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Competition Cited as key to Fixing the National Underground Water Infrastructure

Wed April 18, 2012 - National Edition
Construction Equipment Guide

A new report published by the Competitive Enterprise Institute highlights one critical tool in the battle to control the growing cost of government: competition. In Fixing America’s Crumbling Underground Water Infrastructure: Competitive Bidding Offers a Way Out, author Bonner Cohen, Senior Fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research, details how increased competition would help reduce the costs associated with upgrading the nation’s deteriorating water supply and wastewater infrastructure.

Water main breaks and leaking water supply pipes cost American taxpayers billions of dollars every year in lost water and repair costs. Necessary upgrades promise to place additional stresses on taxpayers long into the future.

“Building and replacing water and sewage lines alone will cost some $660 billion to $1.1 trillion,” over the next 20 years, said Cohen.

“The task at hand” he said, is to find the “most efficient and cost-effective” solutions. “Inserting some market discipline into the process would go a long way toward achieving that goal,” Cohen continued.

Yet anti-competitive government contracting policies prevent many local governments from employing some of the most affordable and effective technologies available. For example, many do not allow PVC pipe to compete for contracts, favoring older pipe technologies. Yet PVC is very affordable, inert, and does not corrode like metal materials. Such anti-competitive procurement policies provide advantages to politically favored interests at the expense of taxpayers. Some localities follow such rules simply because of what Cohen calls “bureaucratic inertia”: failure to update procurement policies to address the development of new technologies.

“Given the degree of deterioration plaguing our underground water networks, and the severe financial constraints facing local governments, continuing outdated procurement practices is a prescription for disaster,” Cohen pointed out.

Atlanta; Baltimore; Boston; Chicago; Cincinnati; Columbus, Ohio; Jackson, Miss.; Los Angeles; Memphis; Miami; New York; Philadelphia; and Phoenix all bar PVC from the competitive bidding process. Meanwhile, communities that currently allow such competition have already benefited. Great Falls, Mont., for example, reduced its water main failure rate from 122 breaks in 1997 to just 35 by 2009 by allowing PVC pipe makers to bid for contracts.

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