News Feature | April 10, 2018

Public Water Scores A Win In California

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,

Organizers on the Monterey Peninsula in California who want their privately-owned water provider to become publicly-owned have taken a step toward accomplishing that goal.

These advocates, part of the Public Water Now, have collected enough signatures to place their initiative on November ballots.

“The grassroots group wants to force a public takeover of California American Water and make water service on the Monterey Peninsula a public utility. Public Water Now is hopeful a public utility would mean local control and lower water bills for customers,” KSBW reported.

A similar effort in 2014 failed after 54 percent of voters opted against it.

Public Water Now Managing Director George Riley spoke to KSBW on whether the initiative will be more successful this year.

"It's absolutely a possibility; we've had such a flood of new signature signings in the last couple weeks. It's just blowing our minds," he said, estimating that 10,000 signatures have been collected.

Catherine Stedman with Cal Am spoke to KSBW on behalf of Cal Am.

"We intend to fight very vigorously to make sure that voters are really educated about what a move toward public water would really mean," she stated, adding that making Cal Am public would be costly for ratepayers and would not lower bills.

"In a situation like this where somebody engages in a hostile government takeover you have to pay the water provider the fair market value for their assets," she said.

She stated that a legal battle over make Cal Am public could take five to seven years, and ratepayers would shoulder that burden.

According to an editorial in Voices of Monterey, Cal Am significantly outspent public water advocates in the previous campaign.

“Four years ago, in the run-up to ballot Measure O, the utility outspent takeover advocates by some 20-1 and ended up winning a close race that likely would have gone the other way if the company hadn’t bought so much deceptive campaign advertising,” the editorial stated.

Public Water Now advocates are not alone in advocating against private water. Another advocacy group that opposes private money in water systems argues that there is a growing momentum for the “remunicipalization” of water. An article by the Transnational Institute said: “In recent years 235 cities from 35 countries have taken back water management into public hands, establishing a global trend towards remunicipalization.”

Supporters of public-private partnerships say there are strong arguments in favor of investing private money in the water supply.

“Proponents of the public-private partnerships, citing recent studies in Canada and Europe, argue that private businesses operate more efficiently than governments do and that this translates into cost savings for citizens,” according to the The New York Times.