Contract With Veolia Would Benefit Saint Louis Water Services

Apr 23, 2013

Innovation comes from the private sector. You don’t have to be a radical capitalist to agree with that simple truth.  For example, a private inventor, not a government water company, devised the water meter.   St. Louis residents will benefit from the proposed consulting deal with a private company to improve the city’s water division.     

In putting together a team of officials working to improve water services, Saint Louis Mayor Francis Slay deserves credit, not criticism. When an agency such as the water division, which has been doing something for a long time, seeks ways to improve, they need to look outside the organization for new ideas. Anything else is an exercise in futility.

The team the mayor established collected many water consulting bids and chose the French company, Veolia, to advise the city. The contract calls for a $250,000 consulting fee. Depending on which suggestions the city chooses, Veolia would then be paid more to help enact the improvements.

This is not privatization. Trust me, I wrote the study on privatizing the city water division and I wish this was privatization. It is not. This is a simple consulting deal. The city would still own, operate, and maintain every part of the water division. All this proposal calls for is tapping into the private sector expertise to improve water service. That will benefit everyone, and should be embraced, not attacked.

Opponents of this proposal are applying the shotgun approach in their fight: objecting to everything possible. This includes irrelevant issues like Veolia’s work in the West Bank and Israel and cherry-picking a few Veolia city contracts that failed and ignoring the many that have succeeded. Veolia has been effectively providing comprehensive water services in Oklahoma City and Edwardsville, Ill. — to give just two Midwest examples — for many years. Those cities have routinely renewed their Veolia contracts.

This contract has nothing to do with privatization, but the absolute objection to private water from some is still strange. Private water companies have been serving the one million people in Saint Louis County for a century. Do you recall all the scandals and controversies about private water in the county? Neither do I.

But it is scandalous that the city water division has never put in water meters. I am not blaming current leadership — this should have been mandated 50 years ago. The lack of water meters encourages waste, inefficiency, and is unfair to consumers. When the city raises water rates, residents have no effective way to react. Businesses, which have water meters in the city, can respond to price hikes by reducing usage to save money. as AB InBev recently did. City residents deserve the same ability to benefit from conservation,

City residents who use less water have long subsidized heavy water consumers. If you choose to sprinkle your lawn like you’re a zealot at Masada, wallowing in abundant water to purposely taunt the suffering Romans legions in the scorched desert below, that’s fine. But you should pay for it, not your neighbors.
The consulting deal with Veolia will result in many different ideas for better water delivery.  People, businesses, and governments all benefit when they seek advice from knowledgeable parties outside their normal circles.  The objections to the contract are an example of scattered ideology trying to stop practical steps for general improvement. The Veolia contract will improve water service in the city, and that will benefit us all.