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Members of the National Association of Water Companies Work with North Carolina Groups to Solve Complex Water Challenges

06/10/2011

On June 3, 2011, a diverse group of stakeholder organizations attended a public forum on “The Role of the Private Water Industry in Providing Water Infrastructure” hosted by UNC-Duke-WRRI (Water Resources Research Institute of The University of North Carolina) and the State Water Infrastructure Commission (SWIC) at the Albert Coates Local Government Center in Raleigh, NC.

The following quote should be attributed to Michael Deane, executive director of the National Association of Water Companies (NAWC), who participated in the forum and provided its introduction:

“I find it significant that at the same time I, and other NAWC members including Tom Roberts, President and COO of Aqua North Carolina, were meeting with the State Water Infrastructure Commission and other state and local officials to determine how best to work together to address several of the state’s water challenges, other groups busied themselves distributing a new report that lacked truly sustainable solutions but had plenty of inaccuracies.

“The report, Privatizing North Carolina’s Water, Undermining Justice, appears to be well-researched and documented by the grassroots community group, Clean Water for North Carolina (CWFNC),  but unfortunately is tainted by the standard practices of misinformation and distortion of its biased co-author, the DC-based lobbying group Food & Water Watch.

“The Executive Director of Clean Water for North Carolina, Hope Taylor, attended the public forum, listened to perspectives shared on the role of the private water industry, and participated by asking good questions about the services and costs of many of the solutions being offered by the four private water companies in attendance including United Water (Clemmons, NC); Aqua North Carolina, Inc. (Cary, NC); Utilities, Inc. (Charlotte, NC) and CH2M HILL (Charlotte, NC).

“Ms. Taylor’s questions were respectful and relevant, and were thoughtfully discussed by our members present, as were many of the issues addressed by the report. So whereas these 50-pages of poorly reasoned accusations would lead others to believe there’s some sort of artificial ‘public vs. private’ wedge that exists and that the exchange of information between public officials and companies is concealed and the process not transparent, that is absolutely false and does not help North Carolinians receive quality water and wastewater service any faster – they just grab headlines.  

“North Carolina does not need the distraction and zealous anti-private sector ideology of outsiders like Food & Water Watch who offer propaganda in lieu of rolling up their sleeves and working with officials and water managers to offer solutions that are best for their communities – whether public or private or partnerships bringing together the power of both.  This has been the opinion echoed several times in the past 12 months by thought leaders – read more about two in particular below – who came into contact with Food & Water Watch as their community and local decision-makers attempted to learn more about what benefits could be offered by partnering with a private water company.

On May 26, 2011, in the Township of Franklin, NJ, Councilman Phillip Kramer wrote a rebuttal to the published statement of Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter, “Franklin Township Rejects United Water Privatization Proposal,” taking exception to its multiple distortions of facts.  Councilman Kramer went on to say that Hauter was out to make people believe that her group’s role in the decision-making process was favorable when in fact, “uniformly Council members that spoke of Food & Water Watch did so in a negative manner." While defending the group’s right to participate in free speech and the public review process, Councilman Kramer finds that Food & Water Watch is “a group that is unencumbered by the truth” and says he “cannot however defend their use of scare tactics, exaggerations and outright distortions."  Finally, he asks them to “kindly remove your signs illegally placed in our town, especially those placed on open space property," calling their posting disgraceful behavior toward the planet.

And on July 22, 2010, the editor of the Chronicle-Tribune in Grant County, Indiana, asked in his op-ed entitled Keep Focused On What Is Important, “Why should the folks at Food and Water Watch care if we choose to hire a private group to distribute our water and take away our waste or maintain a city government department to do the job... [It] is our business and our water. By the way, it will continue to be our water, regulated in quality and rates by our state, should we hire a private utility to go get it and then get rid of it for us...the decision to be made in Marion needs to be made on a number of factors by local people. Our community's long-term economic needs and quality of life should be the driving factors, not employment at the water and sewer works or the anti-business passion of left-wing ideologues."

“At the forum on June 3rd, Tom Roberts of Aqua North Carolina (the company hardest hit by the report’s citations) shared examples of how the state had appointed Aqua emergency operation of several failing water systems including one just outside Boone. In addition, Aqua purchased and made capital improvements to a non-viable system in Catawba County. Both of these examples demonstrate how Aqua and other private water companies work with public officials to help small, troubled systems that are in desperate need of service improvements to protect public health and the environment. In fact, I was a bit surprised to see the report suggest that “mom and pop” utilities are a progressive alternative in water and wastewater service, when nearly every state agency in the nation has been actively looking for these to be centralized by the very companies Clean Water for North Carolina rebuke. 

“I find it sad that the report opens by trying to play on water as a human right as the background for its anti-private diatribe.  In fact, NAWC and the private water industry have worked closely with the United Nations on its implementation of a human right to water and sanitation, including the recent country visit to the U.S. of the U.N. Independent Expert on this issue, Catarina de Albuquerque.  Ms. de Albuquerque has explicitly stated, ‘Human rights [to water and sanitation] do not require a particular model of service provision.  They do not exclude private provision (including privatization).’

“North Carolina, like all states and the country as a whole, faces significant challenges in ensuring its citizens receive the economic, public health, and environmental benefits of safe, reliable drinking water and wastewater services.  The good news is that working together – public and private, communities and companies – we have solutions for those challenges.  While groups like Food & Water Watch continue to impede the success of these solutions through the tactics of distortion and delay, NAWC and its members will continue to get to work on the ground providing our technological, operational and financial experience and expertise.”

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