Bitch slapped by United Water. No big surprise there.

The Idaho Statesman ran a front page article the other day re: United Water (owned by Suez, a French company, read: greedy, world wide water monopoly), wants to increase our water rates by 20% . What the hell? Oh, consumption has decreased since 2003. Really? REALLY? Isn’t that the desired outcome of their annual Waterwise classes? Why the demonstration gardens showcasing Waterwise plantings?

Let’s get this straight: so, for YEARS we have been asked to to CONSERVE WATER. So we did. I’ve taught dozens of classes on this very subject. And now, the company that asked us to conserve, that asked us to do the right thing, wants to add 20% to our monthly bills to make up for the decrease in water usage.

Who exactly do we have to thank for this damn mess? The city leaders who entered into the agreements with these huge corporations. When something as basic and necessary as water is exploited for financial gain, you can expect the worst.

Here’s United/Suez’s “do gooder” list. I suggest they drop the pretense of caring about about conservation.

And for a little history on Suez/United Water’s track record, read about their Atlanta GA debacle. And ask yourself, are we next?

In January 2003, after ongoing contention between
the city of Atlanta and United Water, city officials
decided to terminate the largest water privatization
contract in the USA. In 1998, the city of Atlanta
signed a 20-year, $428 million contract with United
Water, a subsidiary of the French corporate conglomerate,
Suez. The industry held great expectations that
Atlanta would serve as the “model” for other communities
and open the door for private water companies
to do business in other major U.S. cities. Instead,
the fiasco in Atlanta serves as a model for what to
avoid.

United Water vastly overstated the amount of money
that it could save the city and vastly underestimated
the amount of work needed to maintain and operate
the system. Almost immediately after signing the
contract, United Water started hitting up the city for
more money, and tried to add $80 million to the
contract. The city refused. United Water came back
with charges of $80 million for additional expenditures.
Atlanta’s Water Commissioner refused to
approve the payments, but in a bizarre twist, letters
authorizing the payments showed up with the signature
of former Mayor Bill Campbell. Campbell
denied he had ever signed the documents. The city
attorney ruled the authorizations invalid, and United
Water eventually backed away from pressing the
claim.

United Water was also improperly billing the city for
work it didn’t do. The company billed an extra $37.6
million for additional service authorizations, capital
repair and maintenance costs, and the city paid nearly
$16 million of those costs. Pay was withheld for
the rest because the work either wasn’t complete or
hadn’t even been started. Routine maintenance was
billed as “capital repairs” and much-needed infrastructure
rehabilitation was neglected.

Desperate to cut costs, United Water more than
halved the number of employees, from more than
700 to just over 300. Still the much-vaunted savings
from privatization didn’t materialize, and the promise
that a consumer rate hike could be averted through
savings turned out to be empty. Sewer bill rates went
up every year that United Water had the contract –
rising, on average, about 12% annually. Chris New,
the Deputy Water Commissioner in Atlanta said,
“My biggest concern is a lot of people have lost confidence
in the water itself. Over the past year, we’ve
had so many boil water advisories and discolored
water around the system.”iv

Very soon trust in the company eroded to the point
that the city spent $1 million to hire inspectors to
verify United Water’s reports. City officials concluded
it was time to end the relationship. Now Atlanta
faces the daunting task of taking back its water system
and performing the needed upgrades that were
neglected during United Water’s tenure.

And there’s lots more bad news where that came from, the Food and Water Watch website.