Roundtable examines negative impact of selling public water systems
Rep. Kazeem, Policy Committee discuss Chester Water Authority
COLERAIN TOWNSHIP, April 20 – The House Majority Policy Committee hosted a tour and roundtable today to discuss how Pennsylvania residents are negatively impacted when public water authorities are sold to for-profit companies, including rate hikes with little to no service improvements. The committee discussed the potential sale and fallout for residents from legal proceedings regarding the sale of Chester Water Authority, including its holding of about 2,000 acres of land.
“The sale of this public water authority is bad news for any resident of Pennsylvania who values their ability to access clean water and open green spaces,” said state Rep. Carol Kazeem, who hosted the event and represents portions of Delaware County – including the city of Chester. “For the more than 200,000 paying customers of Chester Water Authority, this sale could result in skyrocketing rate hikes. People who enjoy the outdoors can also expect access to the 2,000 acres of land currently owned by Chester Water Authority to change dramatically – including access for boaters, hikers and anglers. The bottom line is the only one who benefits from this sale is the for-profit company trying to purchase Chester Water Authority.”
The city of Chester’s sale of CWA to Essential Utilities, which also does business as Aqua America, is currently held up in court awaiting potential arguments before the state Supreme Court. Chester City Council, which has its own financial concerns, voted unanimously in September to approve a $410 million sale to Aqua. The CWA and residents oppose the sale and filed an appeal with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
“I have gotten more calls and emails from constituents who oppose Aqua’s attempts to buy CWA than on any other local issue,” said Rep. Leanne Krueger, who represents portions of Delaware County. “I stand firmly with the ratepayers who are fighting to keep our water authority in the hands of the community.”
The committee met at the CWA’s Octoraro Reservoir in Colerain Township in southeastern Lancaster County. The committee heard reasons behind why the city’s move to monetize the CWA will not resolve Chester’s financial issues and only places an undue burden on customers to pay higher rates.
“The people of Chester and its surrounding communities have every right to question the potential sale of the Chester Water Authority,” said Rep. Christina Sappey, who represents portions of Chester County. “Everyone is aware the city faces a sizable deficit, but the short-sighted move of selling a water utility to a for-profit company almost always ends poorly for residents – in the form of higher bills with no end in sight for price increases. The sale might solve the city’s problems today but create new problems down the road.”
The CWA is a nonprofit municipal authority with more than 75 years of experience in providing clean water to large portions of the communities in southern Chester County and western Delaware County. It serves more than 200,000 residents across 37 municipalities.
Thursday’s roundtable included a discussion with Chester Water Authority Director of Plant Operations Stephen McBryde; CWA Executive Manager Dave Krupiak; and Save Chester Water Authority Executive Director Catherine Miller. The committee also talked with ratepayers, CWA employees, and Pennsylvania Municipal Authorities Association Senior Director of Government Relations Jennie Shade.
Pennsylvania law permits the sale of municipal water authorities. Under Republican leadership, the General Assembly passed H.B. 1326 – which was signed into law as Act 12 of 2016. The law allowed private companies to purchase municipal water authorities for more than they are worth, which caused communities facing economic distress to accept sales that would have short-term benefits but potentially long-term consequences.
Among concerns for Pennsylvania residents is the possibility that anglers, boaters and nature enthusiasts will lose public access to the Octoraro Reservoir, which holds about 2 billion gallons of water and is currently owned by the CWA. The man-made lake straddles the Lancaster County-Chester County line. The reservoir, and surrounding land, is currently free and open to the public for recreation, including kayaking, fishing, hiking and boating.
Information about this hearing and other House Majority Policy Committee hearings can be found at pahouse.com/policy. Testimony from Policy Committee events is available at pahouse.com/PolicyCommittee/HearingMaterials. Photos to be used for publication can be found at pahouse.com/PolicyCommittee/Galleries.