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Peoria Defender

Reclaiming Peoria's Water: A Matter of Public Good vs. Private Profits

Peoria Once Again Considering Buying Back Its Water System

The city of Peoria is facing a major decision by November 2023 on whether to move forward with reacquiring its water system from Illinois American Water under the terms of a longstanding franchise agreement.

Peoria originally sold its public water infrastructure to a private utility back in 1889. However, the franchise agreement maintained the city's right to buy back the system every five years if desired. This November marks Peoria's next opportunity to potentially regain public control of its water supply.

Advocates argue that public ownership of utilities like water is a matter of human rights. Access to clean and affordable water is an issue of life and death. As residents struggle with rising utility costs, the question has become: Should corporations be trusted to make decisions about who gets access to necessities? Or should such essentials be publicly controlled and treated as universal rights?

Municipal ownership proponents contend that water is too vital to delegate to a private company beholden to shareholders. Public utilities aim to provide quality service at cost, not extract profits. City ownership could help guarantee water access as a right for all Peorians.

The city council explored exercising the buyback provision most seriously in 1998, which led to a contentious legal battle with Illinois American Water and an expensive appraisal process. In 2005, after the system was valued at around $220 million, the city deemed that price tag to be unaffordable and voted down the purchase.

Now in 2023, the debate has opened once again as the deadline approaches. In June 2023, the Peoria city council approved a $99,950 contract with consultants Woodard & Curran to evaluate reacquisition.

Proponents point to concerns over lack of transparency, local control, and high rates under private ownership. They argue Peoria could benefit from lower rates, using water revenue for public services, and leveraging the system for economic development if public.

Securing a fair valuation from Illinois American Water remains a major obstacle. The city maintains that an appropriate price is essential to make taking back the system feasible. With the deadline looming, the council aims to gather updated information before deciding this November.

The decision carries major implications on the cost and control of Peoria's most vital resource. More importantly, it will determine whether water is treated as a human right or a corporate commodity in Peoria.

Change Peoria, for one, would like to know.


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