Health agencies and officials have made it clear that running water is essential to preventing the spread of the Coronavirus. But before mid March, millions of Americans with unpaid water bills and no running water were left wondering how to protect themselves against the virus. Though it took a global pandemic, we are left to wrestle with the newly visible crisis burdening families throughout the country — water affordability.
The crisis of water affordability is a confluence of disinvestment and predatory deals by Wall Street water barons who shift the public good into the hands of shareholders. But in the end, ratepayers always foot the bill.
The federal government has employed austerity measures and eroded the spending needed to rebuild and maintain our water infrastructure. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that addressing the nation’s water infrastructure needs will take about $655 billion over the next 20 years. But in recent years, federal funding for water has remained relatively flat with an average investment of $16 million since the Great Recession. This places pressure on state governments to fill the gap, often with large debt loads that entice predatory Wall Street actors, like investor owned utility companies and private equity firms.
As state governments look at an economic downturn in its face and Americans struggle to stay afloat, Wall Street sees opportunity. These financial firms are known to court cities and states, trying to convince them to privatize their water systems in return for temporary financial relief. Private equity firms thrive under market dislocation by preying on failing companies and debt stricken governments and government agencies. Because assets managed by the private equity industry have more than doubled since the 2008 crisis, the industry has the money to take advantage of another crisis.
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