Commonification of Water Services

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Tommaso Fattori:

"Commonification of water services: an example of self-regulation from below. A typical problem of traditional commons – limiting the consumption of natural resources, to ensure their preservation, through consensual rules defined by the users - is also an issue for those services which regulate use and supply of a natural commons. What is meant by autonomy and capacity to self-regulate of citizen-commoners, beyond the heteronomy and monetary reasoning typical of the services run by the old public bodies and by bodies subject to private law? The citizens’ bills drawn up and presented by hundreds of thousands of Italian citizens supporting water as a commons are, if one thinks about it, in themselves a form of commoning: they are the collective and bottom-up drafting of rules for the management of a fundamental service and resource. In the bills written by the citizens we can identify several linked elements which can conjugate together the protection of the human right to water and protection of the resource and the ecosystem for future generations: universal access and non-excludability of anyone from the resource (which translates into an essential quantity or guaranteed minimum daily amount guaranteed to everyone); a form of “rationing” through a progressive tariff mechanism (through the definition of increasing prices for each band of consumption, which punishes over-consumption and takes into consideration the income and the number of people in the family nucleus); an overall mechanism for planning and monitoring which ensures a balance between amount consumed and natural capacity for reconstitution of the water heritage. Proposals from below often affirm also the need to establish caps and limits beyond which consumption is forbidden and not allowed, inasmuch as it is unsustainable for the resource (for example, in times of drought, the need to fill a private swimming pool is a waste which cannot be bought by paying an extra tariff).1 Over recent years, then, citizens have proposed much fairer forms of regulating  and paying for services than those adopted not only by private management but also by very many public managers, where the citizens are not those who define the rules and where, consequently, the right to water (the minimum daily quantity for everyone) is never guaranteed and where, moreover, profit is accumulated from the billing system, thanks also to tariffs which do not particularly penalize over-consumption, because all consumption is a source of income for them. This same contradiction between reasoning in terms of commons and in terms of maximizing profits also occurs with energy consumption: private companies, in this case too, have no interest in reducing consumption because that would reduce their business, whereas their primary objective is to maximize profits. Access to rival natural resources such as water – mediated by the water service – remains limited access but, if the services are commonified, it has rules defined by users; whereas in a privatized system one has limited access, with rules defined by the owner, that is by who profits from the management or the use of the good and who excludes or includes consumers based on their capacity or otherwise to pay the price of the commodity." (draft manuscript may 2013)

Source info: Excerpts from a text prepared by Tommaso Fattori as part of the book-project "Protecting Future Generations Through Commons", organized by Directorate General of Social Cohesion of the Council of Europe in collaboration with the International University College of Turin. The text will be published soon in “Trends in Social Cohesion” Series, Council of Europe publications

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