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1 Key Issues in Water Services Privatization I nterest in an increased role for private sector participation in the U.S. water supply and wastewater industries expanded greatly during the 1990s. Although many U.S. water utilities were initially private under- takings, they have a long history of public ownership and operation. But despite this history of strong public sector involvement, views about the role of the private sector shifted during the 1990s because of a variety of economic, fiscal, regulatory, and environmental factors. City and water utility officials were increasingly subjected to pressures of limited finan- cial and technical resources, stringent regulatory requirements, and inad- equate infrastructure. In addition, private water companies saw profit- able opportunities in the ownership and operation of water utilities and began to promote their services. These conditions led city officials across the United States to consider the pros and cons of privatizing some or all components of their water supply and wastewater utility systems. The decision as to whether to transfer ownership or operations of a public water utility to a private firm is complex. Immediate economic questions such as âWill privatization reduce customersâ monthly water bills?â are accompanied by larger and longer-term questions relating to public health, employment, political control, environmental issues, and relations to other city services. Given this broad and growing interest in the privatization potential of U.S. water services, the Water Science and Technology Board (WSTB) of the National Research Council discussed the prospects of conducting a study on the topic. The level of interest in the proposed study was high 10
KEY ISSUES IN WATER SERVICES PRIVATIZATION 11 and in 1999 the WSTB appointed a committee of experts to examine the issue of water services privatization in the United States. The committeeâs study was conducted with support from the following sponsors: Ameri- can Water Works Company, Inc.; the University of California; the Califor- nia Water Service Company; Severn-Trent Environmental Services; and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The charge to the committee was as follows: This study will assess issues associated with various forms of ownership and operation of drinking water supply and wastewater systems in the United States, including strengths and weaknesses. Ownership and op- eration of water services ranges from fully public to fully private, with several possible public-private partnerships in between. This study will assess public, private, and public-private drinking water supply and wastewater systems in the United States in light of the fol- lowing water management concerns: long-term water supply; steward- ship of water resources; the ability to manage water from a regional or watershed perspective; the ability to implement conservation strategies; water quality (both at the tap and in the environment); reliability of services; economies of scale; efficiency of operation and management; political and financial incentives and disincentives for improving man- agement and service; and fiscal and policy implications. FORMS OF WATER SERVICES PRIVATIZATION Four types of privatization considered representative of the range of privatization arrangements available in the United States are considered in this report. In order of private responsibility and risk assumption, they are (1) âoutsourcingâ of the performance of specific public utility support services to private companies; (2) full-service contract operation and man- agement by private companies of publicly owned treatment works; (3) coupling design and construction services with comprehensive operating agreements for new, expanded, or upgraded facilities under design-build- operate (DBO) contracts; and (4) the sale of government-owned water/ wastewater assets to private water companies. Only the fourth option fully transfers risks and responsibilities of asset ownership, operation, maintenance, and replacement to the private sector. Private companies that operate as tax-paying corporate entities currently collect about 14 percent of the revenues and own about 11 per- cent of the assets providing drinking water in the United States (EPA, 1997). They typically operate under long-term franchises granted by local municipalities. State commissions regulate their rates and charges. The first three forms of privatization involve variously detailed con- tracts for private participation in publicly owned facilities where financ-
12 PRIVATIZATION OF WATER SERVICES IN THE UNITED STATES ing is usually provided by government agencies and ownership risks are retained by the government. These performance-based contracts for a fixed fee are the most common form of privatization in the U.S. water and wastewater industry. All three forms share similar goals in terms of as- signing specific tasks and operating risks to financially sound and techni- cally competent private companies or consortia under multiyear contracts. These agreements are frequently secured by insurance companies and by bank guarantees. Prices are fixed and schedules are set in these agree- ments, which usually seek to reward private operator-managers only for meeting efficiency and cost performance targets. Private companies working for government-run utilities under short- term contracts often provide design and construction services, technical consulting, biosolids disposal, laboratory analysis, and other special tasks. Some of the simpler privatization forms may evolve into longer-term, more complex agreements involving major operation and management responsibilities. A benefit of public ownership of water assets in the United States is the ability of governments to fund capital improvements with 100 percent debt financing. Investors in the large and highly liquid U.S. municipal bond market are exempt from federal and state income taxes on interest earnings, which substantially lowers the interest rate governments pay for borrowed capital as long as they retain full ownership control of the asset being financed. The advantage conferred on municipal governments in the form of lower borrowing costs greatly affects consideration of whether water/ wastewater capital assets should be publicly or privately owned. Water services are the most capital-intensive of all utilities, including electric power and natural gas (see Table 5-1 in Chapter 5), largely because of the high cost of building and repairing sewers and water pipelines. Capital expenditure needs for both types of conveyance systems are forecast to more than triple during the period from 2000 to 2030 (AWWA, 2001a). As capital needs grow, the borrowing cost advantage from lower interest rates on municipal debt will become even more important in discussions of asset ownership. Another barrier to change is the diversity in ownership, size, manage- ment characteristics, and capabilities within the U.S. water industry. As of 1999, nearly 54,000 community drinking water systems were in operation (the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines a community water system as one serving more than 25 people, regardless of owner- ship; see Box 1-1). The vast majority of these systems serve small popula- tionsâ85 percent of the water systems serve only 10 percent of the popu- lation served by community water systems (Table 1-1). In the wastewater sector, the EPA noted there were 16,024 publicly owned wastewater treat-
KEY ISSUES IN WATER SERVICES PRIVATIZATION 13 BOX 1-1 Forces of Change Affecting Water Utilities McGuire Environmental Consultants (2000) describes the forces affecting wa- ter utilities as follows: The majority of water utilities in the United States are owned by local municipal governments. The degree to which local governments embrace and/or react to change may well govern the pace at which the industry transforms. Broad societal, business and utility trends will shape the water utility future. These trends include the development of new technology, increasing stringency of water quality standards, aging infrastructure, globalization of the water business, popula- tion increases, demographic shifts, and the increasing litigiousness in the United States. Some of the trends affecting provision of water/wastewater services are not so obvious. For example, the free exchange of technological knowledge so common in the current collegial world of water may well become constrained if competitive pressures cause water utility managers to view such knowledge as a competitive advantage. Other, more discrete effects include the simplicity of advocacy group organization and mobilization in an era when electronic communication is in the hands of every water utility customer and the utility itself. The availability of water quality data on a real-time basis via the internet also could fundamentally change the manner in which consumers are made aware of water system issues. SOURCE: McGuire Environmental Consultants, Inc. (2000). TABLE 1-1 Community Water Systems (Public and Private) in the United States and Population Served, 1999 Population No. of Percentage of Population Percentage of Served Systems Water Systems Served Population Served 25â500 31,904 59.2 5.2 million 2.0 501â3,300 14,040 26.0 19.8 million 7.8 3,301â10,000 4,356 8.1 25.4 million 10.0 10,001â100,000 3,276 6.1 91.0 million 35.9 >100,000 347 0.6 112.4 million 44.3 Total 53,923 100.0 253.8 million 100.0 NOTE: Total systems based on U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, EPA Drinking Water Information System Factoids: FY1999 Inventory Data. Ownership percentages based on U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 1995 Community Water System Survey, and applied to factoid data. SOURCES: EPA (1997, 1999a).
14 PRIVATIZATION OF WATER SERVICES IN THE UNITED STATES ment works (POTWs) serving 190 million persons, or about 73 percent of the U.S. population (Michael Cook, EPA Office of Wastewater Manage- ment, personal communication, 2000). Small communities in which fewer than 10,000 persons are served accounted for 71 percent of the total pub- licly owned wastewater treatment works. There is also diversity within ownership arrangements of U.S. water utilities. At one extreme is full private ownership and operation by inves- tor-owned water companies, whose charges and rates are typically set by state public service commissions. More common are publicly owned sys- tems that fund and manage their assets without economic regulation (ex- cept for accountability to local government) and that perform most of their operations with municipal employees. Nearly all medium- to large- sized cities in the United States follow this approach. Private ownership nonetheless plays an important role in the water industry. Table 1-2 shows that 14.3 percent of total revenues and 10.7 percent of assets are attributable to privately owned utilities. There are about 4,000 investor-owned water utilities in the United States, some of which serve large populations (e.g., Indianapolis Water Company). Other examples of U.S. cities and suburban areas served by investor-owned water systems include San Jose, California; Lexington, Kentucky; Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Chattanooga, Tennessee; Bridgeport, Connecticut; Hackensack, New Jersey; Charleston, West Virginia; St. Louis County, Missouri; and Peoria, Illinois. Table 1-3 shows there is private ownership in all of the size catego- ries, but that it is more common in smaller systems. Public ownership is the rule for larger community water systems, but this has not always been the case in the United States. The early days of the U.S. water industry saw public and private operations growing side by side, and not until the twentieth century did municipal ownership become predominant (Baker, 1948). TABLE 1-2 Market Share of Publicly and Privately Owned Water Systems, 1995 1995 Revenues Assets Ownership Amount ($ bil.) Percentage Amount ($ bil.) Percentage Public 22.2 85.7 117.8 89.3 Private 3.7 14.3 14.1 10.7 Total 25.9 100.0 131.9 100.0
KEY ISSUES IN WATER SERVICES PRIVATIZATION 15 TABLE 1-3 Community Water Systems in the United States by System Size and Ownership (estimated for 1999) System Size (in Terms of Number of Households Served) Total Number Percentage Ownership <100 101- 500 501-3,300 3,300-10,000 >10,000 of Systems of Total Public 7.7 34.8 68.6 78.1 87.7 23,187 43 Private 39.5 34.6 26.6 21.4 12.2 17,795 33 Ancillarya 52.8 30.6 4.8 0.5 0.1 12,942 24 Total systems 31,904 14,040 4,356 3,276 53,924 100 NOTE: Data are from EPAâs Drinking Water Information System Factoids: FY1999 Inven- tory Data. Ownership percentages are based on EPAâs 1995 Community Water System Survey. aAncillary systems deliver drinking water as an adjunct to their primary business (e.g., mobile home parks, retirement homes). SOURCES: Adapted from EPA (1997; 1999a). A March 2001 survey (PWF, 2001) reported results from the 17 largest firms seeking water/wastewater privatization contracts in the United States (Table 1-4). Collectively, these companies reported they were paid $917 million in calendar year 2000 for operating 2,273 publicly owned facilities (most often treatment plants but also solids handling, pump stations, and other components) with an aggregate design flow of about 7 billion gallons per day. These fees for contract services were paid by 1,882 different municipal, state, and federal government clients (PWF, 2001). Table 1-5 lists the values of a variety of investor-owned water compa- nies, ranging from regional operators to multinational conglomerates. Any listing of water companies should be considered somewhat fluid, as the number of private water companies has changed significantly over the past five years through mergers and acquisitions (Table 1-6). TRENDS IN AND TYPES OF WATER PRIVATIZATION Deregulation and privatization trends in the airline, telecommunica- tions, and energy industries have significantly influenced the water sup- ply and wastewater treatment industry. However, based on data from the National Association of Water Companies (NAWC), the actual propor- tion of water services provided by private water companies, whether measured by customers served or by volume of water handled, has re- mained relatively steady in the United States since World War II, and currently stands at roughly 14 percent (EPA, 1997).
TABLE 1-4 Ownership of Major Contract Water Services Operations and Maintenance Firms 16 Operating Company Parent Company Ultimate Ownership/Affiliation Acquisitions in 2000 Alliance Water Resources Privately held Privately held None American Water Services American Water Works Company Publicly traded NYSE None Americasâ Water Services Allete Water Services Allete Corp.,a publicly traded None NYSE CWS Utility Services California Water Service Group Publicly traded NYSE Dominguez Water (CA)b Earth Tech Total Water Earth Tech Inc. Tyco Intâl Ltd., publicly NA Management traded NYSE ECO Resources Southwest Water Company Publicly traded NASDAQ Master Tek Inc. (CO) Thames Water North America Thames Water Plc RWE Eâtown Corp. (NJ) Environmental Management Privately held Privately held None Corporation Covanta Water Covanta Energy Corp.c Publicly traded NYSE None Operations Management CH2M Hill Cos. Ltd. Employee-owned None International OPTECH Operations Technologies Inc. Privately held None Azurix North America Azurix Corp. Enron Corp., publicly Prism Res. Mgmt. (Ont.) traded NYSE H2O Utility Services. (FL) E. Craver Pumping Services (FL) Baker Hughes Indus. Services (TX) Severn Trent Environmental Severn Trent Services Severn Trent, PLC, publicly None Services Group traded London exchange United Water ONDEO Services Suez Lyonnaise des Eaux None U.S. Filter Services U.S. Filter Corp./Vivendi Water Vivendi Environment, North America publicly traded Paris Bourse None U.S. Water LLC UIC/United Utilities Bechtel/United Utilities None Woodard & Curran Privately held Privately held None aFormerly Minnesota Power Inc. bAcquisition included nine small industrial service contracts. cFormerly Ogden Energy. SOURCE: PWF (2001).
KEY ISSUES IN WATER SERVICES PRIVATIZATION 17 TABLE 1-5 Value of Investor-Owned Water Companies (in millions of currency units) Company Ticker Symbol Market Capitalization U.S. Companies American Water Works Company, Inc. AWK $4,324 Philadelphia Suburban Corporation PSC $1,531 California Water Service Group CWT $359 American States Water Company AWR $367 Connecticut Water Services, Inc. CTWS $216 Southwest Water Company SWWC $133 International Water Utilities Suez (ONDEO) SZE Â£33,502 RWE AG (Thames) RWE Â£22,992 Vivendi Environment VIE Â£13,227 United Utilities UU Â£3,300 Severn Trent SVT Â£2,517 Anglian Water Group AWG Â£1,502 Kelda KEL Â£1,391 NOTE: Bridge market data, January 23, 2002; 1.00 US$ = 1.16 Euros; 1.00 US$ = 0.71 British pounds (Â£) as of January 29, 2002. SOURCE: Schwab Capital Markets LP (2002). TABLE 1-6 Large U.S. Utility Acquisitions by Major Water Companies (EBIT and EBITDA figures in millions) Equity Trailing Book Major Company- Date Value 12 Mos. Value Company Acquired Announced (million $) P/E Premium $/Customer NiSource (NI)â 12/19/96 288 25.7 240 $1,719 Indianapolis Water Company Philadelphia Suburban 6/29/98 270 21.9 252 $2,045 (PSC)âConsumers Water Kelda Group PLCâ 6/1/99 444 25.5 281 $4,096 Aquarion Suez Lyonnaise (SLEDF)â 8/23/99 1,360 30.3 292 $4,154 United Water (UWR) American Water Works 10/17/99 NA 27.5 265 $2,738 (AWK)âCitizenâs water assetsa Thames Water PLCâ 11/22/99 607 26.7 256 $4,732 Eâtown (ETW) Median Multiples 26.7 265 $2,738 aAsset purchase, multiples as adjusted to reflect capitalization structure similar to other publicly traded water utilities. SOURCE: EPA (1997).
18 PRIVATIZATION OF WATER SERVICES IN THE UNITED STATES Responsibility for safe, reliable, and reasonably priced service ulti- mately rests with state and local agencies. Local and regional water sup- ply and sanitation services may be provided by government agencies or private companies, either as asset owners or managers. Operating risks may be contractually assumed by private companies. But failures in ser- vices that affect health, fire safety, and other public goods will be attrib- uted to political leaders. In most cases, privatization is driven by the desire of elected officials for greater accountability and improved service at lower cost. Ultimately, an important political goal is to reduce or avoid the blame for large increases in user fees that would eventually stem from the capital improvements needed to replace aging and failing infrastruc- BOX 1-2 Upgrading and Replacing the Water Services Infrastructure There is widespread agreement that current levels of investment must be in- creased substantially to replace old pipes and obsolete treatment systems, up- grade technology to comply with stricter quality standards, and meet the demands of a rapidly growing U.S. population. For example, a 2001 study on drinking water infrastructure in the United States found that spending on pipe replacement alone must triple over the next 30 years in order for the nation to maintain a reliable, high- quality drinking water infrastructure (AWWA, 2001a). This represents an additional $250 billion in capital spending over the next 30 years. Other estimates are of a similar magnitude. For example, in a needs survey conducted in 1996, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimated infrastructure investment re- quirements at $140 billion over 20 years (EPA, 1997). Other groups have provided similar estimates, nearly all of which reflect an aging water infrastructure. No mat- ter which set of figures is chosen, substantial expenditures will be required to main- tain and upgrade the nationâs water delivery and sewerage infrastructure in the ensuing decades. The AWWA study was conducted in 20 utilities nationwide and was the first comprehensive assessment of drinking water infrastructure needs ever performed, according to the AWWA. âThe utilities in this study represent the best in the busi- ness;â said AWWA Executive Director Jack Hoffbuhr, who also stated, âThey were chosen in part because they are so well-managed. By studying these best-case scenarios, we come to understand what we must do to maintain a reliable drinking water infrastructure for all of usâ (AWWA, 2001b). The U.S. drinking water infrastructure network is primarily publicly owned and operated. It spans more than 700,000 miles, more than four times the length of the national highway system. Most utilities across the country will have to confront a convergence of replacement needs over the next few decades, as many of the pipes laid a century ago and many of the pipes laid in the post-World War II era will need to be replaced.
KEY ISSUES IN WATER SERVICES PRIVATIZATION 19 ture (Box 1-2) and to meet the mandates of the federal Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act. Other drivers are also at play. Even without a need for capital im- provements, the economies achievable through private plant operations may allow long-term rate stabilization. Philosophically, some political leaders believe that subjecting public management monopolies to vigor- ous private competition is beneficial. Advances in treatment technology to meet increasingly stringent regulatory standards are also motivating some local governments to consider outsourcing the management of indi- vidual treatment plants, conveyance systems, and other services to pri- vate firms. How municipal governments fund these capital expenditures will play an impor- tant part in the scope and pace of private involvement in the water industry. The private investor-owned water industry and private operators of pubic utility sys- tems generally oppose a major program of federal grants to fund municipal utility infrastructure. Their position was stated at a water investors conference in April 2001 by Peter Cook, executive director of the National Association of Water Com- panies: âThe larger the federal role the more counter-productive it will be.â As replacement costs continue to rise, investor-owned utilities are forced to create operating efficiencies to help keep local rate increases within the realm of political acceptability. Costs of Needed Capital Improvements to Drinking Water Infrastructure for the Top 10 States by System Sizea,b Large Medium Small State Systems State Systems State Systems California 12,310.8 Texas 3,691.7 Texas 2,655.1 New York 9.305.0 Massachusetts 2,998.8 California 2,204.4 Texas 6,684.2 California 2,896.7 New York 1,739.0 Michigan 3,647.1 Illinois 2,738.6 Pennsylvania 1,375.0 Massachusetts 2,628.4 Ohio 2,096.7 Illinois 1,306.2 Florida 2,163.1 New York 2,015.4 Washington 1,256.5 Illinois 2,020.8 Pennsylvania 1,946.5 Ohio 957.5 Pennsylvania 1,722.1 Michigan 1,919.3 Florida 910.2 New Jersey 1,721.7 Iowa 1,800.3 North Carolina 908.5 Ohio 1,689.9 Minnesota 1,498.5 Missouri 881.4 aLarge systems: >50,000 customers; medium systems: 3,301-50,000 custom- ers; small systems: <3,300 customers. bCosts reported in millions of dollars on January 1999 dollars. SOURCE: EPA (2001).
20 PRIVATIZATION OF WATER SERVICES IN THE UNITED STATES Private construction and management of new and replacement facili- ties thus are sometimes sought by governments seeking to transfer capital needs, the onus of rate increases, and operating risks to private design- build-operate (DBO) consortia. Outsourcing of operations and mainte- nance alone is often driven by a desire for cost savings through economies of scale and service efficiencies that may be possible through private en- terprises. Few local governments want to sell their entire water system to a private water company and lose control of the community water supply and responsibilities like rate setting. Most municipal wastewater assets are encumbered by federal grants that must be paid back in any asset privatization. Further, any premium on the price paid by a private com- pany for the purchase of the municipal water or wastewater utility will be recovered in the rates charged to the community by the private company, thus minimizing efforts to reduce rates to the residents and businesses. Finally, municipal utility valuations are difficult to establish because of variations in local governmentsâ bookkeeping and maintenance records. Of the major private U.S. water companies, Philadelphia Suburban Company (PSC) has been the most successful in expanding its rate base through acquisition of small public and private systems. Since 1992, it has purchased more than 40 public and private water utilities, including what PSC claims is the largest ever municipal water system asset sale in the United States, in Bensalem, Pennsylvania, in 1999. Most of PSCâs munici- pal acquisitions have been acquisitions of systems that are contiguous to its densely populated service area north of Philadelphia. The countryâs largest publicly traded water company, American Water Works Com- pany, Inc., bought municipal systems in Howell Township, New Jersey, in 1998, and Coatesville, Pennsylvania, in 2000. The type of privatization that involves the design, construction, and operation of new, upgraded, or expanded treatment plants, pipes, pumps, and storage facilities has become an accepted option for municipal own- ers during the past 10 years. Under these DBO contracts, municipalities set design criteria and their guidelines for long-term agreements. Private firms compete on the quality of their technical submissions and their prices for managing the detailed design/engineering/procurement/con- struction services and for operation and maintenance (in some cases with fixed prices for major maintenance and repairs). Municipal governments and their financial advisors usually arrange project financing for DBO projects. The cities of Atlanta, Seattle, Phoenix, Houston, and Tampa have completed or are building large new treatment plants or biosolids processing facilities procured as DBO projects. A sub- stantial number of long-term management contracts for the private opera-
KEY ISSUES IN WATER SERVICES PRIVATIZATION 21 tion of existing municipal utility plants also include a capital upgrade or expansion component that is treated as a DBO project. The design-build-own-operate-transfer arrangement (DBOOT) is in- frequently used but involves the private, taxable debt and equity financ- ing of new or expanded water/wastewater systems for municipal gov- ernments. In DBOOT-transfer operations, private developers organize the project, obtain permits, arrange financing, and manage the capital and operational risks of new facilities under long-term contracts. In the past 15 years, only Cranston, Rhode Island, Franklin, Ohio, and Tampa, Florida, have awarded DBOOT contracts for new water/wastewater treat- ment plants. The cities of Chicago and Atlanta used a private DBOOT approach in 2001 for building and operating large wastewater biosolids treatment and disposal projects. Tampa Bay Water is a state-created regional water wholesaler that supplies water to municipally operated utilities in the Tampa Bay metropolitan area. In 1999, Tampa Bay Water signed a 30-year water supply contract under which Poseidon Resources is obligated to deliver 25 million gallons per day of drinking water from a large desalina- tion plant set for operation by December 31, 2002. Although much attention has been given to new forms of contracting for facility construction, the most significant recent increase in private sector water activity has been in the operation and maintenance of both public and private water and wastewater facilities. This market, which now exceeds $2.5 billion per year, is projected to increase to $5.5 billion per year by the year 2004 (PWF, 2001). Table 1-7 summarizes recent activi- ties. For example, the cities of Milwaukee and Indianapolis delegated management of their wastewater systems in 1999 and 1994, respectively, while Atlanta transferred its entire water system to private management in 1999. The largest number of privatization contracts is short-term ser- vice agreements of five years or less, signed with small and medium- sized municipalities. Water utilities, whether public, private, or some combination, have several goals. First and foremost is assuring public health and safety through the reliable provision of high-quality water supply and treat- ment facilities, and the provision of water for fighting fires. Water utilities seek to provide these services at reasonable prices. Water utilities also often aim to meet several related concerns, including environmental stew- ardship and providing jobs in the communities they serve. The challenges of meeting new regulations, especially drinking water quality standards and wastewater effluent standards, have put many water utilities, espe- cially small- and medium-sized ones, under great pressure to continue to meet these goals. Many lack the expertise to upgrade or operate their
22 PRIVATIZATION OF WATER SERVICES IN THE UNITED STATES TABLE 1-7 Communities with Long-Term Water Contracts Municipality Description (System Type) Capacitya Contract Term (Years) Atlanta, Ga. Water 201.4 mgd 20 Augusta, Ga. Wastewater 46 mgd 10 Bessemer, Ala. DBO water 24 mgd 20 Boston, Mass. Wastewater sludge 125 dtpd 15 Brockton, Mass. Water/wastewater 24 mgd 20 Chicago, Ill. Wastewater sludge 150 dtpd 20 Cranston, R.I. DBO wastewater 23 mgd 25 Edmonton, Alb. Wastewater 24 mgd 8 Evansville, Ind. Water 60 mgd 10 Farmington, N.M. Water/wastewater 20 mgd 8 Franklin, Ohio BOT wastewater 4.5 mgd 20 Franklin, Ohio BOT water 5 mgd 20 Fulton Co., Ga. Wastewater 24 mgd 10 Hamilton, Ont. Water/wastewater 300/5 mgd 10 Indianapolis, Ind. Wastewater 250 mgd 14 Milwaukee, Wis. Wastewater 550 mgd 10 Moncton, N.B. DBO water 25 mgd 20 New Haven, Conn. Wastewater 45 mgd 15 Newport, R.I. Wastewater 10 mgd 20 Norwalk, Conn. Wastewater 20 mgd 20 Oak Ridge, Tenn. Utilities â 10+10 Plymouth, Mass. DBO wastewater 3 mgd 20 Rahway, N.J. Water 6 mgd 20 Seattle, Wash. DBO water 120 mgd 25 Springfield, Mass. Wastewater 67 mgd 20 Stonington, Conn. Wastewater 3 mgd 20 Tampa, Fla. DBO water 66 mgd 15+5 Tampa, Fla. BOT desalination 25 mgd 30 Taunton, Mass. Wastewater 8.3 mgd 20 Wash. Boro, N.J. DBO wastewater 1.2 mgd 15+5 West Haven, Conn. Wastewater 12.5 mgd 15 Wilmington, Del. Wastewater 105 mgd 20 Woonsocket, R.I. DBO wastewater 16 mgd 20 amgd = million gallons per day; dtpd = dry tons per day. SOURCE: PWF (2001). plants to meet often stringent regulations, as well as the capital to finance related investments. Private contractors may offer the expertise and the capital, plus they may assume the risks of complying with regulations. New management and communications technologies have made it possible for one company (private or public) to manage and operate sev- eral utilities from a central office. Provision of water services is based on access to information such as data on consumer demand, on quality levels
KEY ISSUES IN WATER SERVICES PRIVATIZATION 23 and water flows, effluent quality, as well as on financial flows. The ability to collect data and respond to changing conditions rapidly and appropri- ately is an important determinant of the scope and scale of water service systems. Technological advances in communications, monitoring, com- puting, and control systems have thus affected the water industry struc- ture at the margins of change. Modern systems will accelerate the drive to larger units. Whether this technological shift will favor privatization or will be quickly adopted by efficient public systems remains to be seen. CONCERNS ABOUT PRIVATIZATION Unsuccessful Ventures In the preface of the Masons Water Yearbook 2000-2001, a British water publication, Owen (2001) stated the following about water utility privatization: Privatization, or private sector participation, has already enhanced eco- nomic growth worldwide, but in contrast with telecoms, power and transport, for example, its impact on the water sector has been much less marked, (because of its very different risk profile) despite demonstrable need. Only about six percent of the worldâs population is currently served by private sector operators, and since more than one billion worldwide have inadequate water supplies, and some two billion no adequate sanitation, the potential market is truly very large-quite be- yond the capacity, moreover, of the existing major players to service it. However, because water is a highly political issue, and existing infra- structure is often highly fragmented, market evolution has proved slow- er than earlier over-optimistic predictions suggested. Future develop- ment will be governed by creative solutions involving true partnerships of all the stakeholders in the sector, taking account of local political and social sensibilities. Several major cities around the world have availed themselves of private management under various arrangements, including all of the United Kingdom, Berlin, Buenos Aires, Johannesburg, Manila, and Mexico City. Many U.S. cities also have arrangements with private firms to pro- vide water services, and these firms often reliably deliver high-quality water services at competitive prices, with high levels of consumer satis- faction. As noted earlier, private firms have held roughly a 15 percent share of the U.S. water market for the past 50 years. Contentious situations can stem from unrealistic contract conditions and strong competition in the process of bidding on water services con- tracts. And although improved system performance and cost savings have resulted from privatization in some instances, in some cases expected
24 PRIVATIZATION OF WATER SERVICES IN THE UNITED STATES benefits have not been fully realized. A recent case has been in Indianapo- lis, which repossessed its water utility from a private contractor (see Box 1-3). For one groupâs evaluation of the problems with water services privatization, the reader is referred to a 2001 report from the Public Citi- zen group (Public Citizen, 2001). Inadequacies in performance can be resolved through negotiation be- tween the contractor and the city. In Ohio, Clermont Countyâs water treat- ment plant suffered problems of discolored tap water shortly after the country awarded an operating contract to a prominent private firm. Al- though harmless, the brown water focused criticism on both the county and the company. It turned out that the problem would have occurred independently of who was managing the plant. Corrections were made, with the cost being shared by the operator and the county, while overall cost savings have resulted in a 5 percent rate reduction. The creation and failure of Azurix Corporation is an example of a market miscalculation in the water utility field (Box 1-4). Rapidly-evolv- ing markets may exhibit instability and they raise questions of the reli- ability of member firms. BOX 1-3 Private Delivery of Water Services in Indianapolis The case of private sector water services in Indianapolis involves shifting the form of privatization from the ownership model to the contract operations model. The system was originally incorporated in 1869 and sold to the founders of the Indianapolis Water Company (IWC) in 1881. Indianapolis has long stood out as the largest U.S. city served by an investor-owned water company, although St. Louis County Water and San Jose Water are other important examples. The IWC also serves some nearby communities. In 1997, the local gas company purchased the water company, but was re- quired under securities law to put the assets up for sale when it purchased another energy company in 2000. The city chose to purchase the system in order to try to maintain lower rates, take advantage of lower capital costs available to municipal- ities, and avoid a purchase by foreign interests. An eminent domain process was begun, despite some local dissention. However, although the purchase has not been consummated, the city has issued an RFP (request for proposal) for its oper- ations. The cityâs wastewater system is currently operated by a private consortium in which United Water Resources, owned by French Suez, plays a central role. The deal struck a blow to the U.S. investor-owned water industry, and water indus- try analysts will follow the case closely to see whether the shift affects perfor- mance.
KEY ISSUES IN WATER SERVICES PRIVATIZATION 25 BOX 1-4 Growth and Decline of Azurix The Azurix business plan presented to investors in 1999 was based on the expectation of fast revenue growth from radical change in the market structure of water supply and service delivery in the United States and abroad. The company was formed and then spun off (at $19 per share) in a public offering of stock by the energy marketing company, the Enron Corporation, in June 1999. Azurix lost over $1 billion in market value before it was deemed a failure by Enron and was reorga- nized late in 2000. Azurix eventually discovered it could not compete with the larger, well-established British and French firms and was unable to make a market by trading water. In 2001, Enron filed for bankruptcy in one of the spectacular crashes of a prominent U.S. corporation. Community Concerns Communities considering water services privatization options often have many concerns regarding new operations or ownership arrange- ments. They are concerned about privatizationâs effects on their monthly water and sewerage bill: what does privatization imply for their short- and long-term bills? They are concerned about water quality: will they continue to receive consistently good-quality water in the long run? Citi- zens may also have concerns regarding new channels of communication and the airing of grievances: if they have questions regarding their water services under new privatization arrangements, do they voice their con- cerns with city officials or with a private firm? Communities may also have concerns regarding long-term protection of watersheds that convey raw water supplies, participation in and transparency of policy decisions, and competition after service contracts are awarded. Communities are nearly always concerned about the possible loss of control over a vital public service. The public and their elected representa- tives exhibit a natural caution when faced with surrendering control and/ or assets of essential municipal services. The reality of water services privatization is that the public official can never fully transfer account- ability to a private operator for reliable delivery of water services, a func- tion that communities believe is a vital public service. If the private opera- tor fails to meet the publicâs expectations, the public is more likely to protest to the public official than to the private operator. Privatization of water services will only be a net political gain for incumbent politicians if cost reductions and improved service deliveries more than compensate for the loss of control. This political calculus likely means that political control will be transferred only for those services that pose problems in
26 PRIVATIZATION OF WATER SERVICES IN THE UNITED STATES meeting minimum financial, regulatory, or management standards. That is, systems most likely to be offered for privatization are likely to have structural or managerial difficulties. A second concern is the recognition by administrators and citizen groups that privatization is not the same as competition. There is a ten- dency to equate the two, as the private economy is thought to work well because of the pressures of competition that force firms to operate effi- ciently and to produce what the public wants. However, by definition, when a contract is signed for the management, operation, design, etc., of a water system, only the monitoring and enforcement of the contract terms can guarantee the expected level of performance. Competition in urban water utilities is limited to the period when competitive bids are being accepted, and it is geographically limited to the systemâs expanding margins. Bidding for the operation of complex organizations such as wa- ter and wastewater utilities is ripe for accusations of political favoritism. A review of the media coverage in competitive bid processes such as those in Birmingham, Atlanta, and New Orleans reveals charges that po- litical favors were granted in connection with these bids. A third concern is the recourse that will be available if privatization does not work as intended. Terms of remediation must be carefully spelled out in legal and financial terms. Urban authorities must be sure that es- sential skills and equipment can be regained quickly if the terms of the contract are not fulfilled. A fourth concern is the possible loss of openness and transparency of utility policies and practices. Deliberations of public bodies are subject to numerous âsunshineâ provisions that require open meetings and records. Once a private firm assumes operations, it is no longer clear that business practices and accounts will be open to the public. To ensure transparency, such agreements must be specified in the contract. A fifth concern is for the long-term protection of the water/wastewa- ter infrastructure and the basic water supply itself. There are questions regarding whether private operators may take âshortcutsâ by failing to maintain the system or allowing the degradation of watersheds and groundwater aquifers. Certainly, experience has not shown this to be a problem, but because relatively few long-term operations and mainte- nance contracts have run their course, little data regarding this concern are readily available. City administrations may be concerned with the possible loss of rev- enues to the general treasury and with loss of service functions to other departments. In many cities, the funds of utilities are comingled with general funds. Some cities have enjoyed profits from utilities that are used to support general government functions (although most cities impose a âno profit-no lossâ constraint on their utilities). Free water and wastewa-
KEY ISSUES IN WATER SERVICES PRIVATIZATION 27 ter services to city parks and hospitals may have to be foregone, as well as disaster response services that have been rendered by the water utility. Concern for the welfare of the utility workforce and for the possible loss of local jobs is pervasive. Some fear that workers will be unfairly exploited or that jobs will be lost to nonresident personnel. Most privatization contracts have guaranteed no loss of jobs except through natural attrition. A frequent result has been the upgrading of skills, result- ing in increased wages and increased promotion possibilities. Finally, experience has shown that the preparation of adequate contracts is expen- sive and time-consuming. Outside legal and engineering expertise is usu- ally needed. The review of multiple bids can also be costly. Concerns of Private Contractors Preparation of detailed cost and technical proposals for contract op- eration of a major utility system is a costly exercise. If private financing is involved, lines of credit must be arranged. Some requests for proposals (RFPs) require parent companies to stand as guarantors of performance. Private contractors thus must consider the probability that the awarding process will be fair to all parties, that a contract will be signed, and that they will be permitted to earn a profit. Because of the high cost of preparing a proposal and to encourage well-qualified firms to bid on a request for proposals, some municipalities have offered to partially reimburse bid-related expenses for the short- listed firms. Although some public utilities, such as Seattle Public Utili- ties, have provided compensation to bidders, the amounts have been small compared to the total expense incurred by the bidders responding to the requests. In some instances, it is suspected that municipal requests for proposals have been issued with no intent of entering a contract, but rather as a means of gauging public managersâ performance or for win- ning concessions from unions on staffing. Another concern of private operators is gaining timely access to accurate condition assessments and maintenance records during their preparation of technical and cost pro- posals. Some private operators believe they operate on an âuneven playing fieldâ because publicly owned utilities can issue tax-free bonds, thus rais- ing capital at lower interest rates than the taxable debt available to a private company. A study done in 1999 for the city of Phoenix ruled out private financing for a new water treatment plant largely because city- issued tax-exempt water lease bonds could be issued at a 5.2 percent cost of capital, versus 8.2 percent for private financing using taxable debt and equity (PWF, 1999). Congress granted an interest-rate subsidy to municipal government
28 PRIVATIZATION OF WATER SERVICES IN THE UNITED STATES bonds soon after World War I. By exempting investors from having to pay income taxes on bond interest earnings, the federal government gave local borrowers a 250-300 basis points (a basis point is 1/100 of 1 percent; 100 basis points equals 1 percent) cost advantage over private issuers. The difference in borrowing costs accelerated the shift from private to public ownership of water and wastewater utilities during the infrastructure expansion period after World War I. To obtain and keep their federal interest subsidy, municipal borrow- ers must maintain public ownership and management control of the debt- financed asset until the bonds are retired. In an attempt to expand the market for privately managed capital projects, in June 2001 federal tax legislation that would exempt water and wastewater bonds from volume caps was proposed. This bill (H.R. 2207) was referred to the House Ways and Means Committee, where it is expected to be considered as part of a larger review of the federal tax code. Federal grants provided up to 85 percent of the capital cost of pub- licly owned wastewater treatment plants built during the 1970s and 1980s. In 1988, Congress voted to phase out these construction grants, but since 1989, Congress has provided seed funding for states to set up revolving loan funds for municipal wastewater projects. These revolving funds can be used only for municipally owned facilities. CONCLUDING OBSERVATIONS This reportâs executive summary lists the studyâs key findings. A few of those observations are nonetheless worth emphasizing in this intro- ductory chapter. It is clear that no single model of water services privatization fits all situations. Indeed, continued public ownership and operation is the most likely outcome for the majority of water utilities. A major effect of the availability of private alternatives has been to increase the resolve of the publicly owned and operated water utilities to sharpen their operations, reduce costs, and upgrade the quality of services. Large municipal water utilities typically have the expertise and resources to address emerging challenges. Small to medium-sized water utilities gen- erally have more difficulty in meeting higher quality and health stan- dards and in responding to pressures of population growth. Small mu- nicipalities may thus be the most fertile ground for private participation in water utility operation and management.