Water, Politics and Money

pp 121-131

The United States: Public Water in a Capitalist Country

  • Manuel SchifflerAffiliated withKfW

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In the United States, water supply and sanitation are a responsibility of local governments. As a consequence, the water sector is highly fragmented: There are 54,000 public water systems nationwide, of which more than 90 % serve localities with less than 10,000 inhabitants. Altogether, public water systems serve 242 million Americans, with the remainder of the population having their own water supply. Most public water systems in the United States are owned by local governments, and all water utilities in large U.S. cities are publicly owned. But in the U.S., a public water system can also be owned by a cooperative or a private company. 35 million Americans, almost 15 % of those served by public water systems, receive their water from privately owned utilities, known in the U.S. as investor-owned utilities. These utilities operate almost half of all public water systems in the country, predominantly in towns.