City better off putting mismanaged water system in private hands

It is unfortunate that anti-private activists, namely Food & Water Watch, are driving a misinformation campaign in Baltimore that ignores hard data proving the strong performance of water companies. Instead of examining the available and proven solutions to help fix its utility operations and infrastructure issues, Food & Water Watch believes the city should restrict its options. Rather than make political charges or resort to name calling, I think the record speaks for itself (“Privatizing Baltimore’s water system isn’t the answer. Banning privatization isn’t either,” Aug. 8).

During the last decade, Baltimore has faced four instances of noncompliance with the Safe Drinking Water Act, putting public health at risk. By contrast, regulated water companies have an exceptional record of providing safe drinking water to customers. Recent research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that health-based drinking water quality violations occur significantly less often in systems owned by private water companies compared to government-owned systems. This strong compliance record is a result of many things, including strategic and proactive investment in water infrastructure, access to capital for improvements, operational expertise and experience and a strong regulatory framework.

Unfortunately, activists like Food & Water Watch are pushing a false narrative about rates and control. Here are the facts. Rates are going up across the country — about 7 percent a year — for both government-run and private water utilities as responsible utilities make the necessary infrastructure investments. However, it is important to know that water companies never set their own rates. In a public-private partnership, they are set by the municipality as part of the negotiated contract. When a water company owns the water system assets, rates are set by the state public utility commission and under any model — public or private — water always remains a public utility service to customers. Let me add: we are the only public utility service that consumers ingest, so water quality and proper treatment are the gold standard for our member companies.

Across the country, water companies are successfully working with cities just like Baltimore to address water challenges. For example, in Buffalo, N.Y., an expertly tailored partnership was developed to meet the unique needs of the city and its residents, resulting in improved system management, enhanced performance metrics to increase accountability, and additional city revenue. I would also underscore that our member companies embrace environmental stewardship and could serve as a key stakeholder in helping clean the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

The bottom line is that water companies offer proven expertise and experience to help communities address infrastructure and affordability needs. The complex challenges Baltimore must confront are significant and demand that the city base its decisions on facts — not restrict options based on activist misinformation.

Robert F. Powelson, Washington, D.C.

The writer is the president and chief executive officer of the National Association of Water Companies.

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