The 2017 elections were about progressive wins all across the country. That was especially true in New Jersey, where the gubernatorial election represented a forceful repudiation of the Chris Christie years. But there was even more good news, especially for those who want to stop the privatization of water.
On Election Day, two small communities — Long Hill and High Bridge — posted victories for public water and sewers in the state of New Jersey, one of the most privatized states in the country.
Food & Water Watch’s research has documented how rates tend to increase and customer service declines after privatization. Nationally and statewide, there is a trend to maintain public control of water services. From Atlantic City to Hunterdon County, residents are choosing public water.
In Long Hill and High Bridge, the water and sewer systems need costly repairs to improve and maintain safe and healthy water. NJ American Water waged a months-long marketing campaign to promote their takeover in Long Hill, an approach that had the backing of the township council.
But we were happy to support local residents who worked tirelessly to present the other side of the argument, pointing out that the town had other options than selling the publicly-owned sewer system to a private operator. Their efforts paid off. By a margin of 54% to 46%, voters rejected the sale of their sewers to NJ American Water.
The kind of one-sided debate we saw from the Long Hill Township Council never makes for sound public policy, especially on essential public services. Instead of rubber stamping a buyout, town leaders should now begin a thorough and transparent process to explore all the available options for properly investing in the system while maintaining public ownership and control.
A similar dynamic played out in High Bridge, where NJ American Water presented its takeover as a sensible plan to pay for much-needed repairs. But the sales pitch didn’t work on voters, who determined that the proposal left them with more questions than answers, especially when it came to future rate increases. They voted to reject the sale by a margin of 56% to 44%.
Just like in Long Hill, High Bridge Borough will have to do some serious work to address its degrading water infrastructure. New Jersey’s disinvestment in water infrastructure has resulted in failing systems across the state. Voters are right to be wary of handing over their public systems to profit-seeking corporations. Progressive, big picture solutions, including a dedicated trust fund for our public water infrastructure, are necessary.
Take action and support the WATER Act to ensure that every community can have safe, affordable and publicly controlled water service.