Washington, D.C. July 13, 2020 – Nearly 300 national, state and local organizations sent a letter to Senate leaders today calling for the rejection of a controversial bill that would coerce struggling communities into selling off vital public water resources. The bill – the Voluntary Water Partnership for Distressed Communities Act (S. 2596) – has been framed by supporters as an “environmental justice” measure. In fact, it would disproportionately impact low-income areas and communities of color by incentivizing water system sales to corporations. Private water companies typically raise water rates on households and cut investment in key infrastructure and water quality.

The bill was introduced by Sens. Tammy Duckworth (D- IL) and Mike Braun (R-IN). It may be considered as an amendment to the America’s Water Infrastructure Act (S. 3591), which is fundamental, “must pass” legislation.

The letter was facilitated by the national advocacy group Food & Water Action and signed by organizations including AFSCME, Friends of the Earth, Center for Biological Diversity and Hip Hop Caucus.

“This bill is an egregious handout to giant water corporations which would embolden them to manipulate and fleece struggling communities – particularly communities of color,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Action, the group behind the letter. “The fact that this bill is being touted as an ‘environmental justice’ measure makes it all the more nefarious.”

Recent research from Food & Water Action found that private companies charged an average of 59 percent more for water service than public water systems – nearly $200 more per household annually.

“We know that Wall Street actors target black and brown communities in moments of crisis to enrich themselves and Wall Street backed water companies see opportunity in this moment,” said Maurice BP-Weeks, co-executive director of the Action Center on Race and the Economy. “As communities across the country search for relief from the ongoing pandemic, it would be short sighted and misguided to pass a bill that encourages the privatization of water systems. It is our government’s job to protect our most vulnerable communities, not put them up for sale.” 

“From California to Montana to New Jersey, we’ve seen how privatizing water harms communities, whether it’s higher bills or dirtier water, said Donald Cohen, executive director of In the Public Interest. “It’s simple: water is a basic human right, which means let’s keep it in public hands.”

The letter states in part: This bill provides perverse incentives for communities to privatize water systems while failing to ensure long-term compliance with drinking water quality standards… Privatization, poor water quality, and higher rates disproportionately impact Black, Brown and Indigenous communities. In addition to not necessarily improving water quality, privatization leads to higher rates and worse service, in order to maximize corporate profits… This bill detracts from real solutions that can address the serious public health consequences of drinking water quality violations. www.foodandwaterwatch.org