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Powelson Responds to Esquire

An Esquire Politics columnist recently wrote a piece entitled “Privatizing Your Water Supply is Generally a Terrible Idea,” which attacked water system privatization and was critical of NAWC member companies. In response, NAWC president and CEO Rob Powelson penned a comprehensive response to the author’s criticisms, detailing the many benefits of working with professional water companies. Read the full response below.

Working with a Private Water Company Ensures Safe and High-Quality Water

The recent piece about water company operations and Chester, Pennsylvania’s water system jumps to some wildly inaccurate and false conclusions. The City of Chester should be applauded for the open and transparent process it is undergoing to determine the future of its water system. We understand a change of this magnitude deserves a thorough examination, and we support residents learning more about private water companies who serve 73 million Americans today.

Water companies acquire and operate water systems; control of the source water remains in public hands. Water companies only acquire and operate water systems–the pipes, pumps, treatment facilities and other infrastructure used to deliver clean drinking water to households and businesses. Control of the source water itself does not change and remains in public hands. 

Water companies are highly regulated in every state. In Pennsylvania, for example, the state’s utility commission provides rate regulation – meaning that there is a transparent rate-setting process that companies must go through with the ultimate decision making on rates being in the hands of independent regulators, not the company. Additionally, the commission provides important consumer protections that completely discredit the author’s claims of “predatory capitalism.”

Private water companies support and have a proven record of adhering to the highest standards of water quality. Systems run by water companies in Pennsylvania are 34.7% less likely to have Safe Drinking Water Act violations compared to government-run systems. The author references the troubles in Flint and Detroit but neglects to mention that both cities have water systems run by the government, not a private water company. Water companies employ water experts who focus solely on running water systems and have been making investments in their systems for decades to ensure residents can count on safe, high-quality water.

Improving water quality and investing in water systems often means that rates increase. Ensuring a safe and reliable system calls for ongoing investment in upgrading and improving water systems. But on the flip side, keeping rates artificially low, which is often the case with systems run by government officials with elections always front of mind, all too often means necessary investments in water systems are deferred, jeopardizing water quality and public health. Trading poorer quality water and a less reliable water system for lower water rates is not a trade-off Americans should have to make.

City leaders and residents deserve better than to be misguided by a writer who clearly is interested in advancing a strict anti-private sector narrative. We encourage questions and an evaluation based on data, facts, and accurate information.

Robert F. Powelson
President & CEO
National Association of Water Companies

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