New group seeks to keep CH water public
Cleveland Heights Citizens for Safe, Affordable Water is a new organization that advocates public ownership and operation of the Cleveland Heights water system. The group formed in response to a move by the city to lease its ailing, century-old water system to a private utility.
On May 27, the City of Cleveland Heights tabled discussions with Aqua Ohio, a subsidiary of the $3.76-billion private utility Aqua America. The decision followed a May 26 public forum at which approximately 230 Cleveland Heights residents gathered to air objections to the proposed 20-year lease. For more than two hours, participants lined up at the microphone to address questions, comments and, in some cases, admonitions to Tanisha Briley, Cleveland Heights city manager, and Edmund Kolodziej, Aqua Ohio president and chief operating officer.
Cleveland Heights purchases water from the Cleveland Water Department, and resells it to residents and businesses. Out of 58 municipalities in Cuyahoga County, 54 receive water directly from the Cleveland Water Department. Cleveland Heights is one of only four “master meter” cities, which operate their own water departments.
Between 2013 and 2014, Cleveland’s water charges to Cleveland Heights rose by 25 percent, yet Cleveland Heights collects payment for only 40 percent of the water it buys. While some of the remaining 60 percent is lost to inaccurate meters, an outdated billing system, and unpaid consumer bills, most of it simply leaks into the ground. Cleveland Heights projects a water department deficit of $3.7 million for 2015.
In a report issued on Jan.12, the consulting firm Energy Systems Group (ESG) outlined options for repairing and updating the system, and for its future maintenance and management. The city could (1) borrow $20 million, (2) join the Cleveland Water Department, or (3) engage a private partner.
May 26 public forum participants urged the city to fully explore the first two options. No one from the community spoke in favor of a deal with Aqua Ohio.
Cleveland Heights Citizens for Safe, Affordable Water plans to monitor the city’s efforts, research and compile information, and provide community education and outreach. Information is available through the organization’s Facebook page, Cleveland Heights Citizens for Safe, Affordable Water (https://www.facebook.com/chsafeaffordablewater). To become involved, residents can message the group on Facebook, or contact Jim Miller, firstname.lastname@example.org or 216-321-9983.
The ESG report, Aqua Ohio Letter of Intent and other documents are available on the city’s website, www.clevelandheights.com. A video of the May 26 forum is at www.youtube.com/user/clevelandheightsoh/videos.
Deborah Van Kleef
Deborah Van Kleef is a musician and writer. She grew up in Cleveland Heights, and has lived here as an adult for 30 years.