Powelson op-ed touts private water operations in Rockland County
In an op-ed that ran last week in LOHUD.com, NAWC President & CEO Rob Powelson made the case for why Rockland County, New York, should continue to work with SUEZ despite an effort by opponents, including Food & Water Watch, to have a feasibility study conducted to support a government takeover of the system.
Powelson concludes the op-ed by noting that “running a water system is a complex operation that requires a huge amount of capital investment and technical expertise. For many years, SUEZ has provided the community exactly that. A takeover is unnecessary, expensive, and could put the county’s water at risk.”
Read the full op-ed below.
While political divisiveness might seem to be at an all-time high, there’s one thing we should all agree on: Americans deserve access to safe water. As clean water plays a pivotal role in stopping the spread of the pandemic, it is crucial we do not allow ideologues to politicize our water systems.
In Rockland County, a private water company — SUEZ — provides water service and system expertise. Since 1893, SUEZ and its predecessor have made strategic capital investments to keep the system’s infrastructure strong and reliable. In 2019, SUEZ pledged to make $330 million in infrastructure enhancements in Rockland between 2020 and 2023.
When the state set new water quality standards in 2020, SUEZ was quick to meet those standards. When Rockland faced PFOA contaminants — a problem water systems across the country face — SUEZ quickly detailed investments in system upgrades and technology.
There are many other examples of how SUEZ invests in the communities it serves.
In a move to protect and raise its environmental standards, Nassau County selected SUEZ to operate and manage the county’s sewage treatment plants and collection system. Local advocacy groups, including Citizens Campaign for the Environment, endorsed this as major improvement for the quality of life for every citizen.
In New Jersey, SUEZ invested $100 million to upgrade the Haworth Water Treatment Plant and cut particulates in pretreatment by over 90%. It is now the largest U.S. plant to use a dissolved air flotation system and serves as a model to treatment centers across North America.
The men and women operating Rockland’s water system are not a faceless corporation. These water professionals are friends, neighbors and even family members who are part of the local community and are personally invested in ensuring Rockland has the safest and highest quality water.
Having dedicated water professionals in charge of water systems provides important benefits to residents. Studies that have analyzed Environmental Protection Agency data find that private water companies have significantly stronger compliance with federal water quality standards than government-run systems and deliver superior quality water.
Water companies also have an exceptional record of strategic investment in infrastructure. In 2019, the 10 largest companies invested $3.7 billion in community water systems. This is more than the total federal appropriation for the two largest water infrastructure loan programs. This investment, coupled with water companies’ operational expertise, keeps drinking water safe and service reliable.
It is perplexing that, given SUEZ’s long history of service in Rockland County, out-of-town activists are pushing for a government takeover. These ideological opponents completely ignore SUEZ’s strong record of investment in the county and fail to outline how needed investments will be funded under local government control.
The reality is that residents would be forced to carry an enormous financial burden under a government takeover. Countless examples from around the country outline the false promises made by takeover advocates. The experiences in Edison, New Jersey, and Felton, California, illustrate the challenges that occur when municipalities decide the private sector shouldn’t be involved in the delivery of water. Both ended up with massive legal bills, rate spikes and massive new taxes. A 2017 review of water system takeover attempts found that, on average, takeover advocates underestimate acquisition costs by more than 100%.
The math is simple: a government takeover would be a raw deal for Rockland County. At a purchase price of $1.25 billion, a bond of this amount at today’s interest rate equals tens of millions of dollars a year in interest payments to be paid by the County taxpayers. Rockland’s five towns and eight public school districts would have to increase property tax bills directly to residents by at least $26 million.
A government takeover of the professionally managed water system in Rockland County is not in the best interest of local homeowners and employers. It will inevitably result in higher taxes for all. Rockland County residents should be wary of the grand promises being made by takeover advocates.
Running a water system is a complex operation that requires a huge amount of capital investment and technical expertise. For many years, SUEZ has provided the community exactly that. A takeover is unnecessary, expensive, and could put the county’s water at risk.