New Orleans Water Privatization Bids Defeated

Public Citizen | For Immediate Release: Oct. 16, 2002 | Contact: Wenonah Hauter (202) 454-5150, Erica Hartman (202) 454-5174

Consumer Advocacy Groups Laud Board's Decision

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Citizens won a landmark victory over corporate greed today when the largest proposed municipal water privatization in the nation was rejected by the New Orleans Water and Sewerage Board. The vote's repercussions will ripple through the nation as consumer advocate groups fight to keep water in the public trust, Public Citizen said.

"Corporations trying to privatize the nation's water supply were counting on New Orleans to serve as a model and pave the way for other privatization efforts from coast to coast," said Wenonah Hauter, director of Public Citizen's Critical Mass Energy and Environment Program. "But after years of consideration, New Orleans citizens and officials determined that the public's water should be kept in public hands."

Public Citizen, ACORN and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), Local 100, organized a coalition of 90 churches, civic organizations, seniors groups and environmental groups that opposed privatization. They defeated USFilter and United Water, subsidiaries of French conglomerates Vivendi Universal and Suez, respectively, which spent lavishly on public relations campaigns and lobbied hard as they competed to secure a 20-year, billion-dollar contract to operate water and sewer systems in New Orleans.

"We believe that we proved to the S&WB the depth and strength of our broad-based coalition," said Wade Rathke, chief organizer for the SEIU. "The size of our coalition and the outpouring of support from the neighborhoods, workers and all segments of the community sent the board a message that was unmistakable: Vote no, and they did."

Water privatization can foster corruption and result in rate hikes, inadequate customer service and a loss of local control and accountability. Corporations have used rate hikes to maximize profits, which, by definition, is their reason for existing, Hauter said. An improved bottom line often comes at the expense of water quality and customer service, but not at the expense of maintaining inflated executive salaries. Further, this vote is another blow to Vivendi's already-shaky financial standing.

"The power of citizens'voices should never be disregarded when they unite to fight against corporate influence," Hauter said. "The people in New Orleans have spoken and have resoundingly said no to privatization. We hope Vivendi and Suez are listening to those voices today."

Public Citizen is a nonprofit consumer advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C.Public Citizen: