Navigating facts versus fiction on the private water industry
In an age when the public endures a constant deluge of information, distinguishing fact from fiction is essential. And the water industry is not untouched by this challenge. W&WD Assistant Editor Lauren Baltas spoke with the National Assn. of Water Companies’ Michael Deane about Truth From the Tap (www.truthfromthetap.com)—an organization sponsored by the association that seeks to dispel misleading or false information about private water companies and public-private partnerships.
Lauren Baltas: What is Truth From the Tap’s primary purpose?
Michael Deane: Truth From the Tap came about because there are activist groups that don’t agree with the role the private sector can, and is, playing in providing drinking water and wastewater services to communities. They use information and misinformation and make it very difficult for public officials, citizens and communities to get really good information about what the private water industry is. Whether they are political government leaders, businesses, or citizens, when they want to find out about the potential of the private sector, they can access some of that information themselves, educate themselves. That’s what Truth From the Tap is about—getting the resources out there for people to educate themselves about the strengths and weaknesses, and where partnerships may work and where they may not work.
Baltas: What is the difference between private and public water companies?
Deane: Or, more important—the similarities. We are providing water and wastewater services like those that provide service anywhere in the country; we’re either an owned utility or we operate a municipal utility or are in some type of partnership. And we are water professionals; we have the same types of employees, we have the same objectives in ensuring that our customers receive efficient, reliable service. And that when we treat wastewater, it meets all the requirements and is returned back to the environment safely or, increasingly, so that it can be reused for other purposes. We all operate under the same Clean Water Act and regulatory standards. In addition, our privately owned utilities that are regulated by public utility commissions have an additional significant layer of regulation, which is rate regulation.
The best public utilities operate like a business, whether they’re actually a business or not. And that allows them to be good and efficient and provide services to their customers. That’s what we do inherently every day.
Baltas: How can the public separate fact from fiction on this subject?
Deane: The real target there is getting out to decision makers and public officials, not just the public directly, because it’s harder to reach the public. It is important that the public generally finds out about what discussions are occurring, as well. We have materials that can be used by the city itself or others on the ground to hand out and distribute and inform people. And our companies themselves, they’re out there in the field.
We are obviously promoting our industry by telling the good story of what we do and by hopefully showing the weakness of the opposition’s arguments. They are completely cited and verifiable. There are these city inspector general or audit reports, media reports, journalism reports, academic studies. What I think is really helpful is having public officials talk to other public officials.
Baltas: What is the most dangerous myth about private water companies?
Deane: Any myth is dangerous. The worst myth or point that can be made is that simply because we’re a company, we don’t care about anything but money. What we are about is having a healthy company that is healthy because it provides great service to customers and communities.