U.S. News & World Report
Copyright 2002 U.S. News & World Report. All rights reserved.
Monday, November 18, 2002
Top of the Week; Spotlight
Most Americans take it for granted that
they can drink tap water.
Sure, many have filters designed to screen out traces of lead and other
bad stuff--just to make sure. And others opt for bottled varieties.
Still, they generally trust what comes out of the faucet. But should
Thirty years after Congress passed the Clean Water
Act, lots of
communities are having trouble paying the escalating tab for safe
drinking water. The cost of repairing and replacing long-neglected water
mains and treatment plants in thousands of cities and towns nationwide
is estimated to be as much as $1 trillion. And they can't count on the
federal government for help: The Bush administration plans to cut
funding for water and sewer projects by 10 percent, diverting the money
instead to prevent terrorist attacks on water systems. So, local leaders
are increasingly turning to private companies.
percent of Americans now pay private water operators, many of
them foreign. Not everyone's pleased. "Water is basic. It is a necessity
of life. Should West Virginia risk losing control over its water?" asks
the state's deputy attorney general, Silas Taylor. Last week, Taylor
petitioned to block the $4.6 billion sale of his state's largest water
provider to British Thames Water, a subsidiary of the German
conglomerate RWE. Just weeks earlier, the New Orleans Sewerage and Water
Board, bowing to public pressure, abandoned plans to hand over control
of its water supply to a French company. Meanwhile, officials in
Stockton, Calif., are negotiating a $600 million contract with Thames
and its Colorado partner, OMI. Residents--who were set to vote on
privatization--are crying foul. But Mayor Gary Podesto says his
community may have no choice. "This is something," he says, "we all have
to look at."