When it comes to water issues in the North Bay, things immediately get complicated. When it comes to sanitation issues, it can be a downright mess. According to Pam Welsh, chair of the Alliance of Concerned Citizens of Novato (ACCN), which is currently fighting against the privatization of the district's wastewater management, "It just gets muddier and muddier."
Welsh refers to the Novato Water District's current deal-making with French water and waste-management company Veolia. If all goes according to plan, the multinational firm will take over the maintenance and operations of the public utility's newest $90 million plant. However, the process has been marked by an alleged lack of transparency and hearty disapproval from the ACCN. "They've hidden everything from us, everything!" Welsh says.
The district has been working on a deal with Veolia for over a year and has had little public disclosure about the process or its implications. There have been raids on the district's facilities by both the FBI and EPA after $500,000 of the district funding went missing. As many as six of its employees are currently under investigation for irregular reporting and spills. The details of the investigation have been kept from the public, but according to Welsh, "Clearly there's something significant going on."For Welsh and the ACCN, the lack of transparency certainly raises alarm bells, but the privatization of a public utility itself is the real dirt to watch out for. "There will be significant increases in the rates, around 20 to 100 percent when they're done. Shoddy maintenance and a decrease in emergency response time," Welsh avers, citing Stockton, Monterey and Petaluma as cities which have all fought and succumbed to the privatization of wastewater management and faced these consequences.The district says the outsourcing of the plant management will ultimately save money, however a recent report by the city states that Petaluma could save $1 million by returning to local management. The ACCN sees water as a human right that should be managed publicly, and worries about the conflicting motives of a private company.
"Veolia is going to be beholden to shareholders more than us," Welsh charges. "Ultimately, a company based in France is not going to be concerned with citizens of our small town." To educate the public about water privatization issues in Novato and across the globe, the ACCN hosts a film screening of the documentary Thirst followed by a discussion with Marin College political science professor Robert Ovetz on Thursday, Sept. 10, at Margaret Todd Senior Center. 1560 Hill Road, Novato. 7–9pm. Free. 415.897.6060. firstname.lastname@example.org .