milwaukee’s water system.

Click here to read the letter to Milwaukee Common Council President Willie L. Hines.


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Food & Water Watch is a nonprofit consumer organization that works to ensure clean water and safe food. We challenge the corporate control and abuse of our food and water resources by empowering people to take action and by transforming the public consciousness about what we eat and drink.

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