Connor, advocates stress need for resident input on water privatization

State senator’s bill would require a local referendum before the sale of a public water system to a private company

State Sen. John Connor, D-Lockport

State Sen. John Connor joined a watchdog organization Monday to advocate for more consumer input on sales of public water systems to private companies.

Connor, D-Lockport, and the Citizens Utility Board spoke about the need to pass his bill, S.B. 164, which would require a local referendum before private companies could acquire a public water system, during a virtual news conference.

The group specifically decried how Illinois customers of private water companies have seen more than $220 million in higher bills over the past few years, according to a news release. Connor said the issue stems from legislation passed in 2013 which allowed private water companies that acquired public systems to pass on the expenses to their existing customers.

“So if you are on private water, every time the company that you pay for your water buys more customers for itself, guess who foots the bill,” Connor said during the news conference. “You do.”

He added that once a municipality sells its water system, the private company has a monopoly and it’s very difficult for the local government to regain control of that system.

“I believe people who are on a public water system, both as taxpayers and water bill payers, deserve an individual voting say before structural change in their local government takes place,” Connor said.

This issue came up in 2019 when Connor joined residents in urging the Lockport Township Board to not sell the water system it operated in the unincorporated Fairmont neighborhood to Aqua Illinois. The city of Joliet eventually purchased the water system from the township.

About 80% of local water systems in the state are municipally owned, according to the release, but the Citizens Utility Board said its research shows that Illinois American and Aqua have bought up 34 water or wastewater systems in communities across the state, including in Bolingbrook.

The Citizens Utility Board provides resources for customers and tracks the acquisitions of public systems at CUBWaterTracker.com.

Alex Ortiz

Alex Ortiz

Alex Ortiz is a reporter for The Herald-News in Joliet. Originally from Romeoville, Ill., he joined The Herald-News in 2017 and mostly covers Will County government, politics, education and more. He earned his bachelor's degree at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a master's degree from Northwestern University.