Public-Public Partnerships: An alternative model

Public-Public Partnerships (PUPs) allow two or more public water utilities or non-governmental organizations to join forces and leverage their shared capacities. PUPs allow multiple public utilities to pool resources, buying power and technical expertise. The benefits of scale and shared resources can deliver higher public effi­ciencies and lower costs. These public partnerships, whether domestic or international, improve and promote public delivery of water through sharing best practices. 

The partnerships can take many forms and may include networks of public water operators in different areas or non-governmental organiza­tions. As a public collaboration, no PUP partner can generate a profit through the partnership. In short, PUPs provide the collaborative advantages of private partnerships without the profit-extracting focus of private operators, and they promote the public interest mission of equitably delivering water services.

Although PUPs can be used for many public func­tions, including roads and electricity, they have particular applicability to water. Access to safe drinking water varies widely across the globe. The United Nations Millennium Declaration aimed to “halve the proportion of people who are unable to reach or to afford safe drinking water.” To meet that ambitious goal, more than a billion people will need to gain access to safe water and sanitation by 2015. This tremendous undertaking will require both international cooperation and attention to local needs. Public-public partnerships are uniquely suited to this task.

The reason that PUPs work so well is that they retain local, public control of existing water systems. Public utilities are responsible for most water and wastewater services worldwide. In 2010, only about 12 percent of the world’s population had water or sewer service that was privatized in some way. The nature of water service as a public good and natural monopoly favors the public administra­tion of water systems.