Activist Errors The Many Ways Activist Groups Get It Wrong On Private Water

Provide Partial Timelines

Critics of private water rely on partial timelines and ignore events that contradict their claims. In Atlanta, the private water operator was criticized for raising rates during the time it ran the system. However, once the system was back under public control, water rates spiked 233 percent over the next 11 years. This fact is conveniently ignored by critics. In Felton, California, residents were praised for ousting the city’s private water operator in response to a proposed rate increase. Yet under public operation, the city has raised rates four times in six years – another fact ignored by critics of private water. 1

Present Biased Evidence

Critics of private water rely on cherry-picked information and ignore independent reports that counter their one-sided and inaccurate view. For example, critics claimed that a public-private water partnership in Indianapolis resulted in $50 million in lost benefits for non-union employees, yet a city audit found that total non-union compensation actually increased. 2

Ignore Essential Facts

Critics of private water routinely ignore essential and well-documented facts. Critics cited unfulfilled work orders by a private operator in Atlanta as evidence of poor service. However, they don’t mention that the City didn’t provide the private operator with a full picture of the disrepair in the water system. As a result, the private operator was forced to complete 3-8 times more annual repairs than estimated under the agreed upon contract. 3

Spin False Narratives

Critics of private water create false narratives about public opposition to private operations. In New Orleans, critics claimed a contract bid fell through “due to public outrage.” In reality, the proposal was rejected because opponents of the contract on the Sewerage & Water Board deliberately called for a last-minute vote when supporters were not in attendance. The New Orleans Times-Picayune described the resulting vote as “a coup orchestrated by opponents on the board,” noting that otherwise the proposal would have been approved. 4

Cite Made-Up Statistics

Critics of private water rely on “projected savings” under public operations and do not include actual outcomes in their material. Activist groups projected that Gary, Indiana, would save $8 million if the city’s water system was under public control. This figure was central to their campaign against private water in Gary. However, under public control, the city’s wastewater and sewage systems costs have increased by nearly $5 million per year. 5

Incorrectly Assign Blame

Critics of private water blindly hold private water companies responsible for all system issues even when the evidence finds another party responsible. In 2002, a private operator in Atlanta was criticized for having five “boil water” alerts, even though power issues – not water system issues – caused the alerts. In New Jersey, critics blamed a private operator for the municipal water system having nearly $5 million in unpaid customer bills. In reality, the auditor found that the city – not the company – was responsible for not collecting on the unpaid bills. 6


  1. Food & Water Watch, “Case Study – Atlanta, Georgia,” Nov. 2009; “USA TODAY analysis: Nation’s water costs rushing higher,” USA Today, 9/27/12; Food and Water Watch, “An Overview of the Successful Public Purchase of the Felton Water System,” Nov. 2013; Jim Mueller, Testimony, Monterey Water Forum, 2/28/11
  2. Food & Water Watch, “Veolia Water North America: A Corporate Profile,” Aug. 2013; “Employee benefit assessments paint different pictures,” Indianapolis Business Journal, 8/4/03
  3. Food & Water Watch, “Case Study – Atlanta, Georgia,” Nov. 2009; “Winning Bidder Will Face Debt, Backlog, and Major Upgrades,” Atlanta Journal Constitution, 8/23/98; “The Atlanta Privatization: What Can We Learn?” Geoffrey Segal, Georgia Public Policy Foundation, 1/21/03
  4. Food & Water Watch, “A Closer Look: Veolia Environment,” Sept. 2010; “Water privatization idea killed,” New Orleans Times-Picayune, 10/17/02; “S&WB sell-off is sunk, Nagin says,” New Orleans Times-Picayune, 4/20/04
  5. Food & Water Watch, “United Water Can’t Be Trusted,” March 2012; City of Gary, 2012 Financial Statement and Federal Single Audit Report, filed 9/30/13; United Water, “United Water And Gary Sanitary District Sign Five-Year Extension For Wastewater Contract,” Press Release, 5/27/08
  6. Alliance for Democracy, “Water for People and Nature: The Story of Corporate Water Privatization” April 2003; Letter from Georgia Department of Natural Resources to Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin, 10/11/02; New Jersey Office of the State Comptroller, “A Performance Audit of the Management Services Agreement for the City of Camden’s Water and Wastewater Collection Systems,” 12/16/09; Letter from United Water to the Office of the State Comptroller, 12/4/09