Posts Tagged ‘public water supply’

Baltimore begins 25,000 water shutoffs

April 13, 2015

The City of Baltimore is in the process of cutting off water to some 25,000 residents with unpaid water bills of $250 or more.

They will be unable to bathe their children, wash their hands or flush their toilers.  Evidently the city government has forgotten the reason to have a public water supply in the first place, which is to prevent the spread of disease.

PRTHUMB_WaterAccessStreet1City officials like Department of Public Works director Rudy Chow claim that residents using water without paying are to blame for the $40 million in overdue water bills.

In fact, the Baltimore Sun found more than a third of the unpaid bills stem from just 369 businesses, who owe $15 million in revenue, while government offices and nonprofits have outstanding water bills to the tune of $10 million.

One of those businesses, RG Steel (now bankrupt) owes $7 million in delinquent water bills all by itself.

via ThinkProgress.

The City of Detroit started similar water shutoffs, but backed down after an international outcry.

People are obligated to pay their bills if they are able.  But there should be better ways to collect than depriving people of a necessity of life or, for that matter, creating a public health hazard.


Baltimore collects $1 million in unpaid water bills by Yvonne Wenger for the Baltimore Sun.

Don’t shut off our drinking water, a Baltimore Sun editorial.

This City Could Become the Next Detroit by Carl Gibson for ThinkProgress.  (Hat tip to Avedon’s Sideshow)

The Inequality of Water by Sam Ross-Brown for The American Prospect.

Why would a city privatize its water supply?

November 28, 2014

Big BadNo community could survive without an adequate and dependable source of water.  I don’t see why any community, or any individual person, with any sense of self-preservation would willingly give up control over something they need to live.

I first read about privatization of water systems as something that was imposed on poor Third World countries by lenders.  The World Bank, for example, has a privatization requirement when it lends money to build water systems.

But I learned from my e-mail pen pal Bill Harvey, who lives in Baltimore, that water privatization is big in the United States, and that Baltimore itself is considering turning over its water system to a company called Veolia.  This would be a terrible idea.

Veolia is the world’s largest private water company.  Its headquarters is in Paris, France, and it has long managed water systems in France.  Recently, however, French municipal governments, including Paris itself, have decided they can get better service at lower cost by managing their own water systems.  So Veolia, in order to maintain its revenues and profits, has to expand business elsewhere.

Its track record doesn’t seem good.  Water rates are higher lower on average in public systems than in systems run by Veolia and Suez, the other big international water company, and there are complaints about not enough being spent on maintenance.  Private operators don’t necessarily follow the local government’s priorities for development.   The private company’s incentives may not align with the municipality’s priorities.

There are inherent problems with a private company that don’t exist with a public system.  Funds don’t have to be drawn off for profit and dividends.  And big companies have systems for charging subsidiaries for services, so that a subsidiary could be operating theoretically at a loss while the parent company makes a big profit.  There is an economic incentive to do that because the local water company can simply raise its rates to cover its loss.

And even if Veolia’s record is better than these articles indicate, no local government, unless it was very, very desperate, should surrender control of vital assets and services to solve a cash-flow problem.


How Ebola came to be a global problem

October 9, 2014

Click to enlarge.

My local newspaper, the Democrat and Chronicle, from time to time runs a article on local history.  Some time back the topic was how the Rochester, N.Y., public water system came to be built.

The article said the construction of the water system was controversial, because the affluent section of the Rochester community already had plenty of clean water, and opposed having to pay to provide a public water supply for poor people.

But then it was pointed out to them that infectious diseases that originate from contaminated water did not stay in the slums.  They affected everybody, rich and poor.

I think many of us Americans thought the same way about lack of sanitation, good health care and nutritious food in West Africa.  It was sad, but not our problem.

Well, guess again.  Those conditions are the equivalent of a Petri dish for breeding infectious disease.  And disease, as we’re now learning once again, does not respect national boundaries.


Click to enlarge.

I’ve heard Americans say it is the Africans’ own fault they are so poor, but, as Ian Welsh pointed out on his web log, many of the problems of Africa stems from the 1970s and 1980s when International Monetary Fund and international banks insisted that African governments cut back on education and health care in order to give priority to paying back their debts in full.

Southern Europe is a destination for unauthorized African immigrants, and Spain, Italy and Greece also are cutting back on spending for health care in order to give priority for debt service.

Here in the USA, there are still 40 million people without medical insurance, Welsh pointed out.  How many of them are going to go to a clinic for a diagnosis of an illness whose symptoms are the same as plain ‘flu.

The other day, a friend of mine asked me which I feared most, ISIS or the Ebola plague?  I replied that I’m not afraid of either one of them, but I think that in the long run, the world’s people are at greater risk from mutant killer diseases than they are from international terrorism.   And we’re all in Lifeboat Earth together.


 Why Africa Can’t Handle Ebola: the Destruction of the 3rd World by Ian Welsh.  [subsituted 10/11/14]