Ratepayers vs. Big Water: This Is the World Series for Chester Water Authority

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WEST CHESTER, PA — While Phillies frenzy is everywhere in Pennsylvania, Chester Water Authority (CWA) has entered into their own World Series, and in this series, it’s CWA Ratepayers versus Big Water. 

CWA Ratepayers had their first major win this morning at the Chester County Commissioners meeting. Thursday at approximately 10 AM, the Chester County Commissioners Marian D. Moskowitz, Josh Maxwell, and Michelle H. Kichline reappointed pro-CWA Board Members, Leonard J. Rivera and Noel Brandon. A vacancy on the board that was created by the passing of Paul Andriole was filled by the commissioners appointing Erik Walschburger, who is pro-public water.

“I am honored to continue to serve on the CWA board and fight for the ratepayers and affordable, award-winning CWA water. I am thankful to the Chester County Commissioners for listening to the needs of our ratepayers and doing all they can to save CWA,” says Leonard Rivera, re-appointed CWA Board Member representing Chester County. 

Under the new leadership in 2020 of Chairperson Commissioner Moskowitz, and with the election of Commissioner Maxwell, the Chester County Commissioners have stood shoulder to shoulder with CWA; the County is an active litigant in the PA Supreme Court fight to save CWA. That case is set for oral arguments on November 30 at 9 AM. 

For those of us keeping score, that means CWA Ratepayers one and Big Water zero. However, there are more games in this series. It’s important to note that the terms of the entire nine-member board of CWA expire in November 2022. The current CWA board has bravely fought for award-winning, affordable public water since Aqua’s hostile takeover attempt in 2017. While new appointments are an option, they are not an obligation. Board members are legally eligible to continue serving until their terms are up and a successor is named. 

“I have been in this fight since 2017, along with my Delaware County board members. It would be an honor to continue to fight to see CWA finally saved for the ratepayers and the public,” notes Cynthia F. Leitzell, current CWA Board Chair. “Water is a right, not a privilege. Water is granted to PA residents in our state constitution. We must never take our right to water for granted.” 

After the Bucks County Commissioners halted a one billion dollar deal with Aqua, citing that it was not in the best interest of their ratepayers, Essential Utilities CEO, Chris Franklin noted that future changes in county leadership could lead to reconsideration of a sale. Is this Aqua’s new takeover strategy?  If you can’t change the decision, change the decision makers.

The big question is will CWA ratepayers be triumphant in Delaware County and the City of Chester with their CWA board appointments? Will Delaware County Council and Chester City Council also appoint pro-CWA board members? Big Water hopes not. In an earnings call to Essential shareholders earlier this year, Chris Franklin stated, “The political winds have shifted in Delaware County, and the surrounding counties, since the last set of board members were appointed at the Chester Water Authority. So they all serve five-year terms. They’re all up this year. And so we’ll probably see a short-term shift in leadership of that water authority. Whether that changes people’s minds on their stature of independence and everything remains to be seen.”

Big Water’s business model is to continually gobble up public municipal water authorities, raise the rates on all existing customers to pay for it, and then keep those rates high in perpetuity, all under the supervision of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC), whose most recent appointees include Stephen DeFrank, a Big Water and Big Utility lobbyist—it seems the fox is truly watching the hen house. The PUC continually allows outrageous Big Water rate hikes to the detriment of the ratepayer, the public who they are appointed to serve. 

The CWA fight continues and now Delaware County and Chester City ratepayers must take the field in this series. Can Delco and Chester City ratepayers apply enough pressure on the Delaware County Council and Chester City Council to appoint pro-CWA board members? Can the CWA ratepayers as a whole convince PA State Legislators to finally pass a bill that will amend Act 12 and save CWA? Or will it be the PA Supreme Court who will afford CWA a striking victory?  The stakes are high for CWA, its ratepayers, and the public. The cost is too dear to sit on the bench; everyone must take a turn at bat. 

Learn more at savecwa.org.

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