Before I take them apart, let me make it perfectly clear that I agree with FWW on the basic goal, i.e., we ALL want and "deserve" clean, high-quality food and water.
The trouble is that we disagree on the means to that end. Our main difference is obvious to anyone reading the FWW mission:
We challenge the corporate control and abuse of our food and water resources...we advocate policies that guarantee safe, wholesome food produced in a humane and sustainable manner and public, rather than private, control of water resources...Although we all have examples of corporate abuse of food (e.g., lobbying on nutrition labeling or soda in schools) and examples of unsustainable private use of water (e.g., bad privatization deals), we ALSO have just as many -- and probably more -- examples of bad PUBLIC management of food (e.g., the Farm Bill) and water (read this blog :).
Thus, my major beef with FWW is that they see a gray world in black and white.
Anyway, let's take a look at these lovely reports. For the sake of time (mine and yours), I will merely point out the howlers in each report.
In Aqua America: Strategies of a Water Profiteer, FWW says:
As Aqua America expands, its customers shoulder rapidly increasing water rates, which bring in heaps of money for the company: $602.5 million in revenue and $95 million in pure profit in 2007. Meanwhile, many households are seeing their water bills grow out of their budget, placing extra hardship on families already toiling to keep up with skyrocketing housing costs.The first paragraph is a lovely exercise in hyperbole. "heaps of money," "pure profit," and "grow out of their budget" mask these alternative explanations. Let us try, respectively, "revenue," "profit" (of 16%, far less than evil Microsoft, which has a 28% profit margin) and "more." What does "grow out of their budget" mean anyway? Does that mean more? Whatever. For one thing, I am NOT worried about $50-$100/month water bills when mortgage payments far exceed $1,000!
Although public utilities have made considerable strides to address the infrastructure crisis, they still need help. Congress must take action and create a federal trust fund for public drinking water and clean water utilities. Citizens need — and overwhelmingly support by a 6-to-1 margin — a national trust fund for clean and safe water. Federal assistance will help ensure that safe, clean and affordable water is available for generations to come.
In the second paragraph, we see FWW's biggest error -- the assumption that a "federal trust fund" is some sort of free money. A "trust fund" has to be funded out of tax revenues. It also means moving money from some communities to other communities (think NYC to Podunk). Is there something inherently good or fair about a transfer of $$ from one location to another? Not in my mind wrt water. Water is a LOCAL issue, and I see no justification (except OPM) for supporting a "trust fund." Further, the survey question [pdf] ("would you rather see spending increased for water projects or entitlement programs?") was hardly unbiased. Finally, it's hardly true that a trust fund will "ensure safe, clean and affordable water..." I'd prefer to ensure such a result through better oversight of local monopolies (aka BOTH public and private companies). The "report" should be widely cited -- as an example of biased hyperbole.
In The Future of American Water: The Story of RWE and the Politics of Privatization, FWW says:
American Water has engaged in a pattern of political and legal maneuvering — most notably in Lexington, Ky., where the corporation worked to defeat a local effort to return the city’s water system to public ownership... Felton, Stockton and Montara, Calif., as well as several other cities and towns, have successfully pried their water systems from its stranglehold.First, why wouldn't a company fight a political effort to revoke its contract ("defeat a local effort"). Second, how does a "stranglehold" exist when water rates, water quality, etc. are regulated by local bureaucrats? FWW's major "point" is this:
Should a resource so essential to life be controlled by multinational, for-profit corporations, or safeguarded by the public with strong local oversight and accountability measures?I question the use of "or" in that sentence. By setting up the question as either/or, FWW draws a false distinction and distorts the facts. Some people would call this agit/prop. I will too.
Finally, Costly Returns: How Corporations Could Profit from Inflating the Already High Cost of Repairing the Nation’s Crumbling Water and Sewer Infrastructure makes this shocking point:
The corporate water barons are salivating at the prospect of profiting from the drinking water and wastewater infrastructure crisis facing the United States. Already, U.S. cities endure 250,000 to 300,000 water main breaks, lose one-fifth of their water through leaks and suffer 1.2 trillion gallons of wastewater spills each year  ...Absent a needed increase in federal assistance, consumers and communities across the nation will see their bills continue to climb as utilities make necessary repairs and upgrades  ... thanks to some fancy finance and accounting, private utilities tie higher earnings to increased costs. Corporations have a financial incentive to oppose conservation , protection of drinking water sources and other policies and programs that would save money and help offset the economic burden on communities across the nation . Wasted water drives up a company’s revenue, which flows from people’s water bills .Here are point-by-point rebuttals:
- Those spills are taking place under the watch of public agencies. If they are "starved" of funds, it's because they are not charging their customers the full cost of service, which is poor management.
- Yes, I think that customers DO need to pay for the services they receive. Federal funds merely use Peter's tax payments for Paul's water system (OPM!). That's neither fair nor efficient.
- If private companies have no incentive to ask customers to conserve water, it's because PUCs do not allow decoupling. Note that PUBLIC water providers ALSO have an incentive to promote water USE among customers.
- I do not see how a private corporation has any different incentive to protect water quality. Quality violations and fines are bad for both public and private water managers. (In fact, private companies often take over small water systems that cannot meet quality requirements -- with positive results!)
- Yes, there is a positive relationship between the amount of money paid in water bills and company revenue. In fact, there's a 100 percent positive correlation, by my calculations. /sarcasm