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April 29, 9:30 am - 2pm, NC Environmental Justice Network Quarterly Meeting, Roseboro. Snow Hill Missionary Baptist Church, 531 Marion Amos Rd. For questions, email Naeema: naeema1951@gmail.com.

Privatization of Water/Wastewater Infrastructure is Not a Solution for Small and Rural Communities

Rural communities often lack access to reliable water and wastewater infrastructure

  • Drinking water in these areas primarily comes from unregulated private wells.
  • Rural utilities must maintain more miles of service lines, with fewer customers to share the costs. These challenges often lead to degraded infrastructure and financial trouble.
  • NC is more rural than the national average, with a higher percentage of well users. There are also numerous community wells regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act. NC attempted to address rural water challenges by incentivizing acquisition of small, aging groundwater systems by investor-owned utilities – primarily Aqua North Carolina and Utilities Inc.

The acquisition of small, rural systems by corporate utilities has increased disparities, injustices for rural residents

  • Disproportionate cost impacts: NC regulators allow costs to be spread equally over all of a company’s ratepayers. Poverty affects rural counties at a higher rate than urban counties in NC, causing concerns about affordability of increased rates, but the repairs and new projects that these increases cover are disproportionately concentrated in wealthier and more urban areas.
    • From 2013-2016, Aqua North Carolina charged its statewide customers $6.7 million for filters to fix discolored water; almost 80% of these filters were installed in urban counties.

Responsiveness to service problems

  • Large, corporate utilities typically save on expenses by maintaining only minimal staff, keeping them from responding quickly to service problems in remote areas. Aqua NC operates more than 1600 community wells and 60 wastewater treatment systems in 50+ NC counties, yet they only have 160 NC employees.
    • Residents in rural Henderson County have experienced frequent water line breaks which often take days to address because the nearest company technician is based 2 hours away in Gaston County.
    • Inspections by state water quality regulators may be less frequent in remote areas.

A true solution for rural areas will require local, state, and public federal funding and resources for small communities

  • The WATER Act would be a first step, providing funding for technical assistance to help rural and small municipalities improve their water and wastewater systems, and assistance to rural households for septic fields and private drinking water wells. Read it here.
  • Please contact your member of Congress and ask them to support H.R. 1673, The WATER Act (Water, Affordability, Transparency, Equity, and Reliability Act of 2017). Find your member of Congress by looking it up by zip code at this link.

 

Water provided by private utility Aqua NC in a rural community near Gastonia, North Carolina, discolored by iron. Although meeting all legal guidelines, the water is undrinkable.

 

Hog farms: call today, YOUR Rep's vote could make a difference

NC should protect the rights of people, not industrial hog farmers

Thanks to YOUR calls and e-mails, on May 5th, Governor Cooper vetoed House Bill 467, the bill that would limit the ability of communities near hog farms to seek compensation for health effects, nuisance odors, loss of income and other impacts. The Governor acknowledged that nuisance laws can be important for protecting private property rights.

The NC House plans to vote today at 3PM on whether to override Governor Cooper’s veto of House Bill 467, the bill that would limit the ability of communities near hog farms to seek compensation for health effects, nuisance odors, loss of income and other impacts. The NC Senate will have a chance to vote, too. It will be a close vote, and a call to YOUR Representative and Senator could make all the difference. Ask them to vote “no” to the resolution to override the veto, and protect people, not industry!

To find the contact info for legislators for your area, go to tinyurl.com/ncreps17 and scroll down to enter your county. Click on the legislator’s name to view their phone number and e-mail address. You can look up how your Representative voted on the original bill here and how your Senator voted here.

Oppose H467

Impacted residents near hog operations lobby in Raleigh last month.

ASK Governor Cooper to VETO House Bill 467, Call 919-814-2000!

House Bill 467 is a terrible injustice to NC residents living near Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) and a frightening precedent for what other industries could do. This bill would hurt residents in NC living near CAFOs that want to sue Smithfield’s Hog Production Division due to the pollution caused by Smithfield’s hogs. Future lawsuits would have a cap on compensation that could be awarded to residents from a corporate pork producer making record profits ($1.7 billion in 2016).

Property Owner Rights: CAFOs produce waste which can contaminate ground water, as well as become a nuisance to residents living nearby who have to live with the stench. This bill eliminates compensation even when these impacts are proven in court. This bill would also reduce options for homeowners to protect themselves when CAFOs unreasonably interfere with their use of their property.

Environmental Justice Issues: Most CAFOs are located in low-income areas or communities of color (e.g., Duplin County, NC). These communities disproportionately suffer from the pollution caused by these operations. By taking away available legal remedies, this bill is especially harmful to these vulnerable populations. CAFOs also impact property values nearby, and threaten drinking water wells.

Special thanks to Christine Ellis of the Winyah Rivers Foundation for information on this harmful bill. 

Drinking Water & Democracy at Stake: Call your NC lawmakers this week to weigh in

This week, lawmakers are beginning to discuss and pass dozens of bills that have been introduced this spring, in order to pass as many as possible before an important deadline on Thursday, April 27. Please call or e-mail your legislators today and weigh in on several key bills with huge implications for NC drinking water, environmental justice, and democracy!

To find the names and phone numbers of the legislators for your area, go to tinyurl.com/ncreps17 and scroll down to enter your county. Click on each legislator’s name to view their phone number and e-mail address.

Ask them to:

(1) OPPOSE House Bill 351 – don’t create incentives to privatize public water supplies. The bill would make it easier for for-profit water companies to buy communities’ water or sewer services, by driving up the price. They could charge the ratepayers to pay themselves back plus a profit! NC should put more funding toward maintaining public drinking water supplies and infrastructure, not facilitate purchase of these essential services by for-profit companies who are less accountable to the public.

(2) OPPOSE House Bill 467 – don’t limit the ability of communities near hog farms to seek compensation for health effects, nuisance odors, loss of income and other impacts. Don’t shield pork producers from being accountable to nearby residents–mostly poor, African-American communities in Eastern NC. (This bill has passed the House already, so please call your Senator).

(3) OPPOSE House Bill 576 – don’t allow spraying of landfill leachate without air permits! There has not been adequate scientific study of whether the aersolization of landfill leachate is safe, and the bill would waive air pollution permits for the process, so we are deeply concerned about this process being approved and used. In videos of the process, it does not appear as self-contained as the proponents have claimed!

(4) SUPPORT House Bill 825 to protect children in schools from lead exposure! The bill requires testing for lead in water supplies in child care facilities and elementary schools. If lead is found above a certain threshold, teachers and parents must be notified and access provided to a safe water supply.

(5) SUPPORT Senate Bill 554 and House Bill 714 – create a committee to study how to establish new voting districts in a non-partisan way to represent all of North Carolina. It’s time to end gerrymandering and come up with a fair system for redistricting.

Thanks for taking action! Check back often for updates and additional recommendations for taking action.