Skip to main content


From Excess to Entropy: Municipal Water Services Governance in the United States

Part of the Palgrave Studies in Water Governance: Policy and Practice book series (PSWG)


Water was long considered plentiful and even infinite in many parts of the United States (US). However, the US today faces numerous water services challenges including reduced quality of supply, decay of infrastructure, increasing rates, access and affordability issues, lead contamination, and a series of very public confrontations and standoffs over public versus private ownership, water governance, water rights, and the human right to water. This chapter offers a summary of the extant literature on US municipal water services, public reports, key regulations, and case studies of water conflicts and crises in Flint and Detroit. In doing so, we argue that the plentiful, clean, and low-cost water resources the US long enjoyed can no longer be taken for granted and new approaches are required.


  • Municipal Water Services
  • Public Versus Private
  • Michigan Department Of Environmental Quality (MDEQ)
  • Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA)
  • Public Water Systems

These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Buying options

USD   29.95
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • DOI: 10.1007/978-3-319-98515-2_12
  • Chapter length: 25 pages
  • Instant PDF download
  • Readable on all devices
  • Own it forever
  • Exclusive offer for individuals only
  • Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout
USD   109.00
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • ISBN: 978-3-319-98515-2
  • Instant PDF download
  • Readable on all devices
  • Own it forever
  • Exclusive offer for individuals only
  • Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout
Hardcover Book
USD   149.99
Price excludes VAT (USA)
Fig. 12.1
Fig. 12.2
Fig. 12.3


  1. 1.

    ASCE. (n.d.). 2017 Infrastructure Report Card Website. Retrieved April 12, 2018, from

  2. 2.

    ASCE. (n.d.). 2017 Infrastructure Report Card. Retrieved April 12, 2018, from

  3. 3.

    U.S. EPA. (n.d.). Information about Public Water Systems. Retrieved March 1, 2018, from

  4. 4.

    U.S. EPA. (n.d.). Annual Allotment of Federal Funds for States, Tribes, and Territories. Retrieved May 2, 2018, from

  5. 5.

    Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies. (n.d.). Water Infrastructure Investment & Financing. Retrieved January 21, 2018, from

  6. 6.

    U.S. EPA. (2018, April 4). EPA Announces New Funding for Water Infrastructure Projects. Retrieved April 4, 2018, from

  7. 7.

    City of Detroit. (n.d.). Capital Improvement Program. Retrieved August 15, 2017, from

  8. 8.

    U.S. EPA. (n.d.). Providing Safe Drinking Water in America: National Public Water Systems Compliance Report. Retrieved March 23, 2018, from

  9. 9.

    Fieldstadt E. (2016, January 16). Flint, Michigan, Water Crisis: Obama Signs Emergency Declaration. Retrieved January 17, 2016, from

  10. 10.

    Hawthorne M. & Reyes C. (2018, April 12). Brain-damaging lead found in tap water in hundreds of homes tested across Chicago, results show. Retrieved April 17, 2018, from

  11. 11.

    CBS/AP. (2014, August 2). Toxic tap water causes state of emergency in Toledo. Retrieved August 2, 2014, from

  12. 12.

    Troy T. (2014, August 19). Mayor says water crisis is similar to 9/11. Retrieved August 19, 2014, from

  13. 13.

    Adapted from Aquino, N. and Montgomery, A.W. (2018). “Water, Water Everywhere? The Flint Water Crisis” SAGE Business Cases.

  14. 14.

    United States Census Bureau. (n.d.). Flint, Michigan Quick Facts. Retrieved September 1, 2016, from

  15. 15.

    Carmody, S. (2013, April 16). Flint ending Detroit water contract, DWSD looking at its options. Retrieved September 1, 2016, from

  16. 16.

    Ridley, G. (2016, February 12). Flint water switch was approved despite DEQ health warnings a year earlier. Retrieved September 1, 2016, from

  17. 17.

    Gupta, S., Tinker, B., & Hume, T. (2016, January 22). Flint doctor’s fight to expose lead poisoning. Retrieved August 25, 2016, from

  18. 18.

    Roy, S. (2015, September 30). COMMENTARY: MDEQ Mistakes and Deception Created the Flint Water Crisis. Retrieved August 26, 2016, from

  19. 19.

    U.S. EPA. (n.d.). Pricing and Affordability of Water Services. Retrieved February 3, 2018, from

  20. 20.

    Circle of blue. (n.d.). The Price of Water. Retrieved April 7, 2018, from

  21. 21.

    AWWA. (n.d.). Water & Wastewater Rates. Retrieved April 7, 2018, from

  22. 22.

    U.S. Census Bureau. (2015). State and County Quick Facts: Detroit, Michigan. Retrieved September 4, 2015, from

  23. 23.

    Clark, A. (2014, July 3). Going without water in Detroit. Retrieved July 4, 2014, from

  24. 24.

    The regional and privately owned DTE Energy Co. that delivered both gas and electric services to the area had more comprehensive bill monitoring and assistance programs in place and so did not have large numbers of overdue accounts.


  • AWWA. (2011). Buried No Longer: Confronting America’s Water Infrastructure Challenge. Denver, CO: American Water Works Association.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bakker, K. (2003). Water: Commons or Commodity? University of British Columbia, Alternatives. Spring Issue.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bakker, K. (2010). Privatizing Water: Governance Failure and the World’s Urban Water Crisis. Cornell University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Beecher, J. A., & Kalmbach, J. A. (2013). Structure, Regulation, and Pricing of Water in the United States: A Study of the Great Lakes Region. Utilities Policy, 24, 32–47.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Bel, G., & Warner, M. (2008). Does Privatization of Solid Waste and Water Services Reduce Costs? A Review of Empirical Studies. Resources, Conservation and Recycling, 52(12), 1337–1348.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Bennear, L. S., & Olmstead, S. M. (2008). The Impacts of the “Right to Know”: Information Disclosure and the Violation of Drinking Water Standards. Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, 56(2), 117–130.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • CDP and Deloitte. (2011). CDP Water Disclosure Global Report 2011. New York: Carbon Disclosure Project.

    Google Scholar 

  • DWSD. (2014). Finance Committee Binder. Detroit, MI: Detroit Water and Sewerage Department.

    Google Scholar 

  • DWSD. (2015). Finance Committee Binder. Detroit, MI: Detroit Water and Sewerage Department.

    Google Scholar 

  • EPA. (2013). Providing Safe Drinking Water in America: 2013 National Public Water Systems Compliance Report. Washington, DC: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

    Google Scholar 

  • FWW. (2010). Trends in Water Privatization. Washington, DC: Food and Water Watch.

    Google Scholar 

  • FWW. (2012). Municipalization Guide. Washington, DC: Food and Water Watch.

    Google Scholar 

  • Jacobson, C. D., & Tarr, J. A. (1994). The Development of Water Works in the United States. Rassegna: Themes in Architecture, 57, 37–41.

    Google Scholar 

  • Johnson, B. B. (2003). Do Reports on Drinking Water Quality Affect Customers’ Concerns? Experiments in Report Content. Risk Analysis, 23(5), 985–998.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Koeppel, G. T. (2000). Water for Gotham: A History. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Konisky, D. M., & Teodoro, M. P. (2015). When Governments Regulate Governments. American Journal of Political Science, 60(3), 559–574.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • KPMG. (2012). Expect the Unexpected: Building Business Value in a Changing World. Switzerland: KPMG International.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kurland, N. B., & Zell, D. (2010). Water and Business: A Taxonomy and Review of the Research. Organization and Environment, 23(3), 316–353.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Lyon, T. P., Montgomery, A. W., & Zhao, D. (2018). Do For-Profit Firms Degrade Quality?: Evidence from Drinking Water Systems in the U.S. University of Michigan Working Paper.

    Google Scholar 

  • Mack, E. A., & Wrase, S. (2017). A Burgeoning Crisis? A Nationwide Assessment of the Geography of Water Affordability in the United States. PLoS One, 12(1), e0169488.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Masten, S. E. (2010). Public Utility Ownership in 19th-Century America: The “Aberrant” Case of Water. The Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization, 27(3), 604–654.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Montgomery, A. W., Lyon, T. P., & Zhao, D. (2018). Not a Drop to Drink? Drinking Water Quality, System Ownership, and Stakeholder Attention. Research in the Sociology of Organizations, 56(7), 207–245.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • NIAC. (2016). Water Sector Resilience, June 2016 Draft. Washington, DC: National Infrastructure Advisory Council.

    Google Scholar 

  • Pérard, E. (2009). Water Supply: Public or Private? An Approach Based on Cost of Funds, Transaction Costs, Efficiency and Political Costs. Policy and Society, 27(3), 193–219.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Priest, G. L. (1993). The Origins of Utility Regulation and the “Theories of Regulation” Debate. The Journal of Law and Economics, 36(1, Part 2), 289–323.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Smith, H. J. (2003). Privatization of Small Water Systems. National Rural Water Association.

    Google Scholar 

  • Solomon, S. (2010). Water: The Epic Struggle for Wealth, Power, and Civilization. New York: Harper Perennial.

    Google Scholar 

  • Troesken, W. (2001). Race, Disease, and the Provision of Water in American Cities, 1889–1921. The Journal of Economic History, 61(3), 750–776.

    Google Scholar 

  • Troesken, W., & Geddes, R. (2003). Municipalizing American Waterworks, 1897–1915. Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization, 19(2), 373–400.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Wallsten, S., & Kosec, K. (2008). The Effects of Ownership and Benchmark Competition: An Empirical Analysis of U.S. Water Systems. International Journal of Industrial Organization, 26, 186–205.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Wilcox, D. F. (1911). Municipal Franchises: A Description of the Terms and Conditions upon Which Private Corporations Enjoy Special Privileges in the Streets of American Cities (Vol. 2). Gervaise Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • World Economic Forum. (2015). The Global Risks Report 2015 (11th ed.). Geneva: World Economic Forum.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Dan Zhao .

Editor information

Editors and Affiliations

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

Copyright information

© 2019 The Author(s)

About this chapter

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this chapter

Zhao, D., Montgomery, A.W. (2019). US. In: Porcher, S., Saussier, S. (eds) Facing the Challenges of Water Governance. Palgrave Studies in Water Governance: Policy and Practice. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.

Download citation

  • DOI:

  • Published:

  • Publisher Name: Palgrave Macmillan, Cham

  • Print ISBN: 978-3-319-98514-5

  • Online ISBN: 978-3-319-98515-2

  • eBook Packages: Social SciencesSocial Sciences (R0)