Food & Water Watch reviewed eight years of data from the Federal Safe Drinking Water Information System to document the ongoing annual shift toward public ownership.
Food & Water Watch also conducted a comprehensive survey of the water rates of the 500 largest U.S. community water systems and found that large for-profit, privately owned systems charged 59 percent more than large publicly owned systems. This is the largest water rate survey of its kind in the country.
The survey finds that nearly nine out of ten people in the United States receive their water service from a publicly owned utility. Although water privatization receives a great deal of attention from policy makers, the dominant trend is in the other direction — toward public ownership.
Privately owned water systems charge 59 percent more than publicly owned systems.
There are many good reasons for this trend. By owning and operating their water and sewer systems, local governments have control over the decisions that determine the cost and quality of services that are essential for public health and wellbeing as well as economic viability. This control allows governments to direct development, planning and growth and to better protect the environment and sustain their local economies.
- Publicly owned utilities served 87 percent of people that have piped water service.
- For-profit water companies own only about 10 percent of water systems, most of which serve small communities.
There is an ongoing nationwide trend toward public ownership of water systems. More and more people each year receive their water service from a public utility.
- From 2007 to 2014, the portion of people with water service from publicly owned systems increased from 83 percent to 87 percent.
- Over that period, the number of private systems dropped 7 percent (a loss of nearly 1,700 privately owned systems), while the number of people served by privately owned systems fell 18 percent (8 million people).
- At the same time, the number of publicly owned systems remained fairly constant, but these public systems saw their service population grow by 10 percent, adding 24 million people to their networks.
- Public water utilities are also taking over and consolidating private systems.
- On average, private for-profit utilities charged households 59 percent more than local governments charged for drinking water service — an extra $185 a year.
- The average government utility charged $315.56 for 60,000 gallons a year, while the average for-profit company charged $500.96 (59 percent more) for the same amount of water.
- In New York and Illinois, private systems charged about twice as much as their public counterparts.
- In Pennsylvania, private systems charged 84 percent more than public systems, adding $323 onto the typical household’s annual water bill.
- In New Jersey, private systems charged 79 percent more than public systems, adding $230 onto the typical household’s annual water bill.
* This version of the report includes minor data revisions related to a small number of water systems whose websites provided incorrect water rates at the time of our survey. Fewer than 1 percent of the surveyed water systems reported these inaccuracies and the revisions did not affect the overall findings of the report.