MSD allowed no public comment or questions during their Nov. 30th Planning Committee meeting. Had I been allowed to speak, my questions for Rep. Chuck McGrady, who was in attendance:

  1. You've spoken publicly on two occasions about the possibility of the City of Hendersonville being made a part of this regional system. Given the fact that MSD and Asheville are doing economic impact studies as part of the 'good faith negotiations' called for by the LRC, and given the size and population of Hendersonville, including them now or in the future would represent a radical change in the economic and governance balance of a regional system, can you tell us now whether Hendersonville is a potential addition to the regional system the LRC is contemplating?
  2. At MSD on Friday, you alluded to the possibility of a larger MSD Board. Given that the municipalities in Buncombe that might have their water systems absorbed by MSD sometime in the future already have seats on the Board, what political subdivisions are you contemplating giving more MSD representation to? Are you considering giving Henderson County more than the two seats already available to them as a result of the MSD Amendment bill?
  3. MSD has based their impact study on the assumption that the LRC won't seize the Asheville watershed. Are they basing that on information received from you or others on the LRC? And is it true - do you intend to leave ownership of the watershed with Asheville, and if so, why?
  4. Are you concerned that the current offer from MSD clearly leaves a huge budget impact on the City of Asheville, which would have to be reconciled by employee layoffs or property tax increases or both?
  5. One of the primary arguments made in favor of transferring the water system away from the City to MSD, is the so-called 'economies of scale' that could be achieved by combining water & sewer functions under one roof. The MSD's own study indicates that those efficiencies already exist under the 1000+ employee City Government, and that pulling that efficiency out of the City budget merely to 'create' efficiency elsewhere will produce no real savings, just a tax increase for City residents. Is this fair, and more importantly, does this really make economic sense?
  6. Given all that, wouldn't a better arrangement be putting MSD under the City's management, similar to the way that the City of Charlotte manages the Charlotte-Mecklenberg Utilities District?
Official MSD "Water/Sewer Consolidation Proposal", to be discussed by MSD Planning Committee on Friday, Nov. 30th:
  • Pennies on the dollar compensation to the City of Asheville for it's water system.
  • Not one thin dime for an annual lease of the 20,000 acre watershed, simply a requirement that Asheville turn over the keys & sign a 199 year agreement essentially giving it to MSD for free.
Attend the MSD Planning Committee meeting to voice your opinion on this punitive taking of Asheville's assets. Friday November 30th, Noon. MSD offices, 2028 Riverside Dr. Asheville.
How MSD's Impact Study reveals that a merger will not save money, and will likely cause water rates to go up:

  • So MSD acknowledges the need to lease the watershed (a brand new expense in the operation of the water system), yet where is that amount in this tally of savings vs. costs?:
The Impact Study, and the proposed budgets within, are predicated on the assumption that the City will retain the 20,000 acre watershed, and lease it to MSD. MSD Board members have informally negotiated with City representatives to reach a fair price for this arrangement, should the NCGA transfer the water distribution system to MSD. That lease price could be substantial, and would be an annual operating expense, appearing in the above budget calculations. Yet, it is absent. And still the AC-T headline reads:
And the Mountain XPress reports this:

These potential "savings" could very well be erased by a lease arrangement for the watershed, yet MSD still tells the public that millions could be saved by a merger. A major, annual, anticipated expense simply isn't included in the tally. That's unfortunate, because that expense could knock the tally into the red, causing water rates to rise. The public should be told the whole truth.  

Like presenting a business plan to a bank in order to get a loan, and 'forgetting' to mention the substantial rent you know you'll have to pay for the building you don't own... eventually, bad things come from creative accounting. In this scenario, we are the bank. We should reject this proposed merger, because MSD's own $200,000 study shows it will cost us money, not save it.


November 14th: Presentation of the draft of Phase 1 MSD/Asheville Water System Consolidation report, to MSD Planning Committee. Noon, MSD offices, 2028 Riverside Dr., Asheville NC. This report will become part of the underpinning of any future seizure of the Asheville Water System by the NCGA. Read the draft report when it is posted here (sometime in the PM, Monday 11/12) and plan on attending to ask questions.

Results of the City of Asheville water referendum:
"Shall the City of Asheville undertake the sale or lease of its water treatment system and water distribution system?": 
34,695 (85.54%) No, 5,864 (14.46%) Yes.

Rep. Chuck McGrady confirms that other municipalities including the City of Hendersonville might be made part of regional water/sewer system along with Asheville, in a meeting with Asheville City Council and Rep. Susan Fisher at the Asheville Civic Center Sept. 18th.
 "With respect to the other local governments, if they determine that they don't want to be a part of any discussions, there's not much - anything that can force them to the table. They're taking a risk, because if you read the report, clearly, the legislative committee is recommending some sort of combined water and sewer. I don't think it's absolutely clear in the report, and I don't think there was any intention to be clear in the report, exactly what the parameters of that water/sewer system might be... It doesn't make sense to bring in the whole French Broad River system, because pumping sewage uphill doesn't make a lot of sense. And so, Transylvania, Madison counties - no, we're not talking that. And Henderson County, a portion of Henderson County is in a different river system. So you're probably not talking about all of Henderson County. But I've said the same thing to the City of Hendersonville folks, that they need to stay on top of this issue..."

 excerpt 1 here (6 min.: Susan Fisher, then Chuck McGrady, then Terry Bellamy, then Chuck again)  excerpt 2 here (1 min.: Chuck).  entire 1:05:00 recording here.  Asheville City Clerk minutes here.  Thanks to Maggie Burleson for audio, minutes.

June 14th. The Govt. Committee passes a revised H1009, and sends it to the full House. But not before this exchange between Rep. Patsy Keever and bill 'runner' Rep Chuck McGrady:
Patsy: "Is Hendersonville included in this? Are they likely to be part of whatever is happening?"

Chuck: "Hendersonville would not like to be included within a larger metropolitan water/sewer district."

Patsy: "So if we're looking at some kind of regional MSD, we're just talking Henderson County not Hendersonville, but Asheville and Buncombe, is that correct?"

Chuck: "If you were looking at simply a sewer district, you're right... If we're talking a water/sewer district, potentially, Hendersonville could be part of a water/sewer district where the two water systems join."

 audio clip here.

Esther Manheimer, Asheville Vice Mayor & MSD Board member
 Mary Grant, researcher with Food & Water Watch, Wash. DC
 Renee Maas, Food & Water Watch, Durham NC

 Barry Summers, Activist, Save Asheville's Water

co-sponsored by Mountain Voices Alliance, Clean Water for North Carolina, WNC Alliance, and WNC Sierra Club

Defend Our Water yard signs now available. Check to the right for locations. 

Barry on Local Edge Radio, Oct. 3rd (starts at timestamp 08:20)

Rep. Chuck McGrady confirms that other municipalities including the City of Hendersonville might be made part of regional water/sewer system along with Asheville, in a meeting with Asheville City Council and Rep. Susan Fisher at the Asheville Civic Center Sept. 18th. excerpt 1 here (6 min.: Susan Fisher, then Chuck McGrady, then Terry Bellamy, then Chuck again)  excerpt 2 here (1 min.: Chuck).  entire 1:05:00 recording here.  Asheville City Clerk minutes here.  Thanks to Maggie Burleson for audio, minutes.

NC Policy Watch picks up story about possible threat against City of Asheville.

Food and Water Watch publishes extremely timely report: Private Equity, Public Inequity: the public cost of private equity takeovers of US water infrastructure.

BlueNC asks: "Are Pope and ALEC Behind Asheville's Water Struggle?" 

AshevillePARC conducted a telephone poll of likely Asheville voters. 82% said they were opposed to the State-forced transfer of Asheville's water system to MSD. See the results & methodology here.

Wow. Is this a threat from Rep. Tim Moffitt to the very existence of the City of Asheville?:  

"Thus, if the General Assembly wants to create a city, county, or other local governmental unit, it is free to do so. If it wishes to abolish a local government, or to merge it with another, or to impose particular obligations on it, it has almost unlimited power to do as it chooses... local governments exist by legislative benevolence, not by constitutional mandate."(emphasis mine)

Pulled from a post entitled "How Local Government Works", which appeared very recently on Rep. Moffitt's website, (somewhat incongruously) at the top of a list of his legislative accomplishments. It appeared the same day that the City Council of Asheville met to vote on a referendum on the water issue, which could be embarrassing to Rep. Moffitt ahead of the election.

Asheville City Council unanimously approves placing this referendum on the November ballot for City voters:  “Shall the City of Asheville undertake the sale or lease of its water treatment system and water distribution system?"

August 14th. Asheville City Council will vote on approving language for a November referendum on the water seizure. Documents.

July 30th. Asheville City Council announces intention to place a non-binding referendum on the water seizure before the voters on the November ballot.

July 27th. Governor Perdue announces that she will not veto H1009, rather let it become law without her signature.

Send your email to the Governor asking her to veto H1009 today: governor.office@nc.gov

July 24th. Asheville City Council unanimously requests that Governor Perdue veto H1009.

July 20th. Governor Perdue is holding H1009 until after Asheville City Council meets to discuss asking her for a veto, on Tuesday the 24th. She has four days afterwards to decide.

July 18th. MSD Board meets to endorse the selection of Malcolm-Pirnie/Arcadis to conduct the three month, $197,000 study on 'absorbing' Asheville's water system. Their winning proposal began with a "Project Understanding" Here's an excerpt:
"The evaluation of the potential merger of water systems in the region has been under discussion for many years. The recent dramatic increases in water rates to commercial customers of the Asheville Water System have prompted the North Carolina Legislative Research Committee to develop legislation that paves the way for the consolidation of services. The approval of legislation to allow the merger of MSD and the Asheville Water system and potentially other water systems will be brought before the North Carolina House of Representatives in January 2013."

This section might as well have been written by Tim Moffitt himself.

July 18th. NC Governor Perdue still has not signed H1009 into law. Only 10 bills still sit on her desk - she is apparently considering a veto. My letter:

Governor Perdue

I am writing to request that you veto House Bill 1009, entitled "MSD Amendments". Along with the portion that expands the Metropolitan Sewerage District (MSD) from Buncombe County into northern Henderson County, it also lays the groundwork for the forced transfer of the water system currently operated by the City of Asheville.

H1009 emerged from a Study Committee chaired by Rep. Tim Moffitt. His earlier 2011 legislative attempt to simply seize Asheville's water system proved too controversial, so he changed it to a Study Bill. The fact that the 6 month 'study' process yielded the exact same conclusion as his earlier bill surprised no one. The surprise came in the bill H1009, which doesn't outright seize the water system, but empowers MSD to operate it once that seizure takes place, supposedly in January. Many see this for what it is - an attempt to blackmail the City into "voluntarily" surrendering their municipal assets, letting Tim Moffitt & others off from the political cost of an unpopular forced seizure.

Currently, MSD is conducting an impact study on absorbing Asheville's water system. What has emerged since the Study Committee wrapped up in May, is that contrary to any public discussion, they are also looking at 'absorbing' water systems throughout both Buncombe and Henderson Counties. The City of Hendersonville wants nothing to do with a regional water/sewer system, and said so during the Study Committee hearings, but the tide seems to be sweeping them into it against their wishes, along with Asheville.

Vetoing this camouflaged act of legislative blackmail against the cities of WNC, will reset the issue to a reasonable discussion between equals over the wisdom of a regional approach, and the proper way for that to go forward. A veto will not disrupt the current deal between MSD and northern Henderson County for treating their wastewater, it will simply delay their inclusion on the MSD Board.

Most of our local delegation voted against H1009, and the votes in both the House and Senate demonstrated that it was unpopular among Democrats for it's roughshod approach to local municipal issues. The NC League of Municipalities has spoken against the bill as well.

Thank you for considering this veto, and for more info on the local activist point of view, should you want it, visit my website:

Save Asheville's Water

Barry Summers
Asheville NC

June 27th. The NC Senate passes H1009 by a vote of 31 - 14, and sends it to the Governor.

June 19th. The Senate refers H1009 to the State and Local Government Committee. Given the number of bills sitting in this committee for over a year, the late date of short session, and Senate leaderships pledge that the time for any new non-budget bills to be considered has passed, it's possible H1009 was sent here to die. We'll keep an eye out.

June 18th. The House passes a revised H1009 by a vote of 74 - 39, and sends it to the Senate. Representative Susan Fisher of Asheville spoke in opposition, saying that the bill was not arrived at with input from all local parties, and so she would not vote for it. Whether because of that, or because the Dem. caucus is not a fan of Rep. Tim Moffitt, all but 12 Democrats voted against the bill.

June 14th. The Govt. Committee passes a revised H1009, and sends it to the full House. But not before this exchange between Rep. Patsy Keever and bill 'runner' Rep Chuck McGrady:
Patsy: "Is Hendersonville included in this? Are they likely to be part of whatever is happening?"
Chuck: "Hendersonville would not like to be included within a larger metropolitan water/sewer district."

Patsy: "So if we're looking at some kind of regional MSD, we're just talking Henderson County not Hendersonville, but Asheville and Buncombe, is that correct?"

Chuck: "If you were looking at simply a sewer district, you're right... If we're talking a water/sewer district, potentially, Hendersonville could be part of a water/sewer district where the two water systems join."

That's right - after repeatedly suggesting that Hendersonville water/sewer would be left alone, it now appears they "could" be dragged into a shotgun regional authority with Asheville. The confusion this would cause in the MSD Board apportioning formula alone is cause for serious concern. As if having your water system seized by the State weren't bad enough, Asheville could find it's voting seats on the new water/sewer authority go from three to one overnight.

The revised bill could come before the full House on Monday, June 18th, but it's future in the Senate is completely uncertain. 

The NC House Government Committee was due to take up H1009, the bill giving seats on the MSD Board to Henderson County, on June 7th, but it was pulled at the last minute. Various theories as to why, but it is possible it will come up again June 14.

Legislative Research Commission, the NCGA body which authorized Tim Moffitt's 'Study Committee', passed it's recommendations and legislation on to the General Assembly, May 16th.
There was very little discussion, except for Buncombe Sen. Martin Nesbitt, who spoke firmly against the precedent of the State seizing municipal assets, as this report recommends. A bill aimed at expanding the Metropolitan Sewerage District's Board to accommodate 2 seats for Henderson County, and empowering it to eventually take over & operate Asheville's water system, is expected to be filed & voted on in the coming weeks. Any actual transfer of the system is up in the air until after the November elections. Check back for more updates.

Time: 10 minutes 15 seconds (gavel-to-gavel). The Study Committee (minus the one Democrat, who was inexplicably AWOL) votes to adopt the Draft Report & send it on to the Legislative Research Commission. Check back for more updates... 

NC League of Municipalities letter to the Study Committee
"The North Carolina League of Municipalities and the cities that it represents, oppose all efforts by the North Carolina General Assembly to force any given city to transfer existing assets of the city to another entity, or to restrict or eliminate the ability of a city to operate a municipal enterprise in ways which locally elected officials determine will benefit city taxpayers and ratepayers to the greatest extent possible."

As Jim Nabors would say, "Surprise, surprise, surprise!" The six month 'study' process delivers exactly the same result as Rep. Moffitt's original bill of one year ago: a State-forced transfer of Asheville's water system to the MSD. It postpones legislation forcing the transfer until after the November elections, introducing a clear political element to the issue; immediately gives two MSD Board seats to Henderson County, and amends the MSD charter to allow it to take over Asheville's water system. The Study Committee could amend the Draft Report at the April 19th meeting in any way before adopting it; Legislative Research Commission could accept or amend recommendations in any way before sending legislation to the House in May.

Remarks by Elaine Lite, President of Mountain Voices Alliance; Tim Schaller, President of Asheville Brewers Alliance; Chris Pelly, Asheville City Council and MSD Board member; and David Gantt, Chairman of the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners. Video by Peter Brezny.

The "Hands off Buncombe's Water" press conference has been re-scheduled for April 13th, 10 am, in the Pack Place Boardroom. Check speakingforbuncombe.wordpress.com for more details.


Sourcewatch page on North Carolina State legislators with ALEC connections.

Speaker Thom Tillis awarded "2011 Legislator of the Year"  

"ALEC likes Tillis" article in Charlotte News & Observer

Model Legislation entitled "Establishing a Public-Private Partnership (P3) Authority Act" adopted.

Rep. Tim Moffitt participation on International Relations Task Force. 

Rep. Moffitt explains involvement in ALEC. 

Read more on the Privatization page

The final meeting of the Study Committee will be held on April 19th 2012.
At least one week before that date, the Study Committee will publish their draft legislative report. The public will have that week to give input to the committee, then they will meet & vote on the 19th. After that, their recommendations go the Legislative Research Commission, which will decide what, if any, legislation to introduce to the full House. This legislation would be eligible to come up in the current short session. Check back here for updates.

The third meeting of the Study Committee has been announced:
Wednesday, March 14th, 1:30 pm, rm. 643 Legislative Office Building, Raleigh 

Buncombe County Commission Chairman David Gantt's video statement supporting City of Asheville retaining control of it's water system

Rep. Moffitt acknowledges that his study committee process could lead to privatization of the Asheville water system. Watch the video here.

Mountain XPress coverage of the Feb. 23rd Study Committee hearing, at the WNC Ag Center.  

Feb. 22nd: Asheville Green Drinks will host an evening of activism related to the water issue. Plan to attend, and sign-up for carpooling to the Feb. 23rd hearing in Fletcher.

Watch the video from the Feb. 20th Mountain Voices Alliance forum here. Thanks to Davyne Dial and John Blackwell.

Feb, 23rd Study Committee hearing
The Metropolitan Sewerage/Water System Committee   is holding their second hearing, at the WNC Ag Center, Fletcher NC, in the Virginia C. Boone Mountain Heritage Building (directions here.)  The hearing will open for comment sign-up at 8:30. Arrive 30 minutes before your time block in order to sign up to speak. Each person will be given 3 minutes. Here is the schedule of who will be allowed to speak and when:

Feb. 20th Forum:
Mountain Voices Alliance has announced that a second forum on the water issue will take place at Jubilee! Community Center, 46 Wall Street, downtown Asheville, from 6:30 - 9 pm. Panelists will include:

Patsy Keever, N.C. Representative, Buncombe County.
David Gantt, Chairman, Buncombe County Commission (via video due to previous engagement).
Jan Davis, Asheville City Council member.
Joe Minicozzi, executive director, Asheville Downtown Association.
Katie Hicks, assistant director, Clean Water for North Carolina.
Susan Kask, Ph.D. economics, Warren Wilson College.
Barry Summers, activist, ashevillewater.blogspot.com.
Marc Hunt, Asheville City Council member.
Update - Rep. Tim Moffitt and Rep. Chuck McGrady will attend and participate in the discussion.

Current (Feb. 14th, 2012) drought status of SE United States

Feb. 13th Forum:
The League of Women Voters of Asheville-Buncombe County have announced that a forum on the water issue will take place at Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church, 789 Merrimon Ave. Asheville, from 6:30 - 9:00 pm. Panelists will include City Council member Esther Manheimer, study committee member Rep. Chuck McGrady, MSD Chairman Steve Aceto, and former Buncombe County Chair Gene Rainey.

A number of Ashevilleans have been following this issue since the beginning. If you have questions that aren't answered in the various pages of this site, use the comment box at the bottom - all comments are moderated, so let us know if this is a private inquiry & it will stay so. Otherwise, your question & our reply will be posted below.

The first hearing of the study committee looking at transferring control of Asheville's water system happened on Jan. 23rd.
  • Read the Carolina Public Press story here
  • Read the AC-T story here
  • Look at the presentation materials here
  • Look at the hearing agenda up to the time the City of Asheville delegation left for Raleigh on the morning of the 23rd here
  • Look at the hearing agenda when the City of Asheville delegation arrived in Raleigh four hours later here.
The most remarkable part of the hearing was the last-minute addition of attorney Bob Long as the final presenter, and the refusal of the Chairman to allow the City representatives to respond to Mr. Longs assertions. Pulling from court cases, budget documents and newspaper clippings reaching back to the 1940's, he made the case that essentially, the City of Asheville has never actually owned the water system. In his view, the system is owned by the customers, not the City.
"It can not be said that anybody other than the users in general, have paid for that system."
It remains to be seen how this radical, some might say 'socialist' notion will figure into the Committees decision.

A legislative study committee, made up of five House Legislators, has been authorized by the General Assembly in Raleigh to 'study' whether or not to seize Asheville's water system. It is Chaired by Representative Tim Moffitt(R-116), who in May 2011 initially proposed simply requiring the City to turn over it's water supply to the Metropolitan Sewerage District (MSD), the Buncombe County-wide authority that handles collection and treatment of wastewater. He did not consult with the City or the MSD beforehand. In fact, several officials from the City had traveled to Raleigh specifically to ask Rep. Moffitt about pending legislation that might affect the City a mere two days before it was introduced. But in the words of one Council member, "...it's strange to not even mention that there's going to be a bill to seize a water system that the city has operated for the last 100 years." After several weeks of local controversy, Rep. Moffitt changed the bill to a 'study bill', and it passed the House, which essentially delayed the issue for a year.

Since initiating the process of a 'study committee', Rep. Moffitt has said that the three options they are studying are:  
  • a) do nothing - allow Asheville to continue operating its own water system,  
  • b) force the City to turn it over to the Buncombe County-dominated MSD, as per his original bill, or  
  • c) force the City to turn it over to a separate authority, most likely a regional system (Buncombe/Henderson) favored by Henderson County Representative Chuck McGrady, another member of the study committee.

UPDATE (Jan. 4, 2012):
I've been contacted by Rep. Moffitt, and he asked that I post a correction to this passage, and I don't have much reason to believe that it isn't true. He says that the intial bill, that he proposed in May 2011, was done as a 'placeholder', meaning that as the time for introducing bills draws short, Representatives will sometimes introduce bills that hold a place on the docket for a particular issue, but they don't accurately represent what will be in the final bill. Apparently, this is a common practice to introduce these bills, and then substantially amend them later. Rep. Moffitt says that this is how the bill started out one way, and wound up as the 'study bill' that got passed (this was touched on in the May 27th XPress article below).

As for the lack of notification to the City officials who visited his office shortly before he introduced the bill, he says that he didn't give them a heads up because he hadn't completely decided what he was going to do at that point.

NEW   To see a map overlay of the Asheville water system and the Metropolitan Sewer District, and the communities they currently serve, click here.

Excellent history of Asheville's water system from the 1800s to 2005, by John S. Stevens
"Before 1884 residents of the small town of Asheville obtained water from springs and wells. Water for drinking, cooking and cleaning was hand carried from springs and wells to homes, businesses, hotels and restaurants. One did not turn on a faucet in one's hotel room; water to drink and to bath in was toted up to hotel rooms from barrels...
"Throughout the decades following World War II there was continued growth and  development in both city and county and continued expansion of the city's water system. New lines were constructed in the county, many outside of the old eleven districts. These county lines were built both by the developers who conveyed their completed lines to the county and by the county itself....
"The city's historical role in Buncombe County has been one of risk taking, of daring to change, of being modern and of committing itself to undertaking large things. There is no better  monument to the different historical philosophies between city and county than the magnificent city hall and the staid, drab courthouse that sits beside it. The city's gamble in this lawsuit, its willingness to stake much on a favorable outcome is rooted in that historical cultural difference between city and county."

Comprehensive XPress report on the eve of the 2005 water agreement breakdown, by Johnathan Barnard: "Water Torture"
"In the 1955, the city challenged the law's constitutionality by passing an ordinance charging outside residents more for water. But county residents connected to those old water-district mains -- and the county itself in its role as trustee -- sued. In "Candler v. City of Asheville," Buncombe County Superior Court Judge J. Campbell ruled in Asheville's favor, but the state Supreme Court overturned the decision on appeal..."

2005 Buncombe County Commission Chairman Nathan Ramsey's "The Whole Story on the Water Agreement Controversy"
"With the termination of this agreement there are many uncertainties that potentially will be determined by the courts unless the parties can reach a negotiated settlement."

Report on the failed mediation following the 2005 breakdown of the Asheville/Buncombe water agreement
"The most difficult external barrier to a negotiated outcome came from the local legislative delegation. The existence of the proposed bills, Sullivan II and III, during the mediation profoundly changed the dynamics of the negotiations. The key issues of growth control and differential pricing suddenly became non-negotiable. This change in negotiation dynamics leads directly to the third hypothesis, that there was no viable bargaining range between the two parties."
Translation: In 2005, the County sabotaged any chance of a negotiated agreement on the water issue by holding the Sullivan Acts over the City's head. That's the opinion of the outside professional mediators with 'no dog in the fight'.

Asheville children and Buncombe County children fighting over the first glass of tapwater, circa 1887. Not really. 

Asheville Downtown Association draft statement on the water issue

"...the 25 year Water Authority experiment was a financial failure for the Citizens of Asheville." 


WNCW Our Southern Community , Ned Ryan Doyle interview with Katie Hicks and Barry Summers, Feb. 19th part 1, part 2 


WWNC Pete Kaliner interview with Barry Summers, Feb. 21st


Local Edge Radio interview with MVA forum panelist Barry Summers, Feb. 17th

Rep. Moffitt promises to submit bill which would bar privatization of Asheville's water.

Of course, like all things: trust, but verify. Truth is, without knowing what any actual bill actually says, or how likely it is to get passed, or not get challenged in court, or not get repealed by the next General Assembly, etc. etc., this is no more reassuring than earlier assurances that privatization is not on the menu for Asheville's water system. Wait, that should probably be the other way 'round...


Asheville Citizen-Times announces MVA forum for Feb. 20th


AC-T article on LWV forum. Includes excellent video of Sen. Martin Nesbitt schooling Rep. Chuck McGrady about the pitfalls of taking people's water away from them...



The worth of water

by Cecil Bothwell

Ben Franklin famously noted, "When the well's dry, we know the worth of water." It would be equally true to state that in the midst of a catastrophic flood, we know water's cost. Most of the time, of course, we live our lives between those two extremes, needing sufficient water to comfortably live our lives and figuring out how to deal with a damp basement.
Clean, potable water is something we pretty much take for granted in modern America, and we are often disgruntled when a mishap interferes with its regular delivery. A dry well, a burned out pump, street repairs or a burst pipe may inconvenience us for hours or days, and cost more than we prefer to pay for a necessary staple of life.
Viewed globally, Asheville is more and more an exception rather than the rule in regard to water. We have entered a period of world-wide, permanent, de facto drought. This drought is partly due to climate change, but principally due to population growth. There are 7 billion thirsty people out there, and not enough clean, fresh water to go around. Water is about to become a bigger political issue than oil, for the obvious reason that we can live without the latter when push comes to shove.
Water is essential to life.
The first modern war fought over water was the 1967 invasion by Israel which resulted in that country's control of both banks of the Jordan River. More recently, China invaded Tibet to take control of the Himalayan headwaters of the Yellow River, and conflict over water is surely destined to ratchet up in coming decades.
Around the globe major corporations, particularly Coca-Cola and Veolia, are working to privatize water systems and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a Republican lobbying and think tank group, has made privatization of public water one of its specific goals. ALEC provides model legislation to GOP state legislators across the country, who then push for local implementation.
Here in Asheville, Representative Tim Moffit has been moving forward with ALEC's agenda, and last spring introduced a bill in the N.C. General Assembly that would have wrested control of Asheville's water system from the City and placed it in the hands of an independent authority. Due to public outcry, Moffitt modified his bill into a "study," under which he has now convened a committee to examine the operation of our water system and determine whether it should be taken from citizen control. He has assured the City that it would be compensated, somehow, if that should occur.
Any step away from the current accountability of the Water Department to the citizens and customers would be a step closer to privatization, and it is at least ominous that Moffitt also chairs a committee which has been explicitly discussing privatization of government functions, including water. It is my view that Asheville's citizens should be on high alert, letting Moffitt and other Republican legislators know that we will fight to retain control of our precious resource.
No amount of money will compensate us for loss of our water system to private control. When the water is piped over the mountains to higher bidders in the Piedmont, to South Carolina or to Atlanta, it will no longer be a source for our future economic growth.
Asheville, which today has one of the most reliable and pure water sources in the world, could be left high and dry and terribly, terribly thirsty. 

Cecil Bothwell is an Asheville City Councilmember, and candidate for NC's 11th Congressional District


"Rep. Tim Moffitt and others should be ashamed for their pretense of “studying” this issue. Their effort is more like casing a bank to see how to rob it and not get caught. Asheville’s citizens need a splash of cold water and a look at their tax bill to get serious about fighting back. The successful legislative theft of Asheville’s water assets will permanently poison our region."

Former Asheville City Council member Carl Mumpower

AC-T Commentary, Feb. 3, 2012 


North Fork Reservoir, photographed by Asheville City Council member Cecil Bothwell.



Asheville needs to protect its source of water

For a century, the citizens of Asheville have endured many trials and tribulations over their water system. But the newest threat comes veiled with an innocent-sounding name, the “Metropolitan Sewerage/Water System Committee.” It was formed in Raleigh by Rep. Tim Moffitt last spring to consider forcing Asheville to relinquish control of a treasured resource: our pristine water supply. Two of the three options they are contemplating give control of our water to an unelected board dominated by outlying communities. To some, this might sound reasonable — but we all know the devil is in the details, and they are scarce. How will city taxpayers be compensated for the improvements? Asheville has been an exceptional steward of the water system for 100 years, so why this and why now? Will shifting control encourage sprawl? Who will citizens hold accountable for poor decisions that are made when it comes to this precious resource? The authority will not be elected, merely appointed. Have we not learned the hard lesson of accountability and appointed boards? Conclusion: Asheville needs to maintain control of its water.
Elaine Lite, Asheville

AC-T letter, Dec. 28, 2011

Private business?
Committee maneuvers could threaten Asheville’s water system
by Barry Summers and Katie Hicks

Is there an unstated agenda in Raleigh to privatize Asheville’s water system? Recent developments give reason for real concern.

Last May, freshman Rep. Tim Moffitt of Asheville stunned many of his newly acquired constituents by abruptly introducing a bill in Raleigh stripping the city of its water system and handing it over to the non-elected, county-dominated Metropolitan Sewerage District. After three weeks of controversy, Moffitt changed the legislation to a study bill, sending the issue to a small committee of state representatives who would then consider whether to: do nothing, pursue Moffitt's original plan or come up with some other alternative. At this writing, the committee’s makeup has been announced, the first hearings have been scheduled, other processes have been set in motion — and we should be more concerned than ever about the implications for Asheville's water system.

In August, the American Legislative Exchange Council held its annual conference in New Orleans. The group, whose members are state legislators and industry reps, is a clearing-house for legislation promoting a conservative, free-market agenda. Powerful business interests write model bills which member legislators then introduce in their respective assemblies.

The New Orleans conference featured panel discussions on privatizing public infrastructure — including water utilities. Lobbyists for private water companies were invited to speak, but the public and the press were barred at the door. Every member of the soon-to-be-formed Metropolitan Sewerage/Water System Committee was there, including Moffitt, the committee’s chair.

Since then — and despite his claims that he’s never considered privatizing Asheville's water system — Moffitt has also become co-chair of the Legislature’s Select Committee on Public-Private Partnerships. PPP, as it's sometimes called, is a relatively new term that covers a range of private involvement, including outright ownership and management of formerly publicly owned infrastructure: in other words, privatization. The committee’s first hearing, held Dec. 12 in Raleigh, included a briefing on the various ways N.C. municipalities could privatize their water systems.

A majority of Moffitt’s water committee members — the very group that could determine the future of Asheville's drinking water — are also on his PPP committee, raising further questions about the real agenda behind the “study bill.”

Why is the prospect of privatizing water such a grave concern? Simply put, private companies are ultimately accountable to their shareholders, not their customers — a frightening dynamic when we’re talking about things like access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation. A growing number of North Carolinians already feel the social and economic impacts of privatization, as companies like Aqua NC buy water systems across the state — often small, troubled ones in desperate need of infrastructure improvements. These companies generally charge much higher rates than public utilities while offering poor and inaccessible customer service.

And in many cases, infrastructure and water quality stay the same or get worse. Residents of the Country Valley Mobile Home Park near Hickory, for example, pay more than $100 a month for water and sewer service even though they can’t drink the water: Metals and toxic organic compounds have been detected in their community well.
So far, no N.C. municipalities have privatized their water systems, but horror stories abound from big cities in other states. Prominent examples include Atlanta, where the city wound up taking back its water system after United Water Services failed to live up to its contractual agreements, and Fairbanks, Alaska, where rate hikes and sewage backups followed privatization.

Nationwide, municipal and regional systems have seen many of the same downsides experienced by rural private water customers in N.C.: high rates, poor service and lack of accountability to customers. And that’s in addition to the irreversible loss of a public asset to private hands.

The deepening drought across the Southeast only increases the attraction of these systems for companies based outside our region that have no ties to the community except a desire to turn a profit — whether it's by selling water to other cities, to bottled-water plants or, worst case, to the impending N.C. fracking industry.

Given our local water system’s long, sometimes contentious history, it's no surprise that some want to shift control away from the city of Asheville. But what if those who will determine the system's future aren’t really interested in redressing past grievances or distributing resources more fairly but simply in taking this vital resource away from Asheville's elected officials and making it vulnerable to future privatization?

BTW, don't expect Moffitt's water committee to ever use the word “privatization” within hearing of those city and county residents who’ll be profoundly affected by these legislators’ decision. If that word ever surfaces, it will likely be when Moffitt is wearing his other hat — in a room full of lobbyists.

We urge you to contact your state representative and tell them you want Asheville to retain control of its drinking water.

Barry Summers is a local public-interest activist. Katie Hicks is assistant director of Clean Water for North Carolina (www.cwfnc.org).

Mountain XPress commentary, Jan 4th 2012

Worried about future of Asheville's water system

Water is not a partisan issue. After reading mostly partisan comments regarding Elaine Lite’s recent letter about where Asheville’s water system could end up, I would say if both conservatives and liberals alike are not united to keep our water system in Asheville, then we are not looking after our own interests for the future.
A study committee for this issue makes sense, but when the chairman, Rep Tim Moffitt, and the majority of this same study group were all at a American Legislative Exchange Council conference that included a focus on privatizing infrastructure, including water utilities, then we wonder what their real plans are for our water.
It is urgent for City Council members and county commissioners to put aside local politics and work together to find our own solution for Asheville’s most valuable resource, our water.
Join a diverse and concerned group of citizens to attend the first committee meeting to be held in Raleigh on Jan. 23, at 2 p.m. in the Legislative Office Building, Room 544.
This is a time that our elected representatives need to hear from us.
Find out the facts and history at www.ashevillewater.blogspot.com, then write or call our public officials and express your concerns at the February meeting in Asheville.
Valerie Hoh, Asheville


  1. Some things I think are worth emphasizing in the water system discussion:

    Growth Pattern – Sprawl development, and its consumption/fragmentation of farmland and open space, is driven by extension of infrastructure (especially water) to undeveloped areas. It is important that smart growth planning for land use and infrastructure be integrated. The more divorced the water system is from local government, the greater the threat of sprawl. I view sprawl and its associated problems as the greatest environmental threat we face in the region. This decision is one of the greatest decisions we will face for many years when it comes to influencing our growth pattern. And if a new owner were to prioritize extending infrastructure more rurally, existing ratepayers could well see increased rates to subsidize the cost of long lines to relatively fewer customers. This is a concern of regional importance.

    Asheville Taxpayer Equity – Asheville taxpayers have a net investment of many millions of dollars in the water system (and that number should now be quantified as accurately as possible). Asheville taxpayers continue to inequitably subsidize significant infrastructure and services enjoyed by regional neighbors. To be unilaterally stripped of the water system investment would be wholly unfair, especially in the face of the other fiscal inequities. Asheville is the economic centerpiece of the region, and what is fiscally bad for Asheville is bad for the region. It is incumbent on our leaders at different levels of govt(including me) to work together toward shared positive outcomes. This is a concern of regional importance.

    Environmental Integrity of the Watershed – The watersheds of Bee Tree and North Fork comprise 22,000-acres of pristine forest that has not been logged since at least the 20’s. Except for the reservoirs and system infrastructure that comprise a tiny portion, the area qualifies as pristine wilderness, much more intact than most areas in our national forests. Despite the modest provisions of a conservation easement that went in place in the 90’s, a future owner might be financially incentivized to log and make other allowable improvements that would degrade that very special environmental character and the water quality we enjoy. Asheville has been an excellent environmental steward of the resource, and our community should be concerned about how any future owner might treat it. This is a concern of regional importance.

    Marc Hunt
    Asheville City Council
  2. I echo Marc's sentiments, and I hope that this discussion leads us to (1) a recognition of the outstanding stewardship demonstrated by the City of Asheville in regards to this most precious resource; (2) a renewed focus on preserving our watershed and further improving our service.
  3. Obviously, the water issue is one that should/might come down to a ballot issue. How the issue is phrased could be disaster for Asheville citizens. With that in mind, what can we do to ensure that the ballot is presented to the constituents in a non-partisan manner and that it presents the fairness of the whole matter?
  4. Whether you or I think this should be a ballot issue is irrelevant. Rep. Moffitt, with the backing of the House leadership, is moving on this unilaterally. And given the way he rammed through the County Commission election issue, I'd be surprised if he showed any willingness to put this issue before the voters.