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The Stealthy Takeover of NC Drinking Water

Today, we released a new report, “The Stealthy Takeover of NC Drinking Water: A Snapshot of Corporate Privatization,” presenting a geographical snapshot of small, privately-owned drinking water systems which are common sources of household drinking water, typically drawing groundwater from one or more wells.

Many North Carolinians don’t realize that their neighbors pay for water service from a private, for-profit company such as Aqua North Carolina or Utilities, Inc. These companies are quietly buying up aging drinking water systems, or making deals with developers to own and operate new systems. Both companies serve thousands of customers in rural areas, and in suburban areas outside cities like Raleigh, Charlotte, and Winston-Salem.

The 10-page report includes detailed maps of the drinking water systems owned by Aqua North Carolina and Utilities Inc., the two largest private water corporations operating in NC. Additional maps display the number of people served by each water system, data on water quality and reporting violations, and the demographics of the surrounding neighborhoods.

Did you know that:

  • Many corporate-owned systems haven’t consistently complied with water quality standards, despite charging high customer rates. Even for systems without recent violations, there are often water quality problems: small systems are not required to monitor as frequently as larger ones, so violations can slip through the cracks.
  • Iron and manganese, common naturally-occurring groundwater contaminants, are not considered direct public health threats and do not have federally enforceable drinking water standards.
  • Among the NC neighborhoods served by for-profit water utilities, low-income, minority, and rural communities are particularly vulnerable to steep rate hikes and poor service.

As an environmental justice organization, Clean Water for NC is particularly concerned that in some counties, such as Cumberland County, minority residents and households that are below the poverty level are experiencing the worst water quality violations; they are also much more vulnerable to high private water rates and future rate increases. NC residents should not be paying more than they can afford for water they can’t even drink.

Though these maps of the stealthy spread of corporate privatization may be alarming, there is still time for NC lawmakers, the NC Utilities Commission, and local public officials to capture the consumer and regulatory benefits of promoting consolidation of hundreds of independent systems under public ownership, as Alabama has done, and to facilitate publicly owned utilities’ purchase of small systems within or near their existing service areas.

A full set of maps by county for each utility company is available on request; please contact katie@cwfnc.org. Click here to read the report.

Map private water 2014

Red dots represent water systems owned by Aqua NC; blue dots are water systems owned by Utilities Inc.

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