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CUB’s Daily Herald Op-Ed: Private Water, Big Headaches

CUB Director of Governmental Affairs Bryan McDaniel recently penned an op-ed in the Daily Herald responding to Lake County’s water outage with private water utility Aqua Illinois:

The recent Aqua Illinois water outage/boil order in Lake County is further evidence that private corporate monopolies are not the answer to our water infrastructure needs.

This isn’t the first time Aqua made negative headlines in Illinois. In 2019, University Park  detected unacceptable levels of brain-damaging lead in their drinking supply. One TV report found that some traumatized residents still don’t trust Aqua and continue to choose bottled water.

While Aqua wasn’t able to live up to its promise of “safe and reliable” service in those instances, it’s been consistently delivering for its shareholders.

Aqua’s parent company raked in $191 million in first-quarter profits.

Plus, it bragged about 9 pending acquisitions of municipal systems across the country, including Illinois’ village of Frankfort.

The parent company of the state’s other big water company, Illinois American, is also riding a wave — 15 consecutive years of increased dividends. And it just announced its largest wastewater acquisition in Illinois ever.

But their privatization profits are creating affordability problems as the companies hopscotch around Illinois buying systems, which current state law forces their customers to pay for (so far, $303 million and counting).

If these companies were in a competitive market, we would applaud their success. But water is essential — and they are monopolies.

One problem is Illinois doesn’t require a local privatization referendum, which would give people a vote before their municipal system is privatized. Additionally, state law allows the utilities to charge a Qualified Infrastructure Plant (QIP) surcharge, which helps rapidly increase bills.

Tell your legislators to fight for water reforms. A good first step would be requiring a public referendum before a municipality can sell their water system to a private utility.

Learn more about our fight at CUBWaterTracker.com. It’s time to remember the people who pay the bills.

–Bryan McDaniel, Director of Governmental Affairs, Citizens Utility Board (CUB) of Illinois