Metro, News

Mayor Elorza rescinds support for water monetization

Water monetization drew community backlash, worries about rate hikes, water quality

By
Senior Staff Writer
Friday, April 5, 2019

Mayor Jorge Elorza withdrew his support from his original legislative proposal to monetize the water supply for the city of Providence Thursday.

The Municipal Water Supply Systems Transaction Act, intended to address the city’s pension debt, has faced backlash from communities throughout the state that are worried the bill would raise water rates, The Herald previously reported.

After holding three community meetings about the bill throughout March, Elorza asked General Assembly sponsors of the bill to withdraw the versions of the legislation currently in the House and Senate. “The feedback we received from stakeholders helped us understand that the community had significant questions and deep concerns about this proposal,” Elorza wrote in a newsletter. Victor Morente, spokesperson for Elorza, added that “we also heard some environmental concerns” and that residents wanted more clarity on the legislation.

Gillian Kiley, an activist who previously spoke out against water monetization in Providence, said that the community meetings showcased a lack of support for the bill. “A few people raised their hands indicating they supported the legislation, but an overwhelming majority opposed it and a few noted they were undecided,” Kiley wrote in an email to The Herald.

In particular, members of The Land and Water Sovereignty Campaign worked to raise community support against the legislation. They “started a petition, met with city and state legislators, consulted with policy writers, environmental engineers, and a range of community groups and indigenous groups,” Kiley wrote. Leaders of the group, Cristina Cabrera and John Gonzalez, are both members of Native American tribes and have been working closely with those communities, according to Kiley.

In terms of addressing the city’s debt, Elorza is “still open to looking at our options,” Morente said. Addressing the $1 billion pension obligation has been a key point in Elorza’s administration. They are in the process of “organizing more community conversations, and those will be focusing on alternate or other forms of ways or options that we might be able to tackle this,” Morente said.

Elorza stressed the importance of collaboration between both residents and administrators in combating the city’s financial problems. “We want to ensure that we take our next steps to address Providence’s long-term finances together, as a city,” he wrote in the newsletter.

Kiley commended Elorza’s decision to withdraw his support from the bill. “I think that it is difficult for political leaders to change their positions on public issues, but that doing so in this case is an act of leadership,” she wrote.