News Roundup

Nov 4 2009

Editor’s Note: New Orleans faced a similar situation a decade ago. Attempts to privatize New Orleans’ water system a decade ago were successfully defeated. See the archived story.

CBS Broadcasting
Roseann Tellez, Reporter
October 23, 2009

If the parking meter deal put a bad taste in your mouth, try swallowing this:
Chicago is considering leasing its water system to help fix the budget.

The new boss could charge whatever they want for water, CBS 2’s Roseanne Tellez reports.

Could it happen here in Chicago? It already has nearby. Homer Glen in Will County relies on Lake Michigan water, but the supply comes from a private company. Locals say there’s a lot more than water going down the drain.

It’s a vital resource you can’t live without. But in Homer Glen, the question is can you afford water. Residents say rates are breaking the bank.

Homer Glen resident Lillie Gajda said her family has tried to cut back to offset high rates.

“Oh, we do everything — we’ve changed out toilets, we’ve changed our showerheads, we’ve changed faucets, we’ve changed dishwashers,” she said.

Mayor Jim Daley says residents pay about three times more than those in neighboring communities. He said Illinois-American Water Co. offers the same explanation.

“They simply say that they have infrastructure improvements they need to make, that they can show their costs,” he said. “What we’re saying: It’s absolutely absurd.”

But Could Chicago be next? A trade publication says the city’s Department of Water Management is “considering a lease of its water and wastewater system.”

Alderman Scott Waguespack has heard similar rumblings.

“We’ve already heard inklings that they’re thinking about it,” he said. “They’ve had discussions. Why is the public not at the table?”

Waguespack was one of the few holdouts on the City Council when the parking meter deal went through. Under that controversial plan, the cash-strapped city agreed to lease its parking spaces for 75 years to a private firm that would collect higher parking rates. It netted the city more than $1 billion in cash.

“Why are we having a fire sale on everything in the city?” Waguespack said.

Jon Keesecker, with Food and Water Watch, says there’s simply no public accountability.

“The financial situation is dire, but handing off an asset that is essential to life and that absolutely all residents in the city need is probably not the best solution,” he said.

CBS 2 made repeated calls to Illinois-American Water, with no luck. Mayor Daley didn’t want to talk, either. And Water Commissioner John Spatz did not return calls.

According to the mayor’s 2010 budget, the city expects to bring in $453 million from water sales next year. That’s a drop in the bucket compared to what a private firm would get.
(© MMIX, CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved.)

Source: CBS2 Chicago

Filed under: Community Economics

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