In NC, the right to clean, affordable drinking water and sanitation is threatened in many locations by contamination, poor service, and excessive rates charged by private water companies whose primary concern is their bottom line. In our experience, public, locally-controlled utilities are most likely to offer quality, affordable water and sewer service.
Private water / sewer customers face significant challenges, including:
Affordability of water and wastewater – Though water rates are rising worldwide for both privately and publicly owned systems, privately-owned utilities’ rates are higher on average than those of publicly-owned utilities for the same sized system. The cost of water and sewer for people with the lowest income levels approaches or exceeds the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s threshold for affordability of water and sewer. In NC, the right to clean, affordable drinking water and sanitation is threatened in many locations by contamination, poor service, and excessive rates charged by private water companies whose primary concern is their bottom line. In our experience, public, locally-controlled utilities are most likely to offer quality, affordable water and sewer service. Private water / sewer customers face significant challenges, including:
Customer service and water quality concerns – Private water/sewer companies are difficult to hold accountable to respond to service issues quickly and effectively. Water quality is often already poor in the chronically out-of-compliance systems often targeted by privatizers, yet customers often struggle with the same problems on top of higher rates when private companies do not follow through on promises to upgrade pipes, pumps and tanks.
Transparency – Private companies are less likely to be transparent than municipal systems. Companies may limit disclosure of operating information to protect access to operating strategies and to reduce costs associated with customer notification and interaction. Without full disclosure of information on operations, customers can’t act to protect their interests.
Regulatory Failure – The NC Utilities Commission has shown minimal interest in protecting consumer interests. Allowing substantial and widespread rate increases with inadequate justification, as well as limited enforcement of record-keeping requirements, may indicate the Commission’s lack of independence from utility interests.
CWFNC works to address these threats to clean & affordable water. We:
- Canvass door to-to-door in rural and urban neighborhoods to ask residents about their perceptions of their water service;
- Work with neighborhoods to get organized, plan direct actions, identify next steps, contact local officials, and form longer-term strategies;
- Research privatization, rate-setting mechanisms, and social/environmental injustices in North Carolina related to drinking water;
- Advocate directly and through grassroots organizing for local and state policies that protect water and sewer customers’ rights to clean, affordable water;
- Offer bilingual workshops introducing basic water rights to interested neighborhoods, prioritizing low-income and diverse neighborhoods;
- Provide decision-making tools to local officials facing decisions about whether to sell or lease their water/sewer utilities to a private company.
Have you ever wondered what it’s like to be one of the hundreds of thousands of rural and suburban North Carolinians whose basic access to drinking water or sewage treatment is controlled by a private, for-profit corporation? Put yourself in the shoes of a private water or sewer customer, hearing directly from folks in three neighborhoods in the Carolinas about the daily effects on their lives, in Clean Water for NC’s nine-minute YouTube video:
Reports, resources and factsheets from elsewhere on the web:
America's Secret Water Crisis: National Shutoff Survey Reveals Water Affordability Emergency Affecting Millions (Food and Water Watch, 2018)
Remunicipalization: A practical guide for communities and policymakers (Public Water for All Toolkit, 2016)
Municipalization Guide: How US Communities Can Secure Local Public Control of Privately Owned Water and Sewer Systems (Food and Water Watch, 2012)
The Distribution System Improvement Charge: A rip-off for consumers (Food and Water Watch, 2011)
Video: The Impacts of Water Privatization on NC Communities
Privatizing NC’s Water, Undermining Justice(PDF) (2011)
The Stealthy Takeover of NC Drinking Water: A Snapshot of Corporate Privatization(PDF) (2014)
Profit Over People: The Injustice of Aqua NC’s Sewer Shutoff Policy(PDF) (2015)