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Boil order for Aqua customers another example of private water problems

Visit our special online center, CUBWaterTracker.com, to learn about the high cost of privatization for Illinois consumers (click the image).

About 1,200 Aqua Illinois customers in Lake County spent about a week under shoddy water service and a boil order. It’s the latest concern connected to private water companies, as they blow through hundreds of millions of dollars of their customers’ money to buy up water systems in cities and towns across Illinois.

“This is further evidence that private corporate monopolies are not the answer to this country’s water infrastructure needs,” said Bryan McDaniel, CUB’s director of governmental affairs. “Incidents like this, along with the high cost of private water service, are why we’ve been fighting to give Illinois consumers a voice before their water systems are taken over by private companies.”

The latest incident involved about 1,200 Aqua Illinois customers in Hawthorn Woods, Kildeer and nearby unincorporated areas, according to the Daily Herald of Arlington Heights. The incident began on Sunday, July 2. The regional system already had low water supply, because of draught, but a leaking fire hydrant in Hawthorn Woods caused a water outage, according to an Aqua spokeswoman. Other temporary outages occurred, as Aqua crews were forced to repair other breaks. The boil order was lifted the following Sunday. 

“Yesterday I actually received an Aqua bill,” Susan Bauer, a Hawthorn Woods resident, said. “I was very tempted to throw it out.” Bauer told the Daily Herald that residents were angry about how Aqua handled the crisis: “We will demand answers.”

This isn’t the first time Aqua has made negative headlines in Illinois. In 2019, University Park — whose water system is run by Aqua — detected unacceptable levels of brain-damaging lead in their drinking supply. Three years later, some traumatized residents still didn’t trust Aqua and were continuing to choose bottled water, according to a TV report.

Water privatization has grown in recent years to become one of CUB’s major consumer issues. Here’s what’s happening:

  • Illinois American Water and Aqua Illinois — the state’s two biggest private water utilities— have been expanding their empires throughout Illinois, acquiring at least 56 publicly operated water/wastewater systems in the last decade alone.
  • That eventually means higher rates for the residents of these communities, as they pay the companies’ acquisition costs and profits.
  • Under an Illinois law that these wealthy water companies pushed, they can recoup every penny of the buying costs from their customers who just want clean, safe, affordable service. Over the last 10 years, Illinois American and Aqua have collectively charged consumers more than $300 million and counting to buy up local systems.

While the buying binge has been rough on customers, it’s been fine for the utilities. In 2022, the parent companies of both utilities collectively raked in $1.2 billion in profits — the same year Illinois American received regulatory OK for an $85 million rate hike (CUB helped cut it by about $14 million). In addition to challenging rate hikes, CUB has been leading the charge for water reforms in Springfield. Here are some of our goals:

  • Eliminate a damaging automatic surcharge: Known as the Qualified Infrastructure Plant (QIP) charge, it allows private water companies to rapidly raise bills.
  • Stop the gravy train: Mandate that company shareholders — not customers — cover most of the cost to privatize a publicly owned water system
  • Give customers a voice: Require any municipality that wants to sell its water system to first get the OK of its voters through a legally binding public referendum.

Access to safe and affordable water should not drain our pocketbooks. It’s time to take our water back.