Water Regionalization Opportunity Changes the Water Lease Politics

One of the original problems with the Allentown water lease plan in the pre-bid days was that a completely unaccountable corporation was maybe going to win control of Allentown’s water and sewer systems for 50 years, and charge whatever prices they wanted with impunity.

Another problem with it was that a private for-profit concern controlling Allentown’s water system was going to prevent a County-wide consolidation of all of Lehigh and Northampton Counties’ dozens of small water authorities – a goal that, when complete, will save the regions tens of millions of dollars each year.

Now, in the post-bid world, we know that the first problem will not happen because LCA is a public authority, and the people’s representatives have a bit of control over their board through the appointment power.

And we know that the second problem will not only not happen, but that this deal will make substantial progress toward the important goal of reducing fragmentation of governance of the region’s water infrastructure.

Bernie hates the Lehigh Valley Partnership for culture war reasons, but they’re completely correct about this. Consolidating water authorities under LCA will save everyone money. And regionalizing water authorities is a crucial piece of the political project of stopping more exurban sprawl from being built on cornfields. I get why political candidates are still getting mileage out of opposing the lease with LCA, but at this point they’re wrong. The main problems with the lease idea are now moot, and this is actually the first-best option.


  1. Your headline is off here. The politics are unchanged. The political question is, why after eight years does a Mayor have to sell his water authority? The politics still suck for the incumbents. The policy is what’s changed, and yes, it’s now good.

    • Jon Geeting says:

      There are a few political issues. One is the straightforward question of change vs. no change, and there’ll always be an opportunity in a situation like this for a politician to exploit the public’s small-c conservative bias against big changes. What’s changed is that now the option on the “change” side is another progressive position. What used to be a simple left vs. right fight about whether to hand control of a public utility over to a corporation, is now an intra-left fight about regional vs. fragmented control of the water infrastructure.

  2. Agreed on the benefit of LCA running the place. However, how did Allentown decide to close the budget gap resulting from losing the annual income from the water infrastructure? Never really saw it, but it seemed like the annual “privilege” fee/royalty dropped off the table.

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