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February 2nd, 2012

Meet Some of the Faces of Water Privatization

Public-Private Partnerships Don't Help the People

By Kate Fried

While I’ve been writing about water privatization for almost four years now, it sometimes still seems to me like an extremely abstract issue. Sure, I know that private water companies tend to raise consumer rates, scrimp on customer service, and downsize their work forces. But how often do I meet consumers who have been personally affected by the problems inflicted by private water companies? Not terribly often. Yes, perhaps I should get out more.

Therefore, when a series of emails floated through my inbox detailing some of the frustrations that customers of Aqua America and its subsidiaries have encountered in recent months, my attention was piqued because they connected the problems of privatization to actual humans. Join me as I introduce you to a few of them and their water woes.

Meet Ruby Williams. Ms. Williams, a 78-year-old Aqua Pennsylvania customer, gained nation attention not long ago for being hit with a $40,000 water bill after a leak left her plumbing lines gushing more water than it takes to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool. The leak occurred on the side of her water line that Aqua Pennsylvania does not claim responsibility for, so instead of offering solutions for resolving it, they sent her a bill that rivaled the cost of tuition at a private university and offered to set her up on an installment plan. Only after Ms. Williams’ situation garnered national media attention, and only after a county social services agency began collecting donations to help her pay her bill did the company agree to reduce her bill to hundreds of dollars instead of tens of thousands.  

Now meet the Price family of Stallings, North Carolina. Aqua North Carolina recently cut off their wastewater service despite the fact that they had paid their bill, and then demanded $1000 to restore it. According to state regulators, the actual cost should have been $645–still a hefty price, but about a third less than what Aqua asked. Luckily, the state intervened, and the company restored their service at no charge. An investigation is now underway.

Finally, meet the residents of Newlin Greene, a subdivision of Newlin Township in Chester County, Pennsylvania. Residents there are facing a drinking water bill increase less than a year after their provider Aqua Pennsylvania raised sewer rates by 60 percent. They are already paying nearly $2000 a year for sewer service on average, and if the company gets it way, they will ending up paying more than $1000 a year for water service. That’s a total of about $3000 a year for water and sewer service.  Ouch.

Not long ago, presidential contender Mitt Romney opined “corporations are people,” but the experience of these Aqua America subsidiary customers suggests that some corporations are not people who should be trusted with our valuable water resources, nor should they necessarily be invited into our homes. After all, what would you do if your life and your wallet were turned inside out by one of these companies?

One Comment on Meet Some of the Faces of Water Privatization

  1. Terry Hall says:

    Scary. Newark, NJ’s water is going private. My understanding is that if/when Newark’s water is privatized it will affect surrounding towns who use the same reservoirs. Folks are fighting the privatization, they see what’s been happening around the country and don’t want the same horrible experiences.

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