Public Values

Paris water public again, California resisting privatization

California groups to launch media campaign against water bond, Victoria poised to reject sewage privatization.

Quarter century of private water delivery ends in ParisFor activists around the world who support publicly–run water systems, January 1, 2010 was a day to celebrate. After 25 years of private control, the city of Paris, France moved its drinking water to a single public operator, Eau de Paris. The move delivered on a promise Paris mayor Bertrand Delanoë made while campaigning for re-election in 2007.

After voters returned him to office in March 2008, Delanoë said that the city would not renew privatization deals with two of the world's largest water multinationals who were making good profits on the city's water. City council confirmed the deal in November of the same year.

The city's water operations were privatized in 1985 by then-mayor Jacques Chirac. The 25–year untendered contract was divided between branches of Suez and Veolia, powerful French multinational corporations with systems they have controlled since the 19th century. Three corporations in France control 80 per cent of the water supply for the nation, and are reaping large profits. More than 40 other French communities are currently renegotiating their contracts to cap profits to private companies.

The canceled privatization scheme in Paris had built in 15 to 20 per cent profit on water delivery, so the city is anticipating lower fees with this "remunicipalization".

Meanwhile, in California, 55 per cent of voters oppose a proposed $11.1 billion US water bond that is being placed on their November ballot, according to a recent poll. Only one–third of voters support the bond, which could use up to $4 billion of taxpayers' dollars to subsidize large corporate interests, including agribusinesses. Other proposed projects include $3 billion US to construct new dams, and as much as $1 billion US to subsidize costly private desalination projects.

Opponents note that the bond does not provide immediate funding to municipalities or conservation efforts. Low–income communities, many of which live with contaminated drinking water, would receive only a tiny fraction of total bond funds.

Many groups, including the Sierra Club, are opposed to the bond issue and are launching a media campaign against it running up to the fall ballot. Campaign members say that money to finance the bond, as much as $800 million US per year, will come out of California’s general fund, which also funds education, healthcare, police and fire, and other essential services. Total debt repayment on the bond could top $22 billion over 30 years.

And at a meeting in Victoria, BC that was scheduled at the same time as the women's gold medal hockey game at the Olympics, an overflow crowd nonetheless packed the Capital Regional District offices to voice their unanimous displeasure with a proposed sewage privatization for the area. The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 1978 was "heartened" to see the broad range of citizens in attendance who are concerned about the stability of public private partnerships (P3s) that this proposal would see. Even regional contractors who have delivered on–time and on–budget publicly controlled projects similar to this one expressed concerns.

Another meeting is scheduled for March 10 and the decision will be made March 24.

Links and sources
  European Association for Public Water Management
  Food and Water Watch press release
  Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) press release

Posted: March 01, 2010

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