It was a few hours before a city council meeting in January 2007 when Sister Carol Boschert first heard that O’Fallon, which is across the Missouri River from St. Louis, was considering selling its public water system, possibly to American Water. Wasting no time, Sister Carol made her way to the meeting, research in hand, and raised her concerns: privatization could lead to higher rates, poor customer service and less accountability.
Sister Carol’s case and those of other stakeholders who spoke at the meeting were so compelling that the city council decided to delay a vote on the sale until they had done more research and provided more information to constituents. To study the issue, the city formed a water and sewer task force, comprised of city council members, staff and residents. Sister Carol was invited to be on the task force, and she accepted.
“The commission was unanimous in not wanting to sell,” Sister Carol said, despite the fact that some of its members had initially supported the privatization of O’Fallon’s water system.
The task force’s findings, which were presented to the mayor and city council later that year, listed such disadvantages of a sale as “loss of control and representation,” “possible loss of jobs,” and “loss of future revenues.” After the task force’s presentation, the city council decided not to pursue a sale of the water system in the upcoming election.
Sister Carol first began studying the impacts of water privatization in Bolivia, where some of her sisters lived and where the U.S. company Bechtel had raised the cost of a water connection so high that many people could not afford it. “My initial reaction when I found out this could happen in O’Fallon was no, this cant happen,” she said. “Because of the bad experience in Bolivia, where our sisters had been, I didn’t want that to happen here.” In May 2007, the city council awarded Sister Carol with a Citizen’s Award in recognition for other contributions she has made to O’Fallon.
Two years later, the city opted for complete public provision of water. In 2009, after more than two decades of contracting with private companies to run the systems, the city brought its water and sewer services in-house. It saved 15 percent by operating the systems with public workers instead of private contractors.