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. Many publicly owned utilities utilize private companies to assist in things like planning, engineering, technology application, project delivery, operations, maintenance, and management. Finding the right solution, and unique ways to utilize private businesses for individual communities was a guiding principle behind the creation of the fourth policy brief in the One Water for America Policy Framework: Blend Public and Private Expertise and Investment to Address Water Infrastructure Needs.
The US Water Alliance brought together experts to describe how they deployed private expertise and investment to improve efficiency and service, and the outcomes from the arrangement that were good for local economic growth, jobs, the environment, and community development. Mayor Michael Cherepko from McKeesport, PA joined Bernie Grundusky, Director of Business Development for Pennsylvania Water, Kevin Shafer, Executive Director of Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewer District, and Scott Royer, Vice President and General Manager of Veolia Water Milwaukee for a webinar on public-private partnerships.
McKeesport was facing financial hardships and looming bankruptcy if they did not find a creative solution for their town. In an effort to avoid bankruptcy, maintain service, and keep rates affordable, they began an extensive RFP process for a public-private partnership. After many sleepless nights, they finalized the process of selling their recently-upgraded water and wastewater system to American Water. They saw immediate benefits, including avoiding insolvency, stabilized rates, enhanced customer service, and were even able to launch “McKeesport Rising” revitalization projects.
In the late 1990’s, Milwaukee was facing similar challenges as McKeesport. They wanted to find a model that would provide better service and regulate predictability of future rates. After an exhaustive process, they decided to hire a private firm to manage their operations and maintenance. Kevin likened the arrangement to paying someone to mow your lawn – you still own it, but someone else maintains it. This partnership has opened several other doors for the community and the utility, providing the flexibility to invest in their local natural habitats, host local tours of their facilities to educate the public, and improve the efficiency of their systems.
Ultimately, decisions to partner are made locally, and each community must decide what path will provide the best results in its unique context. If we are going 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.
The US Water Alliance worked with more than 40 partner organizations to host 15 One Water for America Listening Sessions. These discussions, which took place all across the country, engaged more than 500 leaders inside and outside the water sector. What we heard from these diverse stakeholders was truly inspiring. Across the nation, people from all walks of life are working to advance sustainable water management. The insights from the Listening Sessions have been synthesized into seven big ideas for the sustainable management of water. Together we are calling these ideas and policy solutions the One Water for America Policy Framework.