Water, justice and politics

Everyone wants everything for as little as possible. It’s human nature. But rational people and those with even rudimentary understanding of economics know that they can’t get products or services for less than market value—the price buyers and sellers agree to contract for.

Irrational people, ignorant of the laws of economics, live under an illusion that those laws should not apply; they demand “social justice.” Worse, they lobby for government coercion to repeal the laws so they can declare another “human right” that transcends the original concept—wants have become “rights.”

Take water, for example. It’s naturally vital to the lives of humans. For thousands of years people have fought over access to it. Myriad, complex State and federal laws in America define ownership and control use—public and private. In most States water is plentiful and inexpensive. But its extraction, storage and delivery are costly. Water and sewer services usually go together in large systems. Sewer service is more involved and costly than water. Further, these services are more expensive because they are highly regulated.

Here in North Carolina a nonprofit “justice” group—Clean Water for North Carolina— (link) lobbies against private ownership, claiming that it has negative “impacts on vulnerable neighborhoods and households.” To these people privatization presents obstacles to a utopian “Water Democracy.” They criticize the North Carolina Utilities Commission for encouraging privatization. CWFNC advocates challenge what they call “myths of privatization”:

1) increases economic efficiency and cost-savings for municipalities and customers.
2) improves service and brings increased technical expertise.
3) injects more capital to finance needed infrastructure improvements and transfers risk to the private sector. (link)

After they reject the economic and technical “myths” about private service, they present their own fiction that users shouldn’t have to pay full value for services, including improvements. CWFNC activists recommend that State government provide “safe and affordable” water. Of course, that will mean “Enhanced funding” by taxpayers. So, what now?

CWFNC (a self-described “watchdog group”) had a media campaign last November raising “ethics questions” about the NC Utilities Commission and claiming that the private water company Aqua North Carolina wants to “sneak through outrageous (rate hike) proposals.” They also spread hearsay that Aqua NC “customers frequently complain about poor water quality and bad customer service.”

This week public hearings will be held in Fayetteville and Wilmington, N. C. CWFNC e-mail advises attendees to comment and bring pictures of “any water quality or service problems.” Its representative for “water justice,” Katie Hicks, also asks that people request NC Utilities Commission members to deny Aqua NC’s water and wastewater system improvement charge.

Of course, no consumer service or product is always trouble free, but private providers have strong incentives to fix problems ASAP. The profit motive drives customer satisfaction, but private enterprises can’t stay in business without recovering costs. Government employees usually get paid no matter how they respond; they have job security and politically open accounts to taxpayer’s money, unavailable to most private companies.

I can’t speak for the thousands of Aqua NC customers,(link) but my experience with the company in a 600-lot community near Wilmington has been good. We’ve had private water/sewer service here for more than 20 years. Except for an occasional disruption for repairs—announced by the company— and a few whiners (who will spend $100 for one dinner out and complain about an $80 water and sewer bill for a month), our service is excellent and reasonable.

Our highest monthly bill this year (July-August) was $65.41. We pay a fixed water charge of $8.58 per month and $35.16 for sewer service. The water use charge is $0.00168 per gallon. We used 12,900 gallons in the August billing costing $21.67 (two in our family and we irrigate the lawn). Incidentally, we pay nearly $96 per month for TV service—I suspect many people pay even more for this entertainment. Is TV more valuable than water and sewer service?

With every bill Aqua NC provides clear related information, including how to complain about service. The company sends advice on conserving water and data showing average daily use of water for each month so users can monitor it. It also provides an annual water quality report and local alerts about water line repairs.

CWFNC presumes to “educate” NC residents and public officials leading to their goal of more government regulation on Aqua NC “in the best interest of consumers.”

I suggest that rather than follow the hysterical, misleading propaganda issued by CWFNC, Aqua NC customers should study their billing statements to determine why bills may seem high, compare the value of water and sewer service to what they pay for other vital services, and if they have a complaint respectfully address it directly to a company representative. They won’t be able to get nonexistent political “justice,” but I’m sure that they will receive courteous and helpful responses—and the vital, continuous water and sewer services that they must pay for.

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About R. E. Smith Jr.

Mr. Smith writes essays and commentary on politics, American history, environment, higher education and culture. He's been published in print media and at blog sites for about 25 years. Smith's formal education includes B.S. and M.S. degrees from the State University of New York and Syracuse University. He has earned a 21-credit hour Certificate in Professional Writing from the University of North Carolina-Wilmington. Training/work experience: NYS Ranger School; U. S. Army, Corp of Engineers; soil scientist and forester with USDA; Assoc. Professor at SUNY; real estate agent; small business owner.
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