Comparison of water supplies and sanitation systems

Vienna, December 2018

In recent decades, there has been frequent discussion of the “correct” way to organise and manage municipal water supply and sanitation. This discussion has been supplemented by a number of scientific studies and various political initiatives (e.g. regarding competition and procurement law).

Around fifteen years ago, a comparison of water management systems in Europe was produced by Schönbäck et al. (2003), investigating municipal water supply and sanitation systems using a variety of criteria and indicators.

Since this study, there have been developments both with regards to further market liberalisation and privatisation as well as a rise in re-municipalising public utilities as part of public infrastructure.

The current study also presents a comprehensive comparison of six selected Europe an systems (Germany, England/Wales, France, Austria, Portugal and Hungary). Its purpose is to analyse water management systems and address the questions of whether one particular system for organising these systems should be favoured over any other in order to improve sustainability (from an environmental, economic and social standpoint) and, if so, which criteria or indicators should form the basis of such a policy.

In addition to considering various systems for water management, we also consider policies in the European multi-level governance system, new forms of financialisation ( e. g. the emergence of financial investors and their business modelsin the water sector) and re-municipalisation as well as different forms of outsourcing and privatisation (e.g. public-private partnerships, PPPs).

First and foremost, the authors would like to thank national and international experts for their commitment to the project and for the varied discussions and comprehensive information they provided. Their generosity has helped to ensure that the present study was based on a broad range of evidence.

We also owe particular thanks to the organisations which commissioned the present study, the Vienna Chamber of Labour, the Austrian Association of Cities and Towns and younion_Die Daseinsgewerkschaft .We would like to offer our heartfelt thanks to I. Strutzmann, G. Dernbauer, M. Wipplinger and S. Leodolter for wide-ranging discussions, assistance and feedback.

Michael Getzner, Bettina Köhler, Astrid Krisch, Leonhard Plank

The final report