We know that American cities and towns need to invest hundreds of billions of dollars – between $400 billion and $1 trillion to be exact – in their public water and sewer systems. And we know that investors are keen on investing in efficiently operated systems that will provide a steady return.
That fact is what brought us to University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton Business School, one of the most prestigious business schools in the country, to discuss how we can collectively make more public-private partnerships work for water.
Panelists at the Wharton Initiative for Global Environmental Leadership conference suggested that it is a moral imperative upon which the sustainability of cities hinges, to find ways for the public and private sector to work together in planning and financing to begin tackling the ever-widening investment and thereby sustainability gap.
With water projects, as with any public initiative, public support is a key ingredient for success. Financial capital, in many cases, is more readily available than political capital. Implied in the name, the success of “public-private partnerships” depends on striking an appropriate balance between the interests of uncommon allies by providing for a return on investments while safeguarding the public interest.
And the many municipal leaders who are considering a public-private partnership should expect to engage the public and various interest groups in the plan at many levels.
A new model – recently used in Bayonne, NJ by United Water – emerged as a viable option for meeting the needs of both public and private partners. The architects of the SOLUTION model simply built it upon the financial and political lessons of past public-private partnerships. And SOLUTION has all of the components necessary to make public-private partnerships for public water services work – for all stakeholders.