After nearly a year of organizing against the company, the St. Louis Dump Veolia coalition scared Veolia out of St. Louis.
A Beginning Tour
Veolia representatives toured St. Louis’ water facilities in September 2010, four months after the Show-Me Institute, a libertarian think-tank, recommended selling the water system to shore up the city’s budget. A few months after the Veolia executives came to St. Louis, the city’s public utilities director visited a Veolia operation in Buffalo. Understandably, these visits made the city’s water employees feel ill at ease.
Although city officials denied that they were considering privatizing the water division, in September 2011, the city said that it wanted to contract with a private entity to cut costs in the water department.
- Privatization Threatens St. Louis’ Water (fact sheet; December 2010)
Public Protest Erupts After a Secret Contract Comes to Light
During the summer of 2012, the city solicited proposals for a “water utility operational efficiency and value creation analysis.” In November, the city selected Veolia Water as the winning bidder. The city was tight-lipped about the proposal throughout the selection process, and by the first of December, it had not made any public statement or announcement about the five-year deal with Veolia. Veolia Water Americas CEO Laurent Auguste, however, mentioned the deal during a panel discussion at the American Water Summit, an industry conference, on November 14, 2012.
After being contacted by St. Louis water workers, the Riverfront Times broke the story about the new contract in December 2012.This type of contract was experimental and questionable. Veolia may have recommended changes that generated short-term savings at the expense of long-term system viability, and it could have had negative effects on ratepayers and the utility employees.
Resounding public opposition followed. Community members and groups raised concerns about Veolia’s track record as the world’s largest water privatizer. In early 2013, dozens of people attended city meetings forcing the city to delay the execution of the contract and to investigate the company’s record.
A local coalition called St. Louis Dump Veolia formed to organize the opposition. They turned Veolia into a campaign issue during the mayoral elections, and packed the rooms at city meetings. As a result of their efforts, the contract was stalled in committee for months.
In October 2013, the mayor sought to push through deal by using sly procedural maneuvering to bypass the required aldermanic approval. City alderpersons responded to their constituents’ alarm and outrage at this development and introduced a bill to defund the Veolia contract. At the end of October, in the face of ongoing ardent opposition, Veolia pulled out of St. Louis.
This victory kept Veolia from getting a foot in the door of St. Louis’s water division. Instead, the city entered into a public-public partnership with the Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District to explore ways to improve the water system’s performance.
- Statement of Opposition to Veolia Contract in St. Louis (statement; July 2, 2013)
- Veolia Water North America: A Corporate Profile (fact sheet, August 2013)
- Veolia Environnement: A Profile of the World’s Largest Water Service Corporation (report; April 2011)