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Water for All: Stopping Privatization in California and Beyond

by Faramarz Nabavi Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2002 at 11:51 PM

Both locally and globally, campaigns to stop water privatization are gaining momentum. In California, there was a big victory against the Cadiz proposal to subsidize a private company to tap native underground Mojave desert water and sell it back to the public.


Victory: Cadiz Water Privatization Project Permanently Stopped!

On Tuesday, October 8, the Metropoltian Water District of Southern California's Board of Directors cast a historic vote to defend the public interest in decisively ending the corporate welfare scam and ecological disaster Cadiz, Inc. was attempting to ram through. A coalition of activist groups, led by Public Citizen, Sierra Club, National Parks Conservation Association, and the Alliance for Democracy, worked for years to stop the Cadiz project from creating a water spot market similar to the electricity one that robbed Californians tens of billions of dollars last year, while protecting a sensitive part of the fragile Mojave desert ecology from harm.

The MWD board voted to reject the Bush Administration's Record of Decision approving the Final Environmental Impact Report and the associated Right of Way grant, expressing deep skepticism regarding the financial viability and environmental sustainability of the project. Several MWD board members went further and stated that they did not wish to open the door to water privatization. Faced with a packed audience of constituents who rose up and chanted, "Stop Cadiz Without Delay!," the MWD board listened to the public, not the corporations.

California: Stockton City Council Ignores Public Outcry

Only a month after bids from three global corporations were released to the public, the Stockton City Council voted on Oct. 8 to select OMI-Thames as the preferred bidder and initiated plans to begin negotiating a 20-year, $400-500 million water services contract as early as Nov. 12. The Mayor and the City Council are seemingly fast tracking water privatization -- the most comprehensive in California -- in order to avoid a citywide public vote on the issue. Over the summer, citizens' groups gathered 18,000 signatures to put an initiative on the ballot, but the city is blatantly ignoring the will of the voters by beginning negotiations before the public can vote on the initiative. A public hearing is scheduled for Oct. 22. All concerned individuals are invited to comment on the rushed process, lack of environmental review and poor track record of privatization. Contact the Concerned Citizen Coalition: Sylvia Kothe at syLWV@aol.com to coordinate.

Attempts to Bag Mendocino/Sonoma Rivers to San Diego by Alaskan Privateer!

The California Water Resources Control Board sent out public notices on Sept. 13th about Alaska Water Exports' applications to export water from the Albion and Gualala Rivers in Mendoncino and Sonoma using giant water bags. Please protest the applications by Nov. 12 in order to show public opposition and to express concern about the serious dangers to river ecology, to the local economy and to the global commons posed by the scheme. Anyone can fill out the Board's official protest form, found at http://www.waterrights.ca.gov/gual_alb/Notices&Info.htm). To help people fill out the forms, Friends of the Gualala and Albion Rivers are setting up workshops and meetings throughout Northern California during the 60-day protest period, including a forum in Sebastopol on Oct.23. For a full schedule, please check: http://www.gualalariver.org/.

New Orleans Rejects Privatization Bids

The battle against water privatization ended Oct. 16, when the New Orleans Sewerage and Water Board rejected all three bids to operate the city's water and wastewater systems. A coalition of more than 90 community, environmental, consumer, religious and public interest organizations joined to urge the S&WB to reject all the bids under consideration. The vote proved that the voice of the people is collectively stronger than any corporate influence - and its repercussions will ripple through the nation as cities are faced with privatization measures.

Lexington Inching Closer to Reclaiming Its Water Supply

The Urban-County Council in Lexington recently voted to hire a consultant to analyze the cost of the water and wastewater system-- another step in the push by Bluegrass FLOW and other citizens in the Lexington area to remove the system from an American Water Works subsidiary and put the system in public ownership where it belongs. Meantime, Public Citizen unsuccessfully petitioned Kentucky regulators to be allowed to testify and provide information as the state considers approval of German conglomerate RWE's acquisition of American Water Works. Public Citizen recently released a report in Lexington on the benefits of public ownership.

Nationwide Call-In Day follows Meeting with World Bank's Global Water Unit

On Sept. 24, during the World Bank's annual meetings in Washington, D.C., the Water for All Campaign organized a public meeting with John Briscoe of the World Bank's Global Water Unit. Groups from around the world attended and brought their grievances regarding the Bank's water policies from dam construction to water privatization. As was suspected, Mr. Briscoe made it clear that the institution was not changing the policies and was, in fact, tired of hearing the "same old stories." The following day, the campaign organized a call-in day to flood the World Bank's Global Water Unit with calls to demand an end to water privatization and increased consumer fees for water. Calls and faxes demanded that the World Bank stop blackmailing governments into selling their public water system to giant water corporations in exchange for loans and debt relief.

Representative from Ghana's Coalition against Water Privatization Tours U.S.

Rudolf Amenga-Etego from the Ghana National Coalition Against the Privatization of Water spent two weeks in the U.S. gathering support for the coalition's work in Ghana and giving his heartfelt support to U.S. struggles to stop water privatization. In addition to joining the protests against the World Bank and meeting with members of Congress, Rudolf traveled to New Orleans, Lexington, San Francisco, and Stockton to meet with church groups, community organizations, trade unions and local government officials. For many groups it was eye-opening to realize that the same major water corporations that were vying to buy the water in their own communities - such as Vivendi and Suez - were also bidding for Ghana's water.

World Summit Fails Citizens in South Africa

Two representatives from Public Citizen attended the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa in September. The international conference was designed to ideally draft the development plan for the sustainable future of our planet, and water was high on the agenda. As the corporate powers wielded their influence over government's decisions to privatize municipal water infrastructures, thousands of citizens groups from around the world protested outside the official convention center. Public Citizen participated in daily fact-finding missions into impoverished South African communities, like Soweto and Neilsprut, where citizens are suffering from a lack of clean and accessible water. While public-private partnerships
were billed as the solution to the world's water problems inside, the citizens groups worked diligently outside to expose the results of what happens when private companies profit from water revenue at the expense of public health. To learn more, email cmep@citizen.org.

(please visit "Latest Publications" on http://www.citizen.org/cmep to read these reports)

Two for the Road
Reclaiming Public Assets: From Private to Public Ownership of Waterworks
Profit Streams: The World Bank & Greedy Global Water Companies
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