Felton FLOW, a citizens group in the small community of Felton in the Santa Cruz Mountains, was working to take ownership of its water system, owned by RWE, a $60 billion German multinational company. RWE’s American subsidiary, American Water, had a reputation for not selling water systems and for using misinformation, unethical tactics and “astroturf” groups to defeat takeover attempts mounted by several communities around the U.S.
Having researched American Water’s tactics used against other communities, we initiated a PR campaign educating residents on the benefits of local ownership, anticipated and immediately countered American Water’s misleading mailings and statements to the press, and reached out to Wall Street water industry analysts to brief them weekly on American Water’s nationwide failure to protect its customers water quality and showcase its unjustified rate hikes and customer dissatisfaction.
I secured coverage in local, state, national and international media outlets, including a Page One, Column One feature in the Wall Street Journal coinciding with RWE’s attempts to spin off American Water during a public offering, which was pulled, rescheduled and failed to meet expected share price projections. RWE and American Water eventually agreed to sell Felton’s water system to the community and the successful effort served as an inspiration to other communities around the United States to pursue acquisition of their privately-owned water system. Since then, I’ve serve as a pro-bono consultant to other communities exploring public acquisition. I was honored as a Newsmaker of the Year by the Santa Cruz Sentinel for my contribution to the effort.