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NAWC Responds to False Food and Water Watch Claims Against Water Companies

In an op-ed for The Trentonian, Marybeth Leongini, Director of Communications for the National Association of Water Companies, responds to a recent opinion piece from a Food & Water Watch (FWW) activist that claimed private water companies would make Trenton, New Jersey’s water infrastructure challenges worse. Leongini points out that FWW, “blindly argues in favor of low rates even though artificially low rates have led to inadequate investment in water infrastructure and dangerous water system breakdowns,” in communities like Trenton. The op-ed points out that about 40% of New Jersey’s citizens are already successfully served by regulated water companies, which invest millions to upgrade sewer pump stations and install new water and sewer mains.

Read the full piece below:

The recent op-ed by Lena Smith gets so much wrong about the role water companies play in helping communities, just like Trenton, address water infrastructure challenges.

In Trenton, activist groups like Smith’s employer, Food & Water Watch, have blocked private investment for years, something Smith hails as “laudable.” Yet, Trentonians, dealing with multiple boil-water advisories due to treatment plant malfunctions and violations of the EPA’s Lead and Copper rule, would surely disagree.

Ironically, the water situation in Trenton has become so dire that the city had to buy water on several occasions from New Jersey American Water, a company that previously sought to invest millions in the city’s water infrastructure. Meanwhile, in order to make up for lost revenue spent on fixing infrastructure problems, the city has been forced to raise property taxes.

While Trentonians and the residents of the four other towns served by Trenton Water Works should be fearing unreliable service and rising costs, Smith tries to spin two out of state examples – Flint and Pittsburgh – in a desperate attempt to argue that water system privatization leads to negative consequences for communities.

In reality, the causes of the crises in Flint and Pittsburgh have nothing to do with private companies, and ultimately point to the failings of these government-operated water systems to keep people safe. In Flint, for example, Veolia was tasked with a limited scope that did not involve testing for lead, which the company was explicitly told was the responsibility of the city and state. Similarly, in Pittsburgh, Veolia did not manage the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority (PWSA). The contract between Veolia and PWSA defined a limited consulting role for the company, and PWSA retained decision-making authority over operations, maintenance, capital spending and staffing.

Had Veolia been running these systems outright, these challenges would have been much less likely to occur. This is a statement backed by research and actual facts. Just this year, a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that privately owned utilities are far less likely to have drinking water violations than their government-run counterparts.

Smith blindly argues in favor of low rates even though artificially low rates have led to inadequate investment in water infrastructure and dangerous water system breakdowns, like in Trenton. Further, rates for water companies in New Jersey are set and approved by the Board of Public Utilities, not the company, and cannot be increased without input and approval that requires a highly transparent process and public input.

Furthermore, a recent report from the Bipartisan Policy Center found that the private sector can play a major role in ensuring water affordability and recommended policy changes that promote partnerships between the public and private sectors, noting that these partnerships often result in lower operating costs and improved service by de-politicizing rates and providing necessary capital to improve infrastructure. In fact, public-private partnerships have been shown to lower the cost of providing water services by upwards of 24 percent.

If Trentonians want to see the benefits of working with a water company, they don’t even have to leave the Garden State – about 40% of New Jerseyans are served by regulated water companies. As an example of what can be achieved through water company investment, Trenton residents can look about 35 miles south down I-295 to Haddonfield, where New Jersey American Water spent $16 million in three years to upgrade sewer pump stations and install new water and sewer mains.

Ultimately, the facts paint a clear picture — private investment in water systems pays dividends for New Jersey’s residents. Trentonians would be well-served to ignore the activist spin and scare tactics, and review the facts to make their own decisions on how best to fix their troubled water system.

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