The passage of Measure I will result in the privatization of Davis’ water. While not an explicit part of the ballot initiative, the envisaged water privatization is embodied in the associated request for proposals. Just two corporations are expected to respond to this request: CH2M HILL and United Water-CDM Inc. If Measure I passes, it is expected that one of these two entities will build and operate our water system for at least 15 years.
The first entity is a family of multinational companies that brought in $5.56 billion in revenue in 2011. The second is a notional company formed from United Water and CDM Smith, corporations of such size and arcane legal complexity that residents may never understand just who profits from our tripled water bills.
The water privatization that would accompany passage of Measure I is part of a global shift of public goods to the private sector. Such moves are invariably positioned as a cost-saving expedience and a public/private partnership. Inevitably, it is neither: The cost savings ends up fictitious, and no small town can meaningfully partner with a corporation like those named above. The two sides have incompatible aims and vastly discrepant power.
It is odd that even a progressive city like Davis would be swept up in the water-privatization craze. Around the world, other cities have come to understand that water is a public good that must not be exploited for commercial gain. See tinyurl.com/waterPriv for one nonprofit’s take on this issue.
The worldwide scarcity of clean water means that, in the years ahead, we’re all going to be paying much more for water. But our emerging water problems should not be used as a cover for water privatization. Nor should we allow water privatization to emerge as an implicit and undebated byproduct of a ballot measure that fails to even disclose this most profound change.