Are We Better Off Privatizing Water?

Wall Street Journal

More and more communities have shifted control of public water utilities to private companies in recent decades. A combination of forces is at work: shrinking public revenue, looming costs for long-overdue capital improvements, and a widening perception that private operators run systems more efficiently.

Most Americans still get their household water from a public-owned-and-operated service. But nearly 73 million people now are served with help from a private company, according to a 2011 report by the National Association of Water Companies.

From the consumer’s perspective, privatization’s results have been mixed. In some cases, cities have retaken control of their water services. And not every private provider has delivered on promises of reduced rates. But to governments strapped for cash, the option is seen as increasingly attractive.

Here, two policy experts exchange views on what is best for our communities. Richard G. Little is a senior fellow at the Sol Price School of Public Policy at the University of Southern California. Wenonah Hauter is the executive director of Food and Water Watch, an advocacy group for food and water quality.

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