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Calling infrastructure challenges “simple” highlights In The Public Interest’s lack of expertise on water issues

In The Public Interest’s Donald Cohen is right that a partnership between the public and private sectors can provide many benefits. Indeed, the many different types of solutions offered by water companies are customizable, scalable solutions to help municipalities address their unique water system needs. And he is also right that protecting the public interest should be first and foremost when making decisions about the systems that provide these critical and life sustaining services.

However, his belief that infrastructure is “quite simple” is so naïve and simplistic that it essentially discredits him as the “expert” on water infrastructure that he claims to be. If what Cohen says was actually the case – that infrastructure is a simple matter – we would not see disasters like the government-run system in Flint or even the challenges Pittsburgh residents face today, with their government-run utility failing to ensure safe delivery of water service.

In reality, there is a lot more to providing drinking water and wastewater services than Cohen recognizes. From managing complex water systems for the treatment and delivery of water service to navigating investment strategies, water systems – and all that go with them – are anything but simple. That is why experts like NAWC member companies bring such value when they work with a municipality. Water systems and service are the singular focus of water companies, while municipalities have many competing priorities to juggle. Water companies bring a deep understanding and proven record of success of ensuring the safe and reliable delivery of water, a fact borne out by recent data that found that systems owned by private water companies have significantly fewer health-based drinking water quality violations than government-owned systems.

This naivety is not surprising. In The Public Interest routinely gets a lot wrong about the water industry. We’ve had to correct their claims in Miami, not once but twice; take the group to task for stating that higher taxes are the only way to invest in infrastructure; and we’ve had to set the record straight about false claims the group has previously made in Pittsburgh.

It’s encouraging that Pittsburgh is having a robust, though long overdue, discussion about its water systems. However, next time, we recommend that Mayor Peduto talk to actual water system experts – not someone who is more interested in pushing an ideological agenda and who regularly gets it so wrong.

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