A company runs through it

Missoula and Apple Valley, Calif., don't appear to have much in common. For starters, the Garden City is more than 1,100 miles from the San Bernardino County community situated on the edge of the Mojave Desert. But the two are connected, by water.

Park Water is a private company that operates municipal water systems in Apple Valley and Missoula. In December, the Carlyle Group, which holds $97.7 billion in assets globally, announced that through a subsidiary, Western Water, it intends to purchase Park Water.

The announcement triggered concern among government officials, policy experts, and grassroots groups in Apple Valley and Missoula. Worried about increasing water rates—Apple Valley pays some of the highest in California—officials there are asking regulators to nix the deal. "Western Water and the Carlyle Group aim at squeezing every possible revenue off of those who can least afford it," states a filing with the California Public Utilities Commission on behalf of Apple Valley.

Similarly, Missoula water users pay some of the steepest rates statewide—$44.30 per month. That contrasts with Billings, where the average water user pays $37 per month, and Helena, where water bills average $31. Missoula is the only major Montana city that doesn't own its water system.

Because Park Water is privately held and based out of California, the Montana Public Service Commission, charged with regulating public utilities, has indicated that it might leave oversight to California regulators. However, citizens and Missoula officials are asking the commission to step in. "We can't just not do anything," says local musician Hermina Harold, who is advocating against the sale to Carlyle through her fledgling group Missoula Water Now. "I think that people should be writing the PSC, ASAP."

Carlyle Spokesman Chris Ullman says the company, if allowed to purchase Missoula's municipal water supply, will continue serving locals as Park has for decades. He also points out that utility prices are regulated, meaning operators cannot simply spike costs willy-nilly. "We are committed to providing quality water service to the people of Missoula," he says.

The PSC has tentatively scheduled debate on whether to vet the deal for next Tuesday, May 10.

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