Illinois American Water and Aqua Illinois, the state’s two biggest for-profit water companies, have purchased 14 municipal water/wastewater systems since the fall of 2018, when state legislation was passed that allows the companies to foist the $88.5 million price tag onto their customers, according to a CUB review.
CUB has launched a center devoted to tracking water privatization in Illinois—that means keeping an eye on Illinois American and Aqua and pushing for legislation that reigns in their reckless spending. Learn more about privatization by visiting CUB’s new center—Big Profits, Big Bills: Tracking Illinois’ Water Privatization.
Data collection from our center reveals that Illinois American alone has spent over $81 million on new system acquisitions in just 18 months. Aqua has spent about $7.5 million.
Under legislation originally passed in 2013, but updated in 2018, the utilities can pay for these system acquisitions by raising customer bills, even in the middle of a global pandemic while the state faces record unemployment.
Since late March, when state stay-at-home orders went into effect to stop the spread of COVID-19, Illinois American has bought five water systems in the state, totalling $10.3 million. But the utility isn’t on the hook for these expenses.
“The amount we pay for water and sewer services is unreasonable,” one person complained in a public comment to the Illinois Commerce Commission. “I feel we are being held hostage by Illinois American Water Company.”
“We may all be forced out of Homer [Glen] because no one will be able to afford the water,” wrote another.
While some claim that privatization safeguards water, it’s wrong to assume that these companies are always in compliance. Aqua Illinois customers in University Park can’t even drink the water they are overcharged for.
Ratepayers may be unsatisfied with the new, private owners of their water and wastewater systems, but as of now, the law leaves them without a voice if or when their water system is privatized.
CUB’s new center—Big Profits, Big Bills: Tracking Illinois’ Water Privatization—promotes Senate Bill 2745 as part of the solution. The pending legislation would require a referendum of local voters prior to the privatization of a public water system.
“Shareholders in corporations are given the opportunity to vote prior to the sale of that corporation,” said Bryan McDaniel, CUB’s director of governmental affairs. “The residents of the municipality are the shareholders in their water system and deserve a vote on the future of an asset critical to their lives.”
Sign CUB’s petition, and tell your state legislators to support Senate Bill 2745. While you’re at it, send them a link to Big Profits, Big Bills. Let them know your water shouldn’t be handed to private companies without a fight.