World Water Week: Cincinnati Planning a Step Towards Privatizing Our Water?

3/23/2009

This is World Water Week, a global grassroots movement to discuss the availability of clean water across the planet. So what better time to discuss policies locally that will affect our region’s access to clean water? In this important guest column, Josh Krekeler showcases issues surrounding City Hall’s plans to sell our municipally owned water system to private interests at taxpayer expense. Also be sure to visit the new website at Protect Our Water for more information.

In October 2007, Cincinnati City Manager Milton Dohoney began exploring the feasibility of transforming the Cincinnati Water Works (CWW) into the Greater Cincinnati Water District. In a memo to the Mayor and City Council dated 10/1/07, Dohoney stated that “There is potential that the development of a Water District would have positive financial implications for the City of Cincinnati. Given our financial challenges looking at other alternatives is clearly warranted.” The working group that’s been conducting the feasibility study is expected to submit its report to City Council (through the City Manager) within the next six weeks. While the details have not been finalized, the plan apparently is to sell CWW to the new Water District for between $300 million and $500 million, which would be paid to the City over several years. This plan, and the relatively little publicity it’s received, raises some troubling questions.

- How would the Water District be accountable to the people of Cincinnati? The Water District would be a separate public agency governed by an appointed board. It would no longer be directly under the City administration. If sufficient accountability and transparency are not guaranteed, there will be greater opportunities for corruption and decisions that do not serve the public interest.

- How would the transformation to a Water District guarantee perpetual local control of the water system? A board that isn’t directly accountable to citizens would have much more latitude to pursue selling the water system to a private buyer some time in the future. If they do – and there is no shortage of private water companies eager to take control of municipal systems – a corporate board in a different city or country would be setting local water policies with little input from the residents affected by those policies.

- How would the Water District generate the revenue to buy CWW from the City? While the advocates of the Water District plan within CWW are anticipating that the new structure would allow them to buy infrastructure and water plants outside their current service area, it would almost certainly be necessary to raise water rates to generate the money needed for the purchase. This is absolutely unacceptable. The City Manager is, effectively, proposing to ask us to pay to buy something that we already own!

Rather than trusting, or simply hoping, that these questions will be resolved in the public’s favor, citizens should ask City Council to reject the proposal. Please call or e-mail all City Councilmembers, tell them you’re concerned about the implications of the plan, and politely ask them not to recommend the creation of the Water District. You may also wish to contact Mayor Mallory and City Manager Dohoney. Fortunately, a citizens’ group called Protect Our Water has formed to educate the public and organize opposition to the plan. Please visit their informative Web site at http://www.natiprotectourwater.org and spread the word about this questionable proposal to your friends and neighbors.

There is no good reason to sell Cincinnati Water Works. CWW provides high-quality water at reasonable rates. If a separate group is put in charge, service quality could decline, rates will almost definitely go up, and residents who have trouble paying their water bills could find themselves faced with indifferent bureaucratic obstacles to maintaining their access to water. CWW is an efficient public system that pays for itself. More importantly, water is a vital resource, and people should do what they can to make sure their water supplies stay in the control of their local governments.

Cincinnati City Council:
Jeff Berding – 352-3283, jeff.berding@cincinnati-oh.gov
Chris Bortz – 352-3255, chirs.bortz@cincinnati-oh.gov
Laketa Cole – 352-3466, laketa.cole@cincinnati-oh.gov
David Crowley – 352-2453, david.crowley@cincinnati-oh.gov
Leslie Ghiz – 352-3344, leslie.ghiz@cincinnati-oh.gov
Greg Harris – 352- 5304, greg.harris@cincinnati-oh.gov
Chris Monzel – 352-3653, chris.monzel@cincinnati-oh.gov
Roxanne Qualls – 352-3604, roxanne.qualls@cincinnati-oh.gov
Cecil Thomas – 352-3499, cecil.thomas@cincinnati-oh.gov

Mayor Mark Mallory
352-3250
mayor.mallory@cincinnati-oh.gov

City Manager Milton Dohoney
352-3243
citymanager@cincinnati-oh.gov