A Trump presidency portends major change in the way natural resources are managed in America. But beyond the presidential vote, several local ballots engaged citizens in direct deliberation over the future of their water supply and sewerage systems.

In Bellflower (CA), for example, citizens voted to sell their water system to American Water for $17 million. In Westville (NJ) Aqua America’s proposal to purchase their water systems for $8.4 million was defeated.

The question of whether or not to privatise water supply and wastewater management systems has been debated and decided in towns, cities and countries around the world for decades. It’s a question that often prompts visceral reactions. What is always apparent is that the form of ownership guarantees little for water users in the absence of strong and consistent regulation, of both utility balance sheets and water quality at the tap.

In the US, the Water Resources Reform and Development Act, signed into law by President Obama in 2014, opens the door for more private investment in water supply, in a country where there are about 240,000 water mains failures every year.

But, at the local level, as Mildred Warner, Professor of city and regional planning at Cornell University explains, just as many private utilities are returning to public hands as public systems are being privatised. The total number of towns experimenting with privatisation (and sometimes retreating from that experiment) is on the rise.