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Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Research Council. 2002. Privatization of Water Services in the United States: An Assessment of Issues and Experience. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/10135.
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Privatization of Water Services in the United States

An Assessment of Issues and Experience

Committee on Privatization of Water Services in the United States

Water Science and Technology Board

Division on Life and Earth Studies

National Research Council

NATIONAL ACADEMY PRESS
Washington, D.C.

Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Research Council. 2002. Privatization of Water Services in the United States: An Assessment of Issues and Experience. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/10135.
×

NATIONAL ACADEMY PRESS
2101 Constitution Avenue, N.W. Washington, D.C. 20418

NOTICE: The project that is the subject of this report was approved by the governing board of the National Research Council, whose members are drawn from the councils of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine. The members of the committee responsible for the report were chosen for their special competences and with regard for appropriate balance.

Support for this project was provided by the American Water Works Company, Inc., California Water Service Company, Severn Trent Environmental Services, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under Contract No. X-82829401, and the University of California under Award No. SA6138.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Privatization of water services in the United States : an assessment of issues and experience / Committee on Privatization of Water Services in the United States Water Science and Technology Board Division on Life and Earth Studies.

p. cm.

ISBN 0-309-07444-4

1. Water utilities—United States. 2. Water-supply—Economic aspects—United States. 3. Sewage disposal—Economic aspects—United States. 4. Privatization—United States. I. National Research Council (U.S.). Committee on Privatization of Water Services in the United States.

HD4461 .P75 2002

363.6′1—dc21

2002008161

Privatization of Water Services in the United States: An Assessment of Issues and Experience is available from the
National Academy Press,
2101 Constitution Avenue, NW, Box 285, Washington, DC 20055 (1-800-624-6242 or 202-334-3313 in the Washington metropolitan area; Internet: http//www.nap.edu).

Copyright 2002 by the National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.

Printed in the United States of America.

Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Research Council. 2002. Privatization of Water Services in the United States: An Assessment of Issues and Experience. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/10135.
×

THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES

Advisers to the Nation on Science, Engineering, and Medicine

National Academy of Sciences

National Academy of Engineering

Institute of Medicine

National Research Council

The National Academy of Sciences is a private, nonprofit, self-perpetuating society of distinguished scholars engaged in scientific and engineering research, dedicated to the furtherance of science and technology and to their use for the general welfare. Upon the authority of the charter granted to it by the Congress in 1863, the Academy has a mandate that requires it to advise the federal government on scientific and technical matters. Dr. Bruce M. Alberts is president of the National Academy of Sciences.

The National Academy of Engineering was established in 1964, under the charter of the National Academy of Sciences, as a parallel organization of outstanding engineers. It is autonomous in its administration and in the selection of its members, sharing with the National Academy of Sciences the responsibility for advising the federal government. The National Academy of Engineering also sponsors engineering programs aimed at meeting national needs, encourages education and research, and recognizes the superior achievement of engineers. Dr. Wm. A. Wulf is president of the National Academy of Engineering.

The Institute of Medicine was established in 1970 by the National Academy of Sciences to secure the services of eminent members of appropriate professions in the examination of policy matters pertaining to the health of the public. The Institute acts under the responsibility given to the National Academy of Sciences by its congressional charter to be an adviser to the federal government and, upon its own initiative, to identify issues of medical care, research, and education. Dr. Kenneth I. Shine is president of the Institute of Medicine.

The National Research Council was organized by the National Academy of Sciences in 1916 to associate the broad community of science and technology with the Academy’s purposes of furthering knowledge and advising the federal government. Functioning in accordance with general policies determined by the Academy, the Council has become the principal operating agency of both the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering in providing services to the government, the public, and the scientific and engineering communities. The Council is administered jointly by both Academies and the Institute of Medicine. Dr. Bruce M. Alberts and Dr. Wm. A. Wulf are chair and vice-chair, respectively, of the National Research Council.

Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Research Council. 2002. Privatization of Water Services in the United States: An Assessment of Issues and Experience. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/10135.
×
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Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Research Council. 2002. Privatization of Water Services in the United States: An Assessment of Issues and Experience. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/10135.
×

COMMITTEE ON PRIVATIZATION OF WATER SERVICES IN THE UNITED STATES

CHARLES W. HOWE, Chair,

University of Colorado, Boulder

JEAN E. AUER,

American States Water Company, Hillsborough, California

JANICE A. BEECHER,

Beecher Policy Research, Inc., Indianapolis, Indiana

CHARLES A. BUESCHER, JR.,

Washington University, St. Louis, Missouri

LARRY CHERTOFF,

Water Industry Council, Brooklyn Heights, New York

JEROME B. GILBERT, J.

Gilbert, Inc., Orinda, California

RICHARD HOWITT,

University of California, Davis

DANIEL A. OKUN,

The University of North Carolina (Emeritus), Chapel Hill

DAVID E. RAGER,

Cincinnati Water Works, Cincinnati, Ohio

WILLIAM G. REINHARDT,

Public Works Financing, Westfield, New Jersey

WILLIAM N. STASIUK,

New York City Department of Environmental Protection, Kingston, New York

Staff

JEFFREY W. JACOBS, Study Director

ELLEN A. DE GUZMAN, Research Associate

Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Research Council. 2002. Privatization of Water Services in the United States: An Assessment of Issues and Experience. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/10135.
×

WATER SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY BOARD

RICHARD G. LUTHY, Chair,

Stanford University, Stanford, California

JOAN B. ROSE, Vice-Chair,

University of South Florida, St. Petersburg

RICHELLE M. ALLEN-KING,

Washington State University, Pullman

GREGORY B. BAECHER,

University of Maryland, College Park

KENNETH R. BRADBURY,

Wisconsin Geological and Natural History Survey, Madison

JAMES CROOK,

CH2M Hill, Boston, Massachusetts

EFI FOUFOULA-GEORGIOU,

University of Minnesota, Minneapolis

PETER GLEICK,

Pacific Institute, Oakland, California

JOHN LETEY, JR.,

University of California, Riverside

DIANE M. McKNIGHT,

University of Colorado, Boulder

CHRISTINE MOE,

Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia

ROBERT PERCIASEPE,

National Audubon Society, Washington, D.C.

RUTHERFORD H. PLATT,

University of Massachusetts, Amherst

JERALD L. SCHNOOR,

University of Iowa, Iowa City

LEONARD SHABMAN,

Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

R. RHODES TRUSSELL,

Montgomery Watson, Pasadena, California

Staff

STEPHEN D. PARKER, Director

LAURA J. EHLERS, Senior Staff Officer

JEFFREY W. JACOBS, Senior Staff Officer

WILLIAM S. LOGAN, Senior Staff Officer

MARK C. GIBSON, Staff Officer

M. JEANNE AQUILINO, Administrative Associate

PATRICIA A. JONES, Study/Research Associate

ELLEN A. DE GUZMAN, Research Associate

ANITA A. HALL, Administrative Assistant

ANIKE L. JOHNSON, Project Assistant

JON SANDERS, Project Assistant

Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Research Council. 2002. Privatization of Water Services in the United States: An Assessment of Issues and Experience. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/10135.
×

Preface

There has been widespread interest in “privatizing” various functions and activities in both the public and private sectors in the United States at least since the early 1980s. In the water services sector, privatization has taken many forms, from meter reading and accounting and billing, to operation and maintenance of core water supply and wastewater facilities, and in some instances the sale of system assets. Early water utilities in the United States were private companies, but urban growth eventually prompted many cities to develop publicly owned water systems. Since World War I, public ownership has been stimulated by various financial arrangements that reduce the cost of capital for public water systems.

Water utilities in the United States today often face a combination of financial, regulatory, and operational challenges. Much of the nation’s water supply, treatment, and distribution infrastructure was built one hundred or more years ago. Much of this infrastructure is today in need of repair or replacement, and population growth in many areas requires water infrastructure expansion. Decisions about allocating resources for water infrastructure replacement and expansion are made in a context of limited or shrinking city budgets, competing demands, and increasingly stringent water quality regulations. Expenditures to adequately maintain our essential, but unglamorous, water infrastructure system are thus often inadequate. As a result, there is a large backlog of deferred maintenance on the nation’s water infrastructure. Local officials are interested in options that promise to relieve these pressures.

Page viii Cite
Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Research Council. 2002. Privatization of Water Services in the United States: An Assessment of Issues and Experience. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/10135.
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Since the middle and late 1980s, new actors have entered the U.S. water utility scene in the form of large international firms that specialize in water utility management and ownership. These firms have been able to offer technical help to smaller systems, and lower costs and new capital supplies to larger systems. Proposals from these firms have often been politically attractive by virtue of promises to minimize price increases, expedite long-delayed maintenance, and provide capital for system expansion and meeting increasing water quality standards. An important consequence of this availability of private alternatives has been improved performance of many public water utilities.

This study springs from strategic planning sessions of the National Research Council’s Water Science and Technology Board (WSTB). During the late 1990s, the WSTB noted a growing interest in the prospects for water services privatization in the United States. The WSTB noted that some studies of water services privatization had been conducted, but that a comprehensive review that characterizes many NRC studies would be timely and useful. In an effort to provide an overview of the key issues in privatization—including fiscal, policy, management, regulatory, water quality, and environmental issues—the WSTB drafted a study proposal and shared it with several prospective sponsors. Given the various public-private relations that characterize U.S. water utility operations, it was fitting that a mix of public and private organizations stepped forth to provide funding for the study. The committee and the WSTB thank the following sponsors for their foresight and courage in granting the committee license to provide an independent review of the key issues: American Water Works Company, Inc., California Water Service Company, Severn Trent Environmental Services, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the University of California. The committee itself was comprised of a range of water service industry experts, public and private managers, water industry consultants, officials of water industry associations, government officials, journalists, and academics.

This committee’s report was nearing its conclusion when the tragedy of September 11, 2001 occurred. Those events may have changed the environment for decisions about privatization and appropriate public-private balance. Those events certainly raised security concerns about our water utilities, a topic not covered by the committee. Nonetheless, the report provides useful background information for both public and private officials in the water utility sector.

The report was reviewed in draft form by individuals chosen for their diverse perspectives and technical expertise in accordance with the procedures approved by the NRC’s Report Review Committee. The purpose of this independent review is to provide candid and critical comments that will assist the institution in making its published report as sound as pos-

Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Research Council. 2002. Privatization of Water Services in the United States: An Assessment of Issues and Experience. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/10135.
×

sible and to ensure that the report meets institutional standards for objectivity, evidence, and responsiveness to the study charge. The review comments and draft manuscript remain confidential to protect the integrity of the deliberative process. We wish to thank the following individuals for their review of this report: John Briscoe, The World Bank; Peter Gleick, Pacific Institute; Rebecca Parkin, George Washington University; Paul Seidenstat, Temple University; and Rhodes Trussell, Montgomery Watson, Inc.

Although the reviewers listed above have provided many constructive comments and suggestions, they were not asked to endorse the conclusions or recommendations, nor did they see the final draft of the report before its release. The review of this report was overseen by Patrick Adkins of the Alcoa Corporation. Appointed by the National Research Council, he was responsible for making certain that an independent examination of the report was carefully carried out in accordance with the institutional procedures and that all review comments were carefully considered. Responsibility for the final content of this report rests entirely with the authoring committee and the institution.

The committee wishes to thank the many experts who spoke to the committee during its early meetings and who provided logistic support, information, data, and insightful case studies. Finally but certainly not least, the committee thanks Dr. Jeffrey Jacobs of the Water Science and Technology Board staff for his tireless editing and unwavering insistence on clarity and balance throughout our extensive discussions and the writing process—all with good humor whatever the pressure from reviewers or the committee chair. Ms. Ellen De Guzman provided excellent arrangements for all our meetings and endless, highly competent assistance in formatting and editing the chapters and tables, figures and all. Ms. Rhonda Bitterli also provided excellent editorial advice.

Charles W. (Chuck) Howe

Chair

Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Research Council. 2002. Privatization of Water Services in the United States: An Assessment of Issues and Experience. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/10135.
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In the quest to reduce costs and improve the efficiency of water and wastewater services, many communities in the United States are exploring the potential advantages of privatization of those services. Unlike other utility services, local governments have generally assumed responsibility for providing water services. Privatization of such services can include the outright sale of system assets, or various forms of public-private partnerships—from the simple provision of supplies and services, to private design construction and operation of treatment plants and distribution systems. Many factors are contributing to the growing interest in the privatization of water services. Higher operating costs, more stringent federal water quality and waste effluent standards, greater customer demands for quality and reliability, and an aging water delivery and wastewater collection and treatment infrastructure are all challenging municipalities that may be short of funds or technical capabilities. For municipalities with limited capacities to meet these challenges, privatization can be a viable alternative.

Privatization of Water Services evaluates the fiscal and policy implications of privatization, scenarios in which privatization works best, and the efficiencies that may be gained by contracting with private water utilities.

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