After a January meeting, the council of Columbia, SC is officially open to selling or leasing the city’s water and sewage systems to a private, for-profit company.
Many companies have expressed their interest in such a venture, though it has had next to no publicity.
The systems generate millions of dollars yearly, some of which go into the general budget, but many pipes are damaged and the city is risking state fines if they aren’t repaired.
The State reports:
“The Environmental Protection Agency has cited the city for serious violations of the federal Clean Water Act, and the city is obligated to make $750 million in improvements to the system. Already, the city has raised residential and commercial water and sewage rates.
Private companies wanting to take over the city’s water and wastewater treatment systems are asked to submit their qualifications and expressions of interest to the City, according to a formal notice on the city’s website. The system, which has about 500 employees, has some 375,000 customers in Richland and Lexington counties and delivers 60 million gallons of water daily.”
The Council has said that they will explore the negatives of privatization before agreeing to anything, but they urge the public to recognize the problem by reading about it on their website.
The decision is coming across as very sudden to the public but the Council says it has been a long time coming.
How could Columbia have been better prepared for this situation and how can they manage it effectively in the future?
Inframanage.com notes that the issue of water system privatization, infrastructure leases or franchises, and/or public-private partnerships are not new.
There are plenty of examples across the USA and around the world of these different mechanisms for paying for and managing water utilities.
The core infrastructure management questions will remain regardless of the ownership structure:
- What do we own?
- What service levels are we required to deliver (including EPA requirements)?
- What are our future demands for this infrastructure?
- What are our risks?
- What are our infrastructure lifecycle management strategies?
- Do we have sufficient management processes and practices in place to manage all this?
- What is it all going to cost – immediately, in the medium term, in the long term?
- How do our communities, consumers afford to pay for this service and associated infrastructure?
Integrated and holistic infrastructure management planning provides a structured methodology for answering these questions.
As US water utilities authorities consider the challenges they face, the practice of infrastructure asset management will assist in understanding the issues, and developing a range of management scenarios for meeting the challenges.