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The case for public drinking water grows even stronger

By Jenn Weaver, Clean Water for NC

A new report by Food and Water Watch – “The State of Public Water in the United States” – affirms that public water is the most affordable, safe way of providing drinking water to communities. Eighty-seven percent of people in the U.S. with water service receive it from publicly-owned water utilities, and that number is growing. Private, for-profit corporations charge an average of 59% more per year than local governments do, leaving those private customers paying an extra $185/year more, on average, than customers of systems owned and operated by a local government. The good news? From 2007-2014 there was an 18% drop in the number of people served by private systems, and the total number of private systems fell by 7%.

Drinking Water glassLocal governments have a basic responsibility to provide safe and affordable service, and if they don’t, the community can hold them accountable. On the other hand, customers of for-profit companies often have limited options to hold utilities accountable for bad service or unreasonable rates. Municipal or county systems are also more likely to incorporate conservation into their decision-making and rate-setting, whereas private companies seldom reward customers for using less water. After all, the more water used, the higher their profits.

One way in which the North Carolina experience is not consistent with this report is in the distribution of privately owned water and sewer systems. The reports say that in general, these systems are located in more affluent communities that are able to pay the higher private rates. In North Carolina, small, privately owned systems are scattered all over the state, frequently in rural areas where laying the lines to connect to a county or municipal system is cost-prohibitive. Some of these areas are affluent, while others are very modest-income rural neighborhoods and mobile home parks. There are numerous stories of customers in these communities being charged for low-quality water they can hardly afford.

The argument in favor of publicly owned water and sewer service is robust, yet local governments still struggle to have enough money to keep up with infrastructure needs without raising rates to an unaffordable level. Clean Water for NC stands with Food and Water Watch and other organizations to call for a dedicated source of federal funding to help local governments get the resources they need to provide safe, affordable service to their communities!

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