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Public–Private Partnerships in the Water Sector: The Case of Desalination


Public–private partnerships (PPPs) have grown in popularity as a method to leverage private sector actors in the production of government services. With the global challenge of water insecurity, PPPs are becoming more common for large scale water infrastructure projects. One prominent example is the water desalination industry. Global desalination capacity has grown in recent decades driven by demand for alternative water sources. However, desalination facilities remain complex and expensive operations. In this paper, we examine the role of private actors working in partnership with public entities in the delivery of drinking water using the case of desalination. We examine global trends in PPPs and discuss implications for the desalination industry as well as water infrastructure more broadly. Additionally, detailed data on desalination facilities were collected in Israel, Australia, and the United States including key stakeholder interviews. Results demonstrate an increase in PPP use in the water sector over time along with significant regional variation. We also find that the public sector partners often rely on private sector partners in the design, build, and operation stages of the project regardless of the amount of public financing.

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  1. The 21,729 projects are all projects identified in the DesalData as of February 6, 2020, regardless of their plant status (planned, awarded, construction, online, presumed online, offline, presumed offline, on hold, and canceled), technology type (RO, MSF, MED, etc.), feed water type (seawater, brackish water, wastewater, etc.) and customer type (industry, municipal, other) contracted from 1944 to February 2020.

  2. In the DesalData, the capacity of project was categorized into small, medium, large, and extra-large based on Million Imperial Gallons per Day(MIGD): Small size ≦ 0.22; 0.22 < Medium size ≦2.20; 2.20 < Large size ≦ 11.00; 11.00 ≦ XL size.

  3. Feedwater categorization is based on salinity thresholds: Brackish water or inland water pure water or tap water (TDS (Total Dissolved Solids) ≦ 500 ppm), river water or low concentrated saline water (500 ppm < TDS ≦ 3,000 ppm); (3,000 ppm < TDS ≦20,000 ppm); seawater (20,000 ppm < TDS ≦50,000 ppm); brine or concentrated seawater (50,000 ppm < TDS).

  4. Palmachim is instead funded through a BOO mechanism; with 138,190 million m3/day it is also the smallest desalination plant currently operating in Israel (see Fig. 1).


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Internal grant funding provided by Texas A&M University and the Office of the President’s Excellence Grants.

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All authors were involved in the production and writing of the manuscript. Conceptualization, R.A Greer and K. Lee; investigation, K. Lee, A. Fencl, and G. Sneegas; writing- review, and editing, R.A. Greer, K. Lee, A. Fencl, and G. Sneegas. All authors have read and agreed to the published version of the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Robert A. Greer.

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Greer, R.A., Lee, K., Fencl, A. et al. Public–Private Partnerships in the Water Sector: The Case of Desalination. Water Resour Manage 35, 3497–3511 (2021).

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  • Public–private partnership
  • Desalination
  • Infrastructure
  • Finance