It seems residents of Pekin, Illinois, are stuck with private water for now. The city has lost another legal round in its five-year fight to buy back its water system from the Illinois American Water corporation. The case is a reminder of the expensive, drawn-out legal battles that must be fought to reverse water privatization.
The municipal government had argued public ownership was in the best interests of water users, an argument rejected by the Illinois Commerce Commission and upheld by the appeal court. The city had been trying for several years to regain control of its water systems, after it became clear Illinois American, a subsidiary of German utilities giant RWE, wasnt going to deliver on its 1982 promises to upgrade the waterworks.
In 2001, city manager Richard Hierstein told CUPE one of the reasons that Pekin decided to buy back the water was this failure to make the proper investment in the system. The system is not in good condition and they have not invested as they should have done, but have raised the rates as if they have, he said.
According to research by Public Citizen, residents were hit with a 204 per cent water rate increase over 18 years far higher than increases in cities with public water systems. Other problems emerged, including a situation where firefighters could not effectively douse a blaze because Illinois American didnt respond quickly enough to address low water pressure.
The following year, Pekin voters supported a referendum asking whether the city should buy its waterworks by any means necessary. The fight has ended for now, although the city has expressed its disappointment, and still has the right to appeal to the state supreme court. Hierstein, who has worked as a city manager with both public and private water systems, says citizens and government are far better served by public water operations.