Here at Food & Water Watch, we know that profit-driven motives often clash with providing clean, safe drinking water for the public. This is why in Portland we oppose the corporate-funded initiative that attempts to fix what’s not broken. Otherwise known as The Water District Initiative, this proposal would shift the regulatory power of our water and sewer systems to an elected water board, creating a new water district to govern our local drinking water. And while we support local control of our water systems, this water board could allow corporate polluters to shift the costs of pollution they cause onto to the backs of taxpayers.
Currently, the Portland City Council oversees the Portland Water Bureau and the Bureau of Environmental Services – the two agencies responsible for running our sewer and water system. This initiative would remove the authority of these long-standing agencies that have effectively and transparently overseen our water system and hand it over to a potentially inexperienced water board without the proper oversight. Under this initiative, previous employees of the municipal water system wouldn’t be allowed to run for this board, yet someone from a corporation who would stand to benefit from deregulation could.
You may wonder, how this initiative came to be. Well if you follow the money, you’ll see that five giant corporate backers have covered more than 90 percent of the campaign costs. This raises concerns that water board elections could also potentially be bought by these corporate interests. For example, two companies that support this initiative, Portland Bottling Company and major polluter Siltonic, stand to benefit from the creation of a new water board that they could stack with their own handpicked members. Passage of this measure could lower water rates for these major water users and polluters while probably raising them for Portland families.
If passed, the initiative would allow the district to opt out of paying into the Superfund program, which is just one of many ways this initiative could be bad for our environment and taxpayers. Instead of having the polluters pay for the clean up, the city’s general fund would be on the hook, which would pass the buck for cleaning up our rivers to Portland property taxpayers, and strain other programs such as the fire bureau and public health.
The measure has additional flaws, including removing civil service protections for employees, and furthermore, there is nothing in the ballot measure language that guarantees rate reductions. It is a blatant power grab.
If you want to support public water workers, the environment and consistent high quality drinking water, please make sure you vote no on Measure 26-156!