Proposed Bill Paves Way for Water Privatization Boom in Illinois

By Emily Gray Brosious | Originally published at Gapers Block | Jul. 16, 2013

Water resource management, with impacts sweeping across public health, food production, security, energy, industry, and environmental sustainability, is one of the most consequential economic and societal drivers today.

Legislation currently on Governor Quinn’s desk could dramatically alter the way Illinois manages its own water resources. House Bill 1379 would allow Illinois American Water and Aqua Illinois, two of the state’s largest private water companies, to expedite acquisitions of municipal water systems and increase customer rates to fund their expansion.

Lawmakers claim easing restrictions on water and sewage system outsourcing is a pragmatic way for cash strapped municipalities across the state to save money on utility management.

Critics of the proposed legislation insist water and sewage privatization is a dangerous gamble with an essential public resource that will cost Illinois residents.

Non-profit water advocacy group Food and Water Watch explains that multinational water corporations are beholden to stockholders, not the public they serve, which inevitably limits transparency and public accountability. This can result in problems like unequal water and sewage services, because privately owned water utilities are prone to “cherry-pick” profitable, high-volume service areas and neglect low-income areas where lower volume and bill collection problems hinder profitability.

Opponents also criticize private water corporations for instituting steep consumer rate-hikes.Food & Water Watch reports that private water utilities charge 33 percent more for water and 63 percent more for sewer service, on average, than local government utilities.

While HB 1379 supporters hold steadfast to cost-effective arguments for this impetus to overhaul water privatization in Illinois, the state’s record of privatization, thus far, seriously calls into question the wisdom of that position.

From the Illinois State Lottery and state tollways, to the Chicago Skyway and parking meters, privatization contracts have not proven to be good deals for the people or the governments of Illinois.

As global freshwater becomes increasingly scarce, the ramifications of selling off public water resources could go far beyond what Illinois legislators have really considered. Now, more than ever, the importance of ensuring quality, public interest based management of this diminishing resource cannot be overstated.

HB 1379 could become law any day now. Opponents encourage concerned Illinois residents to tell Gov. Quinn to veto the proposed legislation and stop water privatization.

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