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Baltimore Becomes the First Major US City to Ban Water Privatization

Lost among the many stories about the latest midterm elections was the outcome of a vote in Baltimore, where residents overwhelmingly supported a measure that would forbid the privatization of water and sewer systems. This marks the first major city to take such a stance — and it could very well herald a new trend.

In a variety of communities across the country, corporations have been working tirelessly to buy up water rights to be used in various ways — be it to administer as a utility for the local residents or to bottle and sell to people across the country.

Earlier in the year, the Baltimore city council passed a resolution against the privatization of their water, and this past week 77 percent of voters agreed to make this official in the city charter.

This result is significant not only because Baltimore is the first major city to put in place a water privatization ban, but also because it shows other municipalities that, if given the chance, the public would rather such a crucial piece of community infrastructure remain in their own hands.

Some places where droughts are a regular issue, such as in California and Arizona, have experimented with water privatization efforts. One study that compared privatized and public water utilities in and around Phoenix, Arizona, examined pricing trends and found that those on private services see their bills inflated at steeper rates than their public services counterparts.

This confirms what would be expected in most situations of utility privatization: artificially created scarcity used to justify price increases. When water is commodified by the private sector, its value inevitably changes to be something to generate profit.

Nestle is one of the most notorious offenders, having developed a reputation for purchasing water rights for fractions of a penny on the gallon — before turning around to bring in billions in annual bottled water sales in the U.S. alone. Often the company does so in money-strapped municipalities, which invite Nestle or other corporations in for the promise of a much-needed cash infusion and jobs boost.

Clean, safe drinking water as a human right should not be up for debate. Unfortunately, it seems that water privatization is helping push Americans into the prospect of being unable to afford this most basic of needs. Researchers investigating rising water utility costs — and Americans’ increasing inability to afford them — believe that by 2022 one-third of Americans will be unable to afford clean water in their homes.

Water privatization is, of course, not the lone factor contributing to this troubling trend — but it will undoubtedly only make matters worse, as the practice becomes more common. But with Baltimore residents standing up to predatory water corporations, perhaps other communities will follow suit.

Originally published at on Nov. 14, 2018.

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Writing about various things (mostly politics & social issues) for more than six years. Freelancer for hire.

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