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Felton organizes to stop privatization of its water

Felton organizes to stop privatization of its water


By Ed Oberweiser

There was standing room only at a community meeting organized by County Supervisor Jeff Almquist on Thursday night at the Felton Fire Station.
What brought more than 200 San Lorenzo Valley residents out on a weeknight was the threat that a huge German corporation, RWE Akteingesellschaft wants to buy the water company that supplies Felton’s water. As the Green Press and the Sentinel both reported last week, British news media reported that RWE’s subsidiaries were involved in illegal dumping of nuclear waste into the North Sea. Not exactly the company anyone in the San Lorenzo Valley or anywhere in Santa Cruz would want handling the San Lorenzo Valley Watershed’s water.
Almquist organized the meeting to tell community members about a possible way to stop the German juggernaut from taking over Felton’s water supplier. RWE wants to export the water to Perrier which is owned by Nestle. A strategy to stop the corporate takeover of Felton’s water purveyor would be for the San Lorenzo Valley Water District and Santa Cruz County to buy the water company by means of eminent domain.
Felton’s water is supplied by the California-American Water Works. The company asked the state for permission to raise the water rates by 57 percent nearly a month ago. California American gets the water from the San Lorenzo River watershed which is the source of water for nearly 80,000 Santa Cruz County citizens.
Jeff Almquist asked the people assembled at the meeting to show if they were in favor of this approach by raising their hands.
Every person in the room raised a hand. There were two members of the board of the San Lorenzo Valley Water District at the community meeting who came to see what kind of support there was for the idea. They found out and, after briefly speaking to the group, left for the board meeting where a discussion of the takeover was on the agenda.
Jim Mueller of the board told the audience “I think the showing of hands here tonight gives us something we can take to the board meeting tonight. We want to move forward and assist you in any way we can.”
The two board members told the audience that they were confident that the district would be able to take over the company without raising the rates. They also said the community would have to pitch in and help the effort. Volunteers with expertise in financial services, mechanical repairs, carpentry and other skills would be needed. They also said organizers for a campaign would be needed.
One of the water district’s directors had told the Sentinel weeks ago that he would be willing to explore buying the Felton system if customers request it.
The two board members at the Thursday, October 16, meeting told the audience that the advantage of the eminent domain and making it a public utility is that if the citizenry didn’t like what was being done they could “throw the rascals out.” That’s something that wouldn’t be possible if the company was owned by a huge transnational conglomerate with its headquarters and CEO thousands of miles away in Europe.
Jeff Almquist had a meeting scheduled the next morning with county officials concerning the takeover. He said all citizens can help out the effort by calling the county supervisors and expressing support for the county and the San Lorenzo Valley Water District to takeover the system.
Jeff Almquist said after the meeting that the effort would probably be a joint effort but the County Supervisors would have to vote on that and haven’t yet.
“Basically what will happen in this domain case is that there will be early proceeding in the case to determine whether we’ve met the showing required which is that we’re a public agency with the eminent domain power and that we’re wanting to exercise it for proper public purpose. I think those tests are all easily met here. Then the only issue after that is the whole evaluation process,” Almquist said.
He said that he wants to know how the San Lorenzo Valley Water District vote comes out and if they vote in favor, he’ll bring it to the Supervisors for a vote.
This is an ongoing trend in the United States. French corporations, especially Vivendi, Perrier and Suez, are gobbling up water rights. As Almquist told the Thursday night meeting attendees, major U.S. players are Bechtel, Monsanto and T. Boone Pickens. Enron was getting into the water action before it went belly up. All or part of the water systems in San Francisco,
Peoria, Atlanta, Chattanooga, Tenn.; Houston, Jacksonville, Jersey City, and Lexington, KY have already been privatized.
See the Green press website, for our article in the October 11 issue by Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman on this problem - entitled Thirsty For Justice.
Ed Oberweiser is a local freelance writer who earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from San Jose State University in 1998. He has a year of experience working for the student daily paper there and two years experience working for a community college newspaper in Oregon.

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