INSTITUTE INDEX: Will Jackson buck the trend away from privatized water?

At a Sept. 5 press conference about Jackson's water crisis, Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves (R) said privatization of the city's water system is "on the table." (Official photo.)

Date on which Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves (R), at a press conference to discuss Jackson's latest drinking water crisis, said that privatizing the capital city's troubled water system is "on the table": 9/5/2022

In the past dozen years, number of times Jackson's system has failed, with the most recent shutdown caused by flooding of the main water treatment plant leaving the city's 150,000 residents — 80% of them Black, and 25% living below the poverty line — without safe drinking water for over a month: 3

According to Jackson Mayor Chokwe Lumumba (D), cost to fix the water system, with the city's ability to pay hindered by a shrinking tax base due to white flight following integration of the public schools, along with the Republican-led legislature's reluctance to fund fixes: $2 billion

In an earlier experiment with privatization, year in which Jackson signed a $90 million deal with Siemens, a German multinational conglomerate, for water meter and billing system upgrades the company promised would save the city $120 million in the first 15 years: 2013

Damages Jackson requested in its 2019 lawsuit against Siemens, in which it accused the company of causing mass billing failures by installing meters incorrectly, and skirting requirements to work with minority-owned subcontractors by exploiting sham passthrough companies: $450 million

Amount Siemens ultimately paid in a 2020 settlement that ended the contract with Jackson: $90 million

After attorneys were paid and bond requirements met, amount of the settlement that was left for water meter and billing fixes: $10 million

From 1993 to 2003, during a trend toward waterworks privatization in the U.S., percent increase in the number of publicly owned systems operated under private contract: 175

In the same period, percent increase in the number of U.S. residents served by private water systems: 488

Year in which Atlanta signed a 20-year, $428 million contract with United Water, a subsidiary of French corporate conglomerate Suez, to operate its water system: 1998

Number of years later Atlanta ended the contract following a string of problems including extensive staff cuts, maintenance backlogs, questionable billings, and a lack of realized savings: 5

According to a 2011 meta-analysis of studies on water distribution, amount of empirical support that exists for cost savings from water system privatization: 0

Percent more that investor-owned utilities typically charge for water service than local government utilities, according to a Food & Water Watch report on 500 of the largest U.S. water systems: 59

Factor by which that same report found water rate increases outpaced the rate of inflation following privatization: 3

In a reversal of earlier trends toward privatization, percentage point increase in the portion of U.S. residents getting drinking water from publicly owned systems from 2007 to 2014: 4

Over that same period, percent by which the number of private water systems in the U.S. dropped: 7

According to a review of 18 municipalities that ended contracts with private water companies, percent cheaper it is on average to operate water services publicly than privately: 21

(Click on figure to go to source.)