Emmaus residents did not waste any time halting water privatization. In fact, their battle began before any private water corporations could move in and establish a foothold for expansion in this Lehigh Valley community.
Council members began discussing privatization efforts without public knowledge in 2005. Treating the issue as a real-estate matter, the council was allowed to meet without public oversight. Local resident Paul Marin, a former New York investment banker, decided to do something to stop it. When council members did not seem to agree, he got together with other local citizens and organized EFLOW, or Emmaus Friends of Locally Owned Water. Said Marin: “Ok, I came to you first, I’m going to wage a war on this.”
EFLOW hired two attorneys and ran a full-page ad in the local paper announcing what the council was doing. The goal was to put pressure on the council to hold a public hearing on the issue, and it worked.
The public hearing was held on a rainy night in August. The expected turnout for the event was around 20. When more than 300 people showed up in support of local control, the meeting had to be moved to the community park. Over the next four hours, 52 people spoke out against privatization. When Marin spoke, he said, “See this rain? It’s called drainage. They’ll own that, too.”
After the meeting, EFLOW ordered 500 yard signs. The signs, displayed all around the community, said: “Stop Corporate Water Grab. Save Our Water for Future Generations.”
Over the next two weeks, editorials ran in the local paper. Different municipalities rallied behind the effort to retain local control. In the end, citizens of Emmaus managed to change the minds of three council members who previously supported water privatization and defeat the proposed privatization through unprecedented community action.
Faulty Pipes: Why Public Funding — Not Privatization — Is the Answer for U.S. Water Systems(report; September 2008)