In the News Doesn't Necessarily Mean In-The-Know

08/25/2010 05:17 pm 17:17:50 | Updated May 25, 2011

Anytime municipalities find themselves making a decision that will affect every citizen, it's always a challenge to choose what's best for all constituents today and into the future. That's true whether economic times are prosperous, or tough. Making sure an adequate amount of due diligence occurs every time hard choices are on the table is why voters put dependable, level-headed officials in office. It is their job to ensure the community does what's best, economically and ecologically, even if it is not always what's easiest or most popular.

Recently the Wall Street Journal has honed in on public private partnerships as a way for municipalities to financially gain from their existing infrastructure. The two articles (Facing Budget Gaps, Cities Sell Parking, Airports, Zoo, Aug. 23, 2010 and Cash Flows in Water Deals, Aug. 12, 2010) make some valid points about costs and benefits of this approach. The truth is, as the examples cited in the articles will show, one-size doesn't fit all because every community is different.

Where the coverage comes up short is through citation of unsubstantiated, alarmist statistics about alleged runaway costs associated with private water. As someone who has worked in water infrastructure financing and utility management policy for more than 20 years, in both the public and private sectors, I can assure you that there can be no accurate general statistic that could possibly sum up the potential cost differences between systems managed by a water company versus those run by a municipality.

When it comes to water infrastructure, many complex factors play a role in determining the rates consumers pay for their service, and while detractors don't like to admit it, these are the same whether your water is provided by your government or a private partner or both. These include the condition of the system, whether the utility is making necessary capital investments, for compliance, security and employee safety, ecological stresses for this particular water system and the quality and distance of the water source.

For nearly 200 years, water service companies have helped communities identify cost efficiencies and invest in sustainable water and wastewater systems. And although there isn't one model that will fulfill the water services needs of every community in the country, I believe there's one type of public official who can lead the way - one that holds their water providers accountable and strives for clean, safe water provision for all, and doesn't allow the accusations of self-proclaimed 'public interest' groups (that have never helped a community actually meet its water challenges) detract them from their mission.