The Dangerous Return of Water Privatization

Community waters systems have sustainably provided safe drinking water for generations but corporations are now using local fiscal crises to push for water privatization.

| January/February 2014

  • It’s time for an integrated, holistic national water policy, including the establishment of a federal water trust fund. Instead we face the cannibalization of our public utilities by private corporations.
    Photo By Paul Goyette
  • Whenever a crisis arises there are those who battle it and, unfortunately, those who take advantage of it for personal gain.
    Photo Courtesy

The United States has one of the best public water supply systems in the world. More than 250 million people count on local governments to provide safe drinking water. Over the last 40 years, federal, state, and municipal governments have worked together to improve and protect water resources. The Clean Water Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, and the Endangered Species Act have kept the U.S. on target for preserving rivers, lakes, watersheds, wetlands, natural aquifers, and other sources of fresh water.

Great strides have been made in managing waste water and storm water. More than 90 percent of community water systems in 2012 met all federal health standards. Public water utilities have been a tremendously successful model for the U.S. and continue to keep drinking water safe, accessible, and affordable for all Americans.

It hasn’t always been this way.

During the 1800s, private companies controlled the water systems of several large U.S. cities—to dire effect. Because the companies were more interested in making a profit than providing good service, many poor residents lacked access to water. As a result, cholera outbreaks were common in poor neighborhoods; water pressure was sometimes too low to stop fires, which destroyed both homes and businesses.

By the turn of the 20th century, city governments, including Baltimore, Boston, New Orleans, and New York City, had taken over drinking water provision from private companies. The goal of government was to improve service, reduce waterborne diseases, and increase water pressure to better fight fires. New York City, for example, assumed control of its drinking water services from the bank and holding company called the Manhattan Company, the predecessor of JPMorgan Chase, after an outbreak of cholera killed 3,500 people and a devastating fire caused extensive property damage.

4/9/2014 7:00:44 AM

The privatisation of water in states across the US will result in more and more people have a lack of access to a safe and sustainable means of drinking water and we face moving back to how things once were as you so wrote about in the article. I have since moved to using a rainwater system storing in to cut down on my annual water bill, and also mean that I am not so heavily affected by these changes.

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