New Study Confirms Stronger Compliance Record of Private Water Companies

A recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) has found that privately-owned utilities are far less likely to have health-based drinking water quality violations than their government-owned counterparts.

The study analyzed health related violations of the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) for 17,900 communities over a 34-year period (1982 to 2015). According to the report, compliance with the SDWA was most closely associated with a purchased water source and private ownership.

“Privately owned utilities are found to be less vulnerable to violations than government ownership. In particular, large private firms are associated with lower likelihood of violation.”

These findings validate previous research, including a 2014 study from Georgetown University and Texas A&M, which examined EPA data between 2010 and 2013. These researchers found that government-operated water systems are 24% more likely to incur health violations of the SDWA than privately-operated water systems.

Another finding of the new study in the PNAS was that rural water systems had a higher rate of violations. The authors state that “violation occurrence is significantly associated with less urbanized areas” and that the “highest predicted probability of violation occurs at small, rural community water systems relying on surface water sources.” As a result of this finding about rural systems, the authors conclude that merging and consolidating systems can provide solutions to achieve regulatory compliance.

 “Merging and consolidation of systems, where feasible, could provide a way to achieve economies of scale for adequate treatment technologies.”

NAWC members have a proven record of helping small and struggling water systems address the unique challenges they face, bringing a strong record of compliance with the Safe Drinking Water Act, a high capacity for infrastructure investment, and expertise and efficiencies.

These complex challenges require an examination of all possible options, not reliance on just one solution, business model, organization or financial partner. Consolidation is a successful, growing trend, especially among rural water systems, and it encompasses a wide range of options for struggling utilities. This most recent study confirms exactly that.

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