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May 9th, 2014

The Fight for Public Water Is on in Monterey

By Katherine Cirullo

In its latest effort to undermine the public interest, California American Water (Cal-Am), a subsidiary of American Water, has poured $2.2 million so far into defeating Measure O, outspending Monterey’s local public control campaign by about 45 to 1. But money can’t truly buy votes and corporate scare tactics shouldn’t fool the Monterey Peninsula community. Ratepayers in Felton, California benefitted from a public acquisition of Cal-Am water, and the Monterey community surely would as well.

On June 3, Monterey Peninsula residents will vote on Measure O, which local group, Public Water Now, collected some 8,400 signatures to place on the ballot. If passed, Measure O would set the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District on a track to purchase the water system, primarily by funding a study to determine whether a public takeover of Cal-Am is “feasible and beneficial.”

Not-so-shockingly, Cal-Am, the sole contributor to the “No on O” campaign, seems to be emptying its pockets to make sure Measure O doesn’t pass, but perhaps this is because it fears the truth: studies show that public ownership of municipal water systems benefits communities by providing lower rates and more dependable, safer water service, and many voters in Monterey know this.

According to an editorial by the Monterey County Herald, proponents of Measure O see a couple of problems with Cal-Am’s service: it has failed to provide a long-term source of water and, most aggravating to residents, charges inexplicably high rates 

Cal-Am’s campaign spokesperson said that the company is spending heaps of money now to stop the measure because it learned from its experience in Felton. Felton offers lessons for Monterey residents, too.

In 2008, at the request of Felton community members, the San Lorenzo Valley Water District purchased the Felton water system from Cal-Am. A Food & Water Watch report shows that in 2011, public ownership of the water system saved a typical Felton household $500 — about 30 percent. In 2011, a typical Felton household was paying about $94 a month under public control, compared to the $135 a month Cal-Am had sought to collect for the same amount of water.

Publicly controlled water systems are also more transparent and more democratic than private ones. In Felton with the public ownership, residents are able to influence their rates and services. If residents aren’t happy with the district’s decisions, they may vote in a new board of directors and can act to directly stop rate increases. 

Furthermore, publicly controlled water systems are often more responsibly and carefully managed than expensive, private systems run by massive corporations. Many communities with privatized water and sewer service have experienced poor service, sewage spills, water leaks and slow emergency responses, among other issues.

Monterey is not alone in its pursuit of public ownership of its water resources. Local organizing against the poor service and high rates of private providers has created a groundswell of support for local control. Efforts to buy private water and sewer systems are underway across the country: from the suburbs of Chicago, Illinois, to the city of Missoula, Montana, from Hingham, Massachusetts, to Tega Cay, South Carolina, from Fort Wayne, Indiana, to Ojai, California.

Residents of Monterey can overcome corporate opposition, no matter how many dollars are poured into erroneous advertisements and PR schemes. Felton and numerous cities and towns around the country have successfully and affordably purchased their private water systems and have seen ample benefits in return. There’s hope that Monterey can do the same.

Learn more about the local campaign in Monterey by visiting

One Comment on The Fight for Public Water Is on in Monterey

  1. Michael Keenan says:

    You left out Claremont California!

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