CAI Sticks to Faulty Talking Points in Recent Huffington Post Piece


CAI Sticks to Faulty Talking Points in Recent Huffington Post Piece

Huffington Post’s Joseph Erbentraut recently spoke with NAWC Executive Director Michael Deane about private water companies’ work to strengthen America’s water infrastructure and ensure access to safe and reliable water.

As part of the piece, Erbentraut also spoke with representatives from Corporate Accountability International, an activist group that opposes any private involvement in water and wastewater systems. CAI made so many inaccurate claims that Truth from the Tap just couldn’t wait to set the record straight.

CLAIM: Private water interferes with or eliminates the democratic processes.

CAI says a law recently passed in New Jersey is an example of “a trend of the private water industry attempting to use policy as one of several avenues for eliminating democratic processes when it comes to the management of water.”


Unfortunately, CAI misrepresents the purpose of the New Jersey law, which was designed to help public water systems get urgently needed investment quickly. New Jersey’s Water Infrastructure Protection Act enables “at-risk” water systems a fast track to investment from the private sector. Only systems that face “emergency conditions” as defined by the state – e.g., systems that are deficient in drinkability or pressure – are given the fast track option to private investment.[i]

As reported, the legislation was necessary “to get desperately-needed investment into water systems that have been neglected to the breaking point by government owners.” The fact that several New Jersey water systems have utilized private investment is a reflection of the water infrastructure crisis in that state, not a reflection of a lack of democracy. The bill passed with bipartisan support and solid majorities in each chamber.

CLAIM: Private water disrupts public process because privatization is unpopular.

CAI said, “The industry knows how unpopular privatization is and how difficult it would be to get these kinds of contracts they want if this process was happening in the light of democracy.”


The numbers don’t lie. Every day, nearly 73 million Americans – almost one in four – receive water service from a privately owned water utility or a municipal utility operating under a public-private partnership. Across the United States, there are currently more than 2,000 water and/or wastewater public-private partnership contracts, all of which are negotiated and signed in the full light of democracy. Critics claim municipalities are terminating these contracts in large numbers, noting that 169 contracts were not renewed between 2000-2013. However, the same critics conveniently fail to mention that a total of 5,214 contracts came up for renewal in that 14-year period.[ii] Thus, the 169 contracts lost were a mere 3.2% of the total number of contracts up for renewal, giving the private water industry a nearly 97% contract renewal rate.[iii]

Private water solutions provide value to communities and are, in fact, widely supported. A recent example comes from Visalia, California, where a poll shows residents rejecting the City’s plan to take over the private water system by a 2-to-1 margin.

CLAIM: Private water is trying to restrict funding to municipal water systems.

As CAI put it, “What cities have access to now is a very small pool of funding, and the private industry is trying to chip away at what little funding is left…”


We agree that communities across the country face a water infrastructure crisis and need urgent investment. However, many communities do not have access to capital to address those needs. The private water industry provides access to private capital, enabling investment. While everyone agrees that investment in our water infrastructure is urgently needed, the idea that the federal government alone is going to generate the $1 trillion in new revenue needed to fill the water infrastructure funding gap over the next 25 years is completely unrealistic.

Within the U.S., there is widespread, bipartisan support for the role of private water in delivering solutions. The U.S. Conference of Mayors[iv], the National League of Cities[v], the Brookings Institute[vi], and even the President of the United States[vii] agree that private water companies provide proven and important options for municipalities facing urgent water infrastructure and operation needs.

CLAIM: Privatization often results in disaster.

CAI claimed, “None of us can live without water and when these corporations come in what we often see is a profit motive that takes precedent over public access. We often see really disastrous results of these contracts.”


Truth from the Tap has already debunked the five case studies most commonly cited by private water critics. In this interview, CAI only points to Atlanta, which TFTT has already discredited, as well as a recent water main break in Hoboken, which both the media and the local government did not blame on the private operator.[viii] Yet CAI still claims that disastrous results “often” occur – a shameless, unsubstantiated scare tactic.

CLAIM: Private water companies do not invest

CAI said, “What we’ve seen across the board in every country, in every state and city is that the private water industry fails to … invest in public infrastructure.”


This claim is astoundingly wrong. The three largest private water companies in the U.S. alone invest $1.5 billion annually to improve community tap water systems across the country.[ix] This claim shows CAI’s complete misunderstanding of the private water industry. Given the lack of available public funds, private water companies provide access to the capital and expertise municipalities need to invest and build reliable, efficient tap water systems.

[i], 2/5/15
[ii] Public Works Financing 18th Annual Water Partnerships Survey, Mar. 2014; Public Works Financing 14th Annual Water Partnerships Report, Mar. 2010
[iii] Ibid.
[iv] U.S. Conference of Mayors Urban Water Council, “Mayor’s Guide to Water and Wastewater Partnership Service Agreements,” Apr. 2005
[v] The National League of Cities, “Public-Private Partnerships: An Attractive Funding Option for Public Projects,” 11/3/14
[vi] Brookings Institute and Rockefeller Foundation, Project on State and Metropolitan Innovation “Moving Forward on Public Private Partnerships,” December 2011; Brookings Institute, “Public-Private Partnerships to Revamp U.S. Infrastructure,” Feb. 2011
[vii] The White House, “Presidential Memorandum — Expanding Public-Private Collaboration on Infrastructure Development and Financing,” 7/17/14
[viii], 11/25/15;, 11/23/15
[ix] American Water 2014 Annual Report; Aqua America 2014 Annual Report; Annual United Water investment figure provided by company
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