NAWC Executive Director Responds to Claims in Terre Haute, Indiana

A letter to the editor written by Michael Deane was included in the Terre Haute Tribune Star on Oct. 26. Deane responded to a recent LTE in which the writer parroted many of the anti-private water claims made by Food & Water Watch in arguing that Terre Haute should not allow its wastewater system to be acquired by a private company. Deane takes Food & Water Watch to task for using “misinformation and scare tactics to smear private water solutions” and concludes by noting that residents “deserve to have accurate and complete information about all options for its wastewater system’s future.”

Terre Haute has significant fiscal and operational challenges to tackle. Residents are well aware of this and one sign of this problem is that bills for wastewater service are increasing each year as the city-run utility struggles to modernize its aging facility.

Terre Haute residents expect and deserve safe and reliable wastewater service. Yet service will deteriorate if proper investments are not made. As the city looks at the future of its wastewater system, most people agree that all options should be considered. That’s why the president of the Terre Haute Sanitary District Board of Commissioners said he was open to discussing all ideas and why the Terre Haute Competes report concluded that bringing in a private water partner is a viable option.

The town’s drinking water system has been operated by a private company — Indiana America Water — since 1924. Just last year, the company invested $3.8 million in Terre Haute’s water infrastructure to improve the reliability and quality of water service to customers while also enhancing fire protection capabilities. The company’s total investment in water infrastructure over the last five years in the area has been more than $20 million, including replacing nearly ten miles of water mains. Working with private water expertise is not a new solution in Terre Haute.

Yet a recent letter to the editor, “Privatization has drawbacks,” calls for private solutions for the Terre Haute wastewater system to be completely taken off the table and not even considered. Not surprisingly, the writer goes on to parrot many of the claims made by the anti-private D.C. lobbying group Food & Water Watch, an activist organization that is ideologically opposed to private sector involvement in almost everything.

Food & Water Watch is a group that uses misinformation and scare tactics to smear private water solutions. The group makes claims about higher rates, yet time and time again ignores warnings from experts that rate comparisons should be avoided and are highly faulty.

Further, the author claims that private water companies refuse to offer the services they agreed to as soon as the ink is dry on the contract. This is a perplexing claim, and one in which the author gives not a single example to support. Private water operators are proud to provide service to about 73 million Americans every day, including almost 2.5 million Hoosiers. If Food & Water Watch has examples, they should share them instead of making baseless claims about an entire industry that invests billions every year in America’s water infrastructure.

Finally, it should be noted that Food & Water Watch is a group that offers no realistic solutions for how to address our nation’s water infrastructure challenges. These challenges are serious, with estimates as high as $271 billion needed for wastewater infrastructure alone over the next five years.

Terre Haute needs a wastewater system that is modern, healthy, and safe. When deciding the best course of action to make that a reality, residents and town leaders deserve to have accurate and complete information about all options for its wastewater system’s future.

— Michael Deane, Executive director of the National Association of Water Companies, Washington, D.C.

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