News Feature | November 21, 2017

NJ Voters Consider Water Privatization This Month

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,

The question of whether to privatize water systems was on the ballot of three New Jersey towns this month.

“On Election Day, two small communities — Long Hill and High Bridge — posted victories for public water and sewers in the state of New Jersey, one of the most privatized states in the country,” reported Food and Water Watch, an advocacy group that favors public water.

“In Long Hill and High Bridge, the water and sewer systems need costly repairs to improve and maintain safe and healthy water. NJ American Water waged a months-long marketing campaign to promote their takeover in Long Hill, an approach that had the backing of the township council,” the report said.

Residents in West Milford, NJ, however, made a different decision, voting to privatize their water and sewer systems, which were autonomous from the township and underfunded.

West Milford sought to “sell its entire Municipal Utilities Authority (both the water and sewer systems) to Suez Water New Jersey for $10 million. The company estimates that it will cost $70 million to fix the town's systems,” NJ Advance Media reported.

Residents “overwhelmingly” voted to approve the sale, according to The West Milford Messenger.

“According to unofficial results provided by the Passaic County Clerk’s Office, the vote was 89.7 percent (6,191votes) for the sale and 10.3 percent (711 votes) against the sale,” the report said.

“The MUA’s aging system in need of major repairs and upgrades, compounded by the MUA’s multimillion dollar debt, led to the MUA commissioners and the township council’s decision to sell to a private company earlier this year,” the report said.

A recent New York Times analysis on the pros and cons of privatizing municipal water utilities found that privatization means bills tend to rise, but for cash-strapped communities struggling with failing pipes, private operations can pave the way for infrastructure upgrades.

The analysis focused on Bayonne, a small city in central New Jersey that found private investors for its water works five years ago, according to the Times analysis. Kohlberg Kravis Roberts, a private equity firm, now manages local water infrastructure with Suez.

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