One Water for America Policy Framework Big Idea 4

Blend Public and Private Expertise and Investment to Address Water Infrastructure Needs

The US water utility sector is both public and private. Public-private partnerships (in one form or another) have been in practice for generations, with many publicly-owned utilities utilizing private companies to assist in planning, engineering, technology application, project delivery, operations, maintenance, and management. Private expertise and investment can hold promise, especially for communities that find meeting their water infrastructure needs challenging. Ultimately, these decisions are made locally and each community must decide what path will provide the best results in its unique context. For the nation at large, to attract more investment and innovation to water management, we need to address barriers to putting private money and expertise to work, while making sure that communities’ needs are met and all partners benefit.

Key Issue: Developing a common understanding of public-private project delivery models
Successful P3s have the potential to provide expediting project delivery, improving service quality, and controlling costs. But the spectrum of P3s can be complex, and their potential risks and benefits must be understood so that communities can make the right decisions about the best delivery models for local water needs.

Key Issue: Understanding newer models for private investment in water infrastructure
As private investment in infrastructure becomes more common in sectors like transportation, it is important to understand how those newer models can apply to the water sector and what barriers exist to their application. An emerging approach is the community-based P3, where the contractual requirements include measures to boost local economic growth and quality of life in urban and underserved communities—in particular, by including local workforce and small business contracting requirements in the contract.

Key Issue: Integrating social impact investing into the menu of financing options
Social impact investing is an investment model that aims to create measurable social or environmental impacts in addition to financial returns. Institutions and foundations are increasingly turning to this model as a way to build community benefits into infrastructure projects.