peat o’neil

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Who owns your water?

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Water privatization hasn’t been explored much in the general consumer media in the US, although there are articles in the scientific and water industry press.  Water privatization generally refers to private contract operations of water systems owned by public utilities, however a few municipal water systems are moving to private ownership, usually when a corporation can provide economic incentives to a community that can be used for other expenses such as schools, parks, etc. in exchange for managing/partially owning a water system.

A cursory glance at the topic on the internet reveals that water privatization is a fundamental issue for the anti-government fringe by whatever fanciful name is currently in vogue — Tea Party, Tory Party, Whigs, Tipacanoe and Tyler Too?  The No Nothing Party has the right name.

U.S. water privatization is on the waste water side, especially municipal waste water systems.

One outstanding example of a private water system is in Auburn, Alabama.  Set up in the early 1980’s before changes to the tax law in 1986 killed private initiative investments, Auburn’s water system has been studied by universities, used as a model of successful privatization of public works.  Indianapolis, Indiana  is another waste water system operated on a contract basis, with private investment.  U.S. municipalities embracing privitization include Syracuse, N.Y. , Georgetown, Kentucky, Coral Gables, Fl. and Santa Margarita, Calif.

Currently,  U.S. municipalities are underfunded for infrastructure (including water systems) maintenance,  investment and repairs so they are encouraging private investment to fill the breach.  Multinationals  — particularly French and British water companies — are aggressively looking for water utilities to manage on a contract basis with a view to partial or full ownership in the future.

It would be useful for people in the U.S. to know who owns their local waste water operations and water supply systems.  There may be public-private arrangements where a local government council sets regulations, but who picks up the profit on your flush? Entrepreneurial operators are making an impact as their contract operations managers save money through economies of scale and engineer water plants to work more efficiently.

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Written by patwa

01/04/2013 at 6:30 pm

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