Masters Thesis

Securing water supply: a critical examination of private sector participation in United States municipal water services

The United States is currently confronting a critical need to invest in, and update, its water delivery and treatment systems. Historically, the United States government provided communities with most of their water systems funding through federal grants for infrastructure development and maintenance. However, in the early 1980s, there was a paradigm shift as to who should provide such investments. Since the early 2000s, the Environmental Protection Agency has recommended that communities that do not receive enough federal grants for the necessary investment in their water and wastewater systems pursue partnerships with the private sector to generate investment capital. From the 1980s through the early 2000s, executive order, legislation, and tax reform enabled the gradual implementation of private sector involvement in the water services sector. Private sector participation (PSP or “Privatization”) has changed the landscape of United States water services governance. It also raises questions as to the overall effectiveness of such programs in creating and maintaining both the necessary infrastructure and level of investment in communities across the United States. Experience with PSP has also raised a host of questions regarding various aspects of both the social and labor relations of production in these arrangements. My research explores the development and effects of private sector participation in municipal water services throughout the United States. The relevant issues are examined employing a political-economic framework, utilizing an understanding of neoliberal globalization as a lens for the current trend of PSP. My research methodology employs literature analysis and comparative case study to identify the most important issues in public-private water services arrangements. Identifying the effects through empirical case study and current literature analysis, will allow me to develop a clear presentation of the most critical problems and challenges involved with private sector participation in municipal water services, as well as alternative solutions to current problems.

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