The Lehigh Valley Sierra Club urges the City of Allentown to not rush to privatize its municipal drinking water and sanitary sewer system. The Lehigh Valley Sierra Club has several hundred members residing in the city, with 1,400 members living in the Lehigh Valley. The Sierra Club is the nation’s oldest and largest environmental organization, with almost one million members, 24,000 of whom live in Pennsylvania.
Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski is proposing leasing Allentown’s municipal water and sewer system to a another, possibly commercial, entity for 50 years, in exchange for millions of dollars that could help shore up the city’s teetering employee pension fund. This seems at first blush like a lifeline to a city struggling financially but in actuality may be a recipe for disaster.
Not only are water rates to residents projected to double under any leasing scheme but privatization would put Allentown’s jewel of a park system – much of it along the Little Lehigh Creek, the city’s prime drinking water source – under the control of a private entity that could exploit that watershed without concern for environmental damage that could result. Opportunities to market Allentown’s plentiful water to others would pass away from the city to an entity not controlled by Allentown’s citizens. In what condition would the system and its watershed be returned to the city after 50 years of private exploitation?
The national Sierra Club recommends any municipal water system privatization follow five necessary steps before adoption:
-- full public disclosure of all the details of the lease before approval
-- evidence that privatization would not cost more than continued municipal control
-- guaranteed continued and effective oversight by the municipality
-- sufficient time for a vigorous public debate before privatization
-- a public vote by the citizens on whether to undertake privatization.
The current proposal to privatize Allentown’s water and sewer system includes none of these safeguards. Until this proposal follows these essential steps, Allentown should not blindly jump to hand off its water and sewer system to another entity. Sierra Club press release courtesy of Lehigh Valley Ramblings