PRIVATE WATER OPERATORS: A TOOL FOR PUBLIC AUTHORITIES
AN ANSWER TO THE NEED FOR RELIABLE WATER SERVICES
Water users all over the world need safe water. They also need their wastewater to be collected and treated safely. People, business, industry and the environment need to be protected from unsafe or polluted waters. Public authorities have to match all these users’ expectations at an optimised cost. Private operators are an option to respond to these demands as instructed, regulated and controlled by public authorities.
A GOOD OPTION AMONG GOOD SOLUTIONS
Teaming up with private water operators represents a good option for public authorities to ensure the delivery of water supply and sanitation services. If the public authority’s choice is to externalise all or part of these services, they can use public bodies or private companies. Both can deliver excellent results depending on circumstances and on several success factors. The skills and capacity of the operator, the quality of the public policy, the adequacy of the infrastructure and the good organisation of the relationship between the authority and its operators are the key factors for success.
CHANGE AGENTS TARGETING SUSTAINABLE AND RELIABLE PERFORMANCE
Organising the road to good service delivery usually requires change in attitudes to working practices and processes. Professional water operators care about the sustainability of the services that they deliver. Private operators’ reliability and efficiency, within the goals of the contract or license, is assessed in their ability to manage change effectively in order to make service improvements. Contract performance indicators (KPIs) are used to measure progress and ensure contractual compliance in a sustainable way. The search for efficiency of water utilities is rooted in the purpose of private water operators. They are employed to improve the efficiency of services. It is one of the main reasons why they are hired by public authorities. Together with their clients, the public authorities, they aim at improving service performance while making cost-savings in order to limit the increase in costs to water-users.
1/ Ensuring the quality of water supply to protect public health and economic activities
Safe and regular supplies of water are essential to everybody to ensure their health and well-being. It is also essential for almost every sort of business and commercial activity. The quality of water supplied therefore has to comply with applicable public health standards and it should be available at an adequate pressure for 24 hours a day 7 days a week. It is the operators job to ensure this.
In Algiers, Algeria, the partnership contract has enabled the continuous 24/7 water supply to be expanded from just 8% of the population to 100% within 4 years. At the same time the bacteriological quality compliance of the water supplied reached 100% by May 2008.
2/ To save large volumes of freshwater private operators reduce leakage and water losses.
It is important to save water to protect natural resources and to ensure that treated water is not lost from distribution as this results in unnecessary costs and oversized infrastructure. Water can be lost in two ways, physical losses (leaks) from the pipelines and administrative losses (water that is not paid for). The combination of these two kinds of loss can often mount up to 40-50% of the water taken from the sources. Reducing both kinds of water wastage requires specific skills and techniques.
3/ Wastewater management is essential for human health, economic development and protection of ecosystems.
Almost all water that has been used is polluted in some way. Much of this pollution can be dangerous and therefore all forms of used water need to be collected and treated safely so they do not harm people, economic activities or the environment.
In Limeira, Brazil (1995-2004), in spite of a 31% population growth, the proportion of people connected to wastewater collection systems has been raised from 78% to 100% in less than 10 years and the treatment rates of the wastewater reached 100%.
4/ Managing energy consumption to reduce costs and climate impacts.
Moving and treating water and wastewater consumes a great deal of energy. Water wasted is energy wasted. Inefficient processes also waste energy while efficient ones can sometimes create it. The energy bill of the water service can often be 30% of the service costs. This energy consumption is also big enough to impact climate change.
In Bucharest, Romania, the annual electricity consumption has been reduced by 60% between 2010 and 2013 (if the consumption of the new Wastewater Treatment Plant that entered into operation in July 2011 is excluded, the reduction would have been 78%).
5/ Private operators improve the management of the existing assets and maintain the networks in good condition.
The need to restore or replace infrastructure that has become degraded through lack of maintenance or reached the end of its life, is one of the reasons public authorities employ private operators.
To comply with their contracts and reinforce the reputation, private operators have developed a wide range of techniques for maintaining and improving existing assets and for planning and installing new ones.
In the case of the distribution of water in Central Paris, France, (1985 – 2009) more than 50% of the distribution networks were renewed by the private water operators during their contracts. At the end of the contracts the average “functional” age of the distribution networks was 21 years younger than it was at the beginning of the PPP contracts 25 years earlier.
6/ Manage customer relations and revenue collection
Enjoying good water and sanitation services is often taken for granted by those who benefit. For mayors, public authorities and operators, good relations with users is very important. Seeking ways to provide information and solutions that people need: providing information, resolving queries, creating bills and collecting payments; are all important parts of good service performance.
7/ Private water operators raise and maintain staff capacity.
Private operators organise regular training to improve skills and raise knowledge at all levels of staff employed. In some cases, they have invested in dedicated private training centres.
Amendis, the operator in Tangiers, Morocco, has built a large training centre. The quality of the training programmes entitles the centre to deliver diplomas through an agreement with national universities.
In Cartagena, Colombia, the initial training programme has been massive: 125 hours per employee in 2000.
In Algiers, Algeria, 115,000 training days have been undertaken from 2006 to 2014.
8/ Private water operators anticipate, prepare for and react to natural disasters.
Continuous and reliable performance of water and wastewater services is essential. Operators have to keep their services operating at all times, including during exceptional events such as storms, floods, droughts or accidental pollution. They work with public authorities in civil defence planning and in many cases have special equipment and trained teams to react to emergencies.
The case of the February 2010 earthquake in Chile is remarkable. There, an earthquake more powerful than the one that destroyed Port-au-Prince in Haiti earlier the same year, damaged water networks in a whole region of Chile. The local private water operators reacted immediately. In the areas affected, 87.5% of the water supply was restored and operating within 72 hours after the disaster. In addition, the cost of this recovery did not fall on the public budget.