Guest Column | August 10, 2015

The Value Of Public-Private Partnerships In Water And Wastewater: Part 1


By Michael Deane, executive director, National Association of Water Companies (NAWC)

When it comes to water and wastewater management the word “resources” can mean many different things to many different people.

In one part of the country it can primarily mean not having a dependable supply of water to meet the areas water demands, while a few hundred miles away it could mean not having the capital to build the infrastructure needed to ensure water delivery.

There is a wide spectrum of water challenges, and more often than not, it’s a delicate balance for communities to manage all the challenges. They may lack capital and/or natural resources to meet the needs of a growing and water-dependent populace. The good news is there are proven and effective resources to help them solve water challenges across the spectrum. One of the many resources are public-private partnerships. They come in many forms and are flexible enough to be customized based on a community’s individual requirements.

Public-private partnerships are an integral part of bipartisan efforts to accelerate investment in America’s crumbling water infrastructure. Cities and towns have limited financial resources that are already spread thin for needs like public safety, education, roads, bridges, and much more. Too often it is what is underground that doesn’t get the attention needed because of the old adage, “out of sight, out of mind.”

In July of 2014, President Obama announced his “Build America Investment Initiative.” Its goal is to bring the best of the public and private sectors together to explore and identify innovative financing and management of the infrastructure necessary for economic growth and protection of public health and the environment in communities across the country — including water infrastructure.

The Administration expanded on the idea earlier this year and unveiled a Water Finance and Resiliency Center at the U.S. EPA that is charged with educating and advising cities and towns on how to effectively bring private capital and management into their local water infrastructure projects to meet the needs of that community.

What the President and leaders of both parties in Congress know is that public-private partnerships will play a key role in building a “21st century infrastructure.” The advantage for communities includes shared risk with increased economic feasibility and sustainability. The partnerships also bring efficiency and quality by expanding the pool of knowledge and experience that serve customers. When the public sector and the private sector work together, strengths on both sides are leveraged and innovative solutions emerge through the vast experiences of those involved in any given project.

Public-private partnerships are also attractive to local communities because both partners can share in the risk of a major water infrastructure project whether it is being designed, built, constructed, or financed — or potentially every phase of the project.

In the remainder of this year, we will be providing you a variety of examples of how cities and towns across the nation have used public-private partnerships to become even more responsible stewards of their communities’ water.

Let me introduce to you some of the private companies that are leaders in the water and wastewater industry that you will be learning about in the coming months and some of the public-private projects they have taken on:

  • United Water is one of the nation’s leading environmental companies, providing water and wastewater services to nearly 6.7 million people in the United States. In addition to owning and operating 16 water and wastewater utilities, United Water operates 84 municipal and industrial water and wastewater systems through innovative public-private partnerships and contract agreements. Founded in 1869, United Water is a subsidiary of SUEZ Environnement
  • About SUEZ Environnement 
    We are at the dawn of the resource revolution. In a world facing high demographic growth, runaway urbanization, and the shortage of natural resources, securing, optimizing, and renewing resources is essential to our future. SUEZ Environnement (Paris: SEV, Brussels: SEVB) supplies drinking water to 92 million people, delivers wastewater treatment services to 65 million, collects waste produced by almost 50 million, recovers 14 million tons of waste each year and produces 5,138 GWh of local and renewable energy. With 80,990 employees, SUEZ Environnement, which is present on all five continents, is a key player in circular economy for in the sustainable management of resources. SUEZ Environnement generated total revenues of €14.3 billion in 2014.
  • Veolia North America, headquartered in Chicago, IL, serves 530 communities and approximately 100 industrial facilities with a portfolio of more than 350 technologies. Veolia’s stewardship of water projects ranges from New York City to Honolulu. In 2012 it celebrated a major milestone: the 40th anniversary of North America’s first and longest-running public-private partnership in the wastewater industry, in Burlingame, CA.
  • American Water, headquartered in Voorhees, NJ, was founded in 1886 as the American Water Works & Guarantee Company and was reorganized as American Water Works Company, Inc. in 1947.  American Water is the largest publicly traded U.S. water and wastewater utility company and employs approximately 6,400 dedicated professionals who provide drinking water, wastewater and other related services to an estimated 15 million people in more than 45 states and parts of Canada. The company also proudly provides water services through contracts and public-private partnership agreements with about 70 municipal, industrial, and federal customers including 11 U.S. military bases. 
  • Since CH2M’s founding in 1946, with water as its core business, its experts have been planning, designing, and constructing the world's most technically complex water projects. Named Water Company of the year in 2012, CH2M is a global leader in consulting, design, design-build, operations, and program management for government, civil, industrial, and energy clients, providing water, wastewater, water resource, and optimization services to clients worldwide. With US$6.1 billion in revenue and 25,000 employees and projects in more than 117 countries, CH2M delivers innovative, practical, sustainable solutions — helping clients develop and manage infrastructure and facilities that improve efficiency, safety, and quality of life. Visit

Through these companies and their projects, we will explore how public-private partnerships can answer the challenge highlighted by the President and Congressional leaders to address the nation’s infrastructure needs. By working together we can bring new infrastructure to market perhaps as fast as America mobilized itself for the Industrial Age or even World War II.

As you will see by reading this series of articles, public-private partnerships benefit our environment, our economy and our nation.

Read Part 2 here and stay tuned for Parts 3 and 4, available in coming weeks.