Water is the new oil. This statement is not an environmentalist-wacko catch phrase. It is a new reality all over the world. American Water Company, formerly RWE,a German utility company has gone all over the United States trying to get control of different municipalities' water rights. They are now gunning for Signal Mountain.
Mayor Gee said it was an "unsolicited" move by American Water, none the less, we are in their cross-hairs. They succeeded in doing this very thing in Chattanooga when Mayor Jon Kinsey was in office. He was trying to find a way to let Chattanooga be in control of their own water. How prescient it turns out Mayor Kinsey was, knowing what we know now about privatized water entities, such as American Water Company. American Water came in and ran a vicious, personal campaign. It was a PR blitz that attacked him politically and personally. This kind of tactic is apparently their MO. They used Davis Lundy's Moriah group to bring him down. They won. Chattanooga and its citizenry lost, and the city, like so many other cities overtaken by this entity, have come to regret it. They have no recourse, because when American Water Company takes over your water, it never lets it go.
American Water Company was founded in New Jersey as American Water Works and Guarantee Company in 1886 by a small group of businessmen involved in local water utilities during the post-civil war era, eventually, evolving into American Water Works Company, Inc. In 2003 the Germans took it over, RWE, and ended up selling it in 2009. According to the non-profit organization, Food and Water Watch's website, "Leaked minutes from a RWE board meeting revealed that American Water had failed to meet any of its targets and that 'considerable political resistance to privatization of the water sector' was a major factor in its failure to thrive." Based on an analysis of Environmental Protection Agency data in 2012, Food and Water Watch reported that privately owned water systems fell by 16 percent between 2007 and 2011 while public water services rose by 8 percent.
Once a company like American Water gets control, it is usually irreversible. When U.S. cities try to regain control, a process called "municipalitizations", if the private water company, such as American Water, refuses to sell back the utility, some cities have used eminent domain powers. This act on the part of cities, require compensation at fair market value, to secure public ownership of the public's water. An action, that if Signal Mountain were to have regrets because of the rate hikes and poor maintenance for which American Water is notorious, would be too costly for our town.
Complaints of excessive rates, poor customer service, and failure to properly maintain infrastructure has been documented in towns in West Virginia, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, California, Kentucky, and elsewhere. As a citizen of Signal Mountain, if I have a problem with my water I call the Town Hall and they help me out, usually within hours, and I have heard this to be the case with many other Signal Mountain citizens. A friend of mine tried getting in touch with American Water Company and she said that it was a very long wait. Finally, when she did get someone on the line, it was no doubt someone from California or even India, with no real connections to our local community and obviously not the same feeling of accountability as someone right here on Signal Mountain.
What is that old saying? If it ain't broke......... Well no one on the Signal Mountain Town Council has made one step in the direction of convincing the citizens of Signal Mountain that our water system is broken enough to get some foreign entity in here to take it over with a track record like American Water Company of poor service and higher rates.