Residents wary of water privatization

By The Columbia Chronicle

Several aldermen and community activists have expressed concern about the possible privatization of the city’s water services, which would increase water costs for residents.

Because the 2013 city budget called for privatizing 34 jobs in the Department of Water, some have suggested that the city’s entire water program will soon follow.

“Privatization has failed with the parking meters and will fail in any other sector of Chicago’s government,” said Alderman Bob Fioretti (2nd Ward). “Water is a fundamental resource for anyone, and by taking it out of the public sector, the city would create problems across the board when it comes to providing proper service to millions of Chicagoans.”

According to Fioretti, the jobs were outsourced to the Japanese firm NTT Data, which will save the city $100,000, a fraction of its $8.3 billion budget. He said cutting public service jobs in favor of private companies will only hurt Chicago in the future.

Aldermen are working together to prevent privatization from happening too quickly, Fioretti said, citing his approval of Alderman Rod Sawyer’s (6th Ward) proposed ordinance that would require a City Council hearing for every proposed privatization deal. Sawyer’s plan would force city officials to justify contract proposals in terms of whether they will actually save the city money, he said.

“There are a lot of government workers in every ward across Chicago,” Sawyer said. “If we gut the foundation of our community by moving jobs to companies that do not work within Chicago, we are destabilizing our city.”

There is some support for water privatization in the city, according to Laurence Msall, president of The Civic Federation, an independent government research organization.

“Water privatization provides cities the opportunity to pay off their operating taxes,” Msall said. “These services are made more efficient by moving public services into the private sector.”

Emily Carroll, Midwest regional director of Food & Water Watch, an organization that advocates accessible, sustainably produced food and water, disagrees. She said residents only need to look at the aftermath of privatizing the Chicago Skyway and parking meters to see that moving operations to the private sector do not contribute to a city’s growth.

It could jeopardize the city’s access to proper water services and response times for leaks and flooding, Carroll said.   This type of outcome is typical when a city leases or sells its water supply.

Since their water supplies were privatized in 2010, residents in the suburbs of Hawthorne Woods, Homer Glen, Bolingbrook, Woodridge, Romeoville and Lemont have paid more for water and have not been provided with adequate service, according to Carroll. She said these communities are banding together to buy their water supplies back from private companies.

“Private water utility companies within Illinois have a very poor track record,” Carroll said. “They are charging people higher water rates and [providing] poor service, and you can’t say that the higher rates are necessary.”

She said there is strong opposition to water privatization in Chicago and added that residents have contacted their aldermen to stop privatization.