When Carol Weaver learned that her borough council was considering selling the local water system to a private company, she and her neighbors got together and formed Knox Friends of Locally Owned Water, or Knox FLOW.
As a former mayor and councilmember, Carol knew how to get the attention of elected officials. She and her fellow FLOW members gathered signatures from 300 neighbors opposed to privatizing their public water system (a big number in a borough of about 750 registered voters) and presented those to a stunned council.
“We told the council members: You’re accountable to us,” Carol said. “But if you sell our water system to a commercial entity that’s accountable to shareholders and CEOs, then we, the customers, end up at the bottom of the list.”
On May 8, 2007, the Knox Council voted against selling the local water and wastewater systems to either of the two companies vying for it: American Water and Aqua America. Those are the two largest private water companies in the United States, and they both are aggressively targeting small towns like Knox as targets for privatization.
“We figured, if we’re paying for the upgrades anyway, we might as well own the system in the end,” Carol said.
Carol and her neighbors drew inspiration from the many grassroots FLOW groups sprouting up around the country, like Felton FLOW in Felton, CA. It’s a model that Carol says has worked to unite the community.
Knox residents like Carol only learned of the potential privatization after the council had already asked companies for bids. Neighbors sensed foul play: The councilmember who proposed the privatization scheme, Jim Curran, is an employee of Pennsylvania American Water, one of the companies jockeying to privatize Knox’s water.
“I’m a very patriotic American,” Carol says. “For the future of our children and our grandchildren in this town, we have the right and the obligation to vote to say who we want to control our water.”