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A community in Pennsylvania has stopped the privatisation of its public water and sewer system, scuppering a corporate takeover that residents feared would have led to higher bills.
A $1.1bn bid by Aqua for the Bucks County Water and Sewer Authority (BCWSA) system would have been the largest sewer privatisation deal in American history. The company’s bid for the water service has already failed, but now the county commissioners have shut the door completely after siding with residents who opposed privatisation.
It’s a major victory for local and national campaigners opposed to the predatory takeover of public services like water and sewerage.
Aqua Pennsylvania submitted an unsolicited proposal for BCWSA in late 2020 and has since been attending closed board meetings. In July, the board announced an “exclusivity” deal with the company, despite the utility being financially robust and widespread community opposition.
Local residents and community groups accused the board of conducting backroom deals, and called on the county commissioners to stop the sale – which they did on Tuesday. Shortly after, the board announced that the proposal was off the table.
Aqua, now a subsidiary of Essential Utilities, is the second largest publicly traded US water and wastewater corporation, currently valued at $12.86bn. The company provides drinking water and wastewater to more than 3 million people (1m households) in eight states, with over half in Pennsylvania, where the company is headquartered and has close ties to the state government.
In a statement Christopher Franklin, Essential chair and CEO, said he was “surprised and disappointed by the sudden turn of events” but committed to working with communities to “tackle increasing environmental regulations and necessary system improvements … As we watch the dire situation unfold in Jackson, Mississippi, we are reminded of the importance of, and the need for, proactive and ongoing investment in water and wastewater infrastructure to sustain and protect communities and the environment.”