In honor of the UN’s World Water Day, a group of us from the Environmental Finance Center attended last month a performance of the play, “An Enemy of the People,” at Playmakers Theater here on UNC’s beautiful campus. It was well done and featured timeless, dramatic themes such as the struggle of one man’s battle to awaken the conscience of the community, the role of a whistleblower, the struggle to protect one’s family, and more. But the play also revolves around environmental finance and governance themes, which got me to wondering: How might this story (essentially set in nineteenth century Norway) fare differently in our own time and place? What different options for protection of public health and promotion of sustainable finance would governments, utilities, and the people have today, especially in regard to safe, clean water?
Stacey Isaac Berahzer is a Senior Project Director for the Environmental Finance Center at the University of North Carolina, and works from a satellite office in Georgia.
Water utilities in the United States operate under a variety of organizational structures and governance models. The possibility of a utility adopting a given financial management option depends largely on the governance model of that utility. Ownership and governance of water utilities fall to state and federal government agencies, tribes, municipalities, counties, districts, authorities, not-for-profit water associations, investor-owned water companies, international and national corporations, individuals, homeowner associations, and more. While there are nuances even within each of these classes, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), water systems in the United States are almost evenly split between those owned by local governments (48%) and those owned by private organizations (47%).
Generally, in research under the Water Research Foundation’s “Defining a Resilient Business Model” project we have found little evidence that organizational structures have had a significant impact on the financial performance of utilities. However an analysis of detailed data from Georgia and North Carolina did show an interesting pattern where independent authorities/districts were concerned. Continue reading