There has never been a more important time for the public sector to share its story of success and be engaged in the dialogue on the role the private sector can play to supplement existing, municipally-led efforts. Early this year, White House officials announced the creation of the Water Infrastructure and Resiliency Finance Center, which will focus in part on public-private partnerships, and a proposal to establish a new Qualified Public Infrastructure Bond program (similar to Private Activity Bonds, but with no caps). At the same time, the Administration continues its push to scale back the long-standing tax exemption for municipal bond investors. All of this is on the heels of a Congressionally-sponsored report on the role of public-private partnerships in U.S. infrastructure and the creation of the Water Infrastructure Financing and Innovation Act (WIFIA), which is structured in part to facilitate private investment. In other words, the federal government is betting on private activity and investment as a way to address an expanding infrastructure shortfall, including but of course not limited to, the water sector.
While the federal government searches for answers, municipal governments are spending over $100 billion annually to improve the nation’s water and wastewater infrastructure. The nation’s water quality continues to improve thanks to municipal investment and innovation. As we all know, public agencies all work with the private sector every day and rely on them for their expertise and ideas in advancing water infrastructure projects – we ought to not be afraid of a dialogue that may open up additional avenues to build on this already existing and expanding partnership. Further, as we move toward the Utility of the Future, the municipal clean water community again is leading the way, going beyond simple compliance with the Clean Water Act. The private sector has been identified throughout this initiative as a crucial partner in part to help diversify the risk and provide some of the expertise these resource recovery and green infrastructure projects require.
I believe the clean water community should be at the table, talking together with the private sector, to help them understand when and where private sector involvement will be welcomed, appropriate, and mutually beneficial. To that end, NACWA is a partner for the 2015 American Water Summit. NACWA chose to partner based on what we have learned from past experience: that while the clean water community can learn from the private sector, the private sector can and must learn from us to gain a better appreciation of the world-class operations that public utility leaders finance and operate 24-7. It would also be remiss, if we did not explore the trillions in private capital that remains on the shelf and could be put to work to advance public infrastructure projects, including technological innovations at public clean water agencies.
I hope you will consider joining us at the American Water Summit: Scalable Solutions this October. NACWA has been encouraging broad participation in the Summit by NACWA member General Managers and senior utility staff with knowledge of finance and investment, and also understand that this may be outside the comfort zone for some and respect the decision not to attend. You can register here with a special NACWA Public Member Agency rate of $595, deeply discounted from the private registration fee of $1,395. I believe the clean water community should be at the table, talking together with the private sector, to help them understand when and where private sector involvement will be welcomed, appropriate, and mutually beneficial. We cannot continue to talk among ourselves and let the private sector do the same and expect different results. We must learn each other’s language and share our points of view – and see if it can lead to an improved picture for the entire water sector.
Adel Hagekhalil is a registered civil engineer with the State of California and a national Board Certified Environmental Engineer. Adel is currently an Assistant Director with the City of Los Angeles’ Bureau of Sanitation where he is responsible for the Bureau’s wastewater collection system management, storm water and watershed protection program, water quality compliance, and facilities and advance planning. Under his direction, the City has prepared an award winning “One Water” Water Integrated Resources Plan (IRP) for the year 2020 which relies on public input and participation and integrates water supply, water reuse, water conservation and stormwater management with wastewater facilities planning through a regional watershed approach. Adel is leading the City’s effort in green infrastructure and multi-benefit projects and embarking on the City 2040 One Water LA Plan. Adel is currently a Board member and President of the National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA). More information is available at www.lacitysan.org.