On Monday, October 22, local environmental and consumer organizations and concerned citizens will come together to host an educational forum, ‘Defending Our Water: What You Need to Know Before You Vote.’ The non-partisan event will be held from 6:30-8 p.m. at Jubilee, 46 Wall St. in downtown Asheville and will address the upcoming water referendum on the November 6th ballot. The Asheville City Council advanced the referendum after a proposal was made by the NC State legislature which would remove control of the water system from the city of Asheville and turn it over to the Metropolitan Sewerage District (MSD), which is administered by an unelected regional board. Guest speakers include City Councilwoman Esther Manheimer; Renée Maas & Mary Grant of the consumer organization Food & Water Watch; and local activist Barry Summers, who will present a brief historical overview on the issue and update us on where we go from here.
The nonbinding referendum, which will appear on the ballot this November for City of Asheville residents, reads “Shall the City of Asheville undertake the sale or lease of its water treatment system and water distribution system?” Asheville’s Vice Mayor and MSD Board member Esther Manheimer will update us on the ongoing studies of the proposed merger, and explain the wording and purpose of the November 6th referendum.
“This is certainly not a partisan issue,” stated Elaine Lite, of Mountain Voices Alliance. “It’s not a city versus county issue. It’s a matter of our community coming together to determine what is in our own best interest and how we can maintain local control of this most critical resource - our water.”
“Forcing the City to hand over all control and decisions about the water system to an unelected regional board could be dangerous. Reduced local control of water systems in other cities throughout the country has led to privatization, increased water rates, poor service quality, and loss of local jobs,” said Renée Maas, Senior Organizer with Food & Water Watch. “The current proposal to merge the system with MSD is not only potentially bad for those served by Asheville water, but it also sets a bad precedent for legislative seizure of other municipal owned water systems in NC.”
Some of the issues to be discussed include: the connection between the referendum and the legislative proposal in Raleigh to force the regionalization of the City’s water system; the reactions from local governments; and experiences of other communities across the country that were forced to regionalize their water and sewer systems.
"Of all the utility services, water is the one you simply can't live without - that's why it's urgent that decisions about water be transparent, local, and with plenty of opportunities for the public to participate," says Katie Hicks, in the Asheville office of Clean Water for North Carolina, a statewide organization advocating for public rights to clean, safe, and accessible water. "Our community's drinking water is too important for decisions to be made behind closed doors in Raleigh while local residents' voices are ignored - but educating yourself about the upcoming referendum and other recent developments is a great first step towards getting more involved."
A Q&A session will follow the presentation. The forum is free and open to the public and is co-sponsored by Mountain Voices Alliance, Clean Water for NC, Food & Water Watch, WNC Alliance and WENOCA Sierra Club.