By W. Spencer King and Molly Moore
A recent N.C. Court of Appeals decision has drawn attention to a years-long legal battle over ownership of the City of Asheville’s water system.
Legislation passed by the N.C. General Assembly in 2013 required the city to transfer its water system to the Metropolitan Sewerage District of Buncombe County. The transfer was delayed while the city sued to block the action. In June 2014, a trial court judge ruled in favor of the city.
The state appealed, and in October 2015, the N.C. Court of Appeals upheld the state law that requires the city to transfer its water system to the regional authority.
“The decision sets a precedent that local governments can have water systems and not necessarily own them,” says Katie Hicks of Clean Water North Carolina. “[It would] make it harder for local governments to invest in their water infrastructure because they’re concerned that at any time it could be taken away from them.”
In West Virginia, a movement to transfer ownership of West Virginia American Water Company to public hands continues. The privately owned company is requesting a 28 percent rate increase from the state’s Public Service Commission. Advocates for A Safe Water System, a grassroots organization formed in the wake of the MCHM chemical spill in January 2014 and is concerned that the company is not prioritizing water safety and reliability.
“What we’ve learned in the rate case emphasizes the need for a public water system,” Karan Ireland, Charleston city council member and steering committee member of Advocates for a Safe Water System, said in a press statement. “The water company says they won’t make the investments we need without higher profits. We need a public water system so that safe and reliable water can be the top priority.”