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Public water activists have won a definitive victory in the four-year fight to stop the privatization of Stockton, California’s water and sewer systems.
On July 17, the City of Stockton voted to drop their appeal of a court ruling that had overturned the privatization of the city’s water operations. The ruling ordered the city to cancel its contract with OMI-Thames – one of the largest water multinationals - and return operations to municipal control.

After the 2004 privatization, the Concerned Citizens Coalition of Stockton, Sierra Club and League of Women Voters of San Joaquin County joined forces to sue the city, arguing that the contract allowed projects that could damage the environment.

In December 2006, a county superior court judge agreed and ruled that the city’s privatization of water and sewer operations was illegal, and gave the city six months to retake control of the facilities. The ruling hinged on the city’s failure to perform a required environmental review. The judge noted the 20-year, US$600-million contract “will have significant environmental impacts”.

The city has negotiated an agreement with Concerned Citizens that gives the city until March 1, 2008, to bring operations back in-house. The city will also pay the coalition’s legal costs, which came to almost US$2 million.

Congratulations to the Concerned Citizens and their supporters. This is great news for water activists everywhere,” says CUPE national president Paul Moist. “It’s also a lesson in persistence. The coalition members kept fighting – even when it looked like they’d lost.”

The battle over Stockton’s water was profiled in the film ‘Thirst’. The film ended with city council voting 4-3 in favour of water operations being privatized, but residents kept mobilizing to write a new ending.

Former Stockton water worker Mike McDonald traveled to Victoria for World Water Day celebrations co-sponsored by CUPE, to lend his support to the fight to keep the Capital Region’s sewage treatment public.

McDonald quit after 26 years on the job when the California city’s sewage treatment plant operations and maintenance were privatized in 2003. McDonald appears in ‘Thirst’. His warning to Victoria residents was clear:

 “Don’t lose control of your facility. They always say we’re not selling the facility to them, but the bottom line is you lose control because the politicians say now everything’s on auto-pilot … The politicians want you to believe people don’t care, that all they want to know is when you pull the handle it flushes. But they do care.”

Join in the celebrations by sending a message to Concerned Citizens through their chairperson Sylvia Kothe.