News Feature | April 21, 2014

Effort To Restructure Alabama's Biggest Water Utility Hits Snag

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome


Legislation to rein in the power of Alabama's largest water utility died in the city council this month after a well-financed political fight. 

The legislation would have provided "seats on the Water Works Board from outside Birmingham and Jefferson County along with a handful of other measures to change the financial structure of the utility," WVTM reported.  

The bill failed despite appearing to have good odds earlier this year. "It should have been a slam dunk,” the Huntsville Times said in an analysis.

Ultimately, the side that invested more in the political fight won the day, according to the Times commentary. 

The city and the water works "doled out at least $360,000 on lobbyists to tilt the battle ground in their favor – not including legal work and other preparation. That's how it works. You can buy lobbyists to kill a bill in order to keep the status quo. It's a lot harder to find those who would pay to change it," the commentary said. 

The commentary concluded: "That's Alabama politics. Sometimes it's about the parties. Sometimes it's about the connections. Sometimes it's even about beliefs. But it is always about money."

City Council President Johnathan Austin was among those who opposed the legislation. 

"[He] said the primary issue was the change of board composition and what he called legislators' attempts to dilute Birmingham's power and representation on the board," the Times reported in a separate article.  

Still, the effort to alter the utility is not over. 

"The Birmingham Water Works Board will likely continue plans to sell non-Jefferson County portions of the utility, even after the death of legislation that would have extended board seats to those areas," a separate Huntsville Times article said. 

Board member David Herring agreed that the utility should continue to study its options. 

"However, he said some counties who have rallied for independence from Birmingham could suffer from a 'boomerang' effect if the system is sold and rates are increased by new owners to pay for the acquisition debt," the report said. 

For more on government oversight, check out Water Online's Regulations and Legislation Solution Center

Image credit: "Birmingham's skyline from it's highest point," acnatta © 2006, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license:

Want to publish your opinion?

Contact us to become part of our Editorial Community.