Water Utility Organization and Structure

Most of the 55,000 water suppliers in the United States are extremely small utilities existing in rural areas; while a relatively small number of medium- and large-sized systems supply the largest share of consumers in densely populated areas. About 3700 of the largest water supply systems in the United States provide water to about 80% of the country's population. Most water utilities are municipally owned and operated. A small number of large private companies operate systems in multiple states. Some of the water suppliers are identified as irrigation districts since they were originated to provide water for agricultural irrigation. There are several large water wholesalers, providing bulk volumes of water to small suppliers. The organizational and management structure of water utilities varies widely with many systems operated by local governments; either as municipalities or authorities; and many large and small privately operated systems existing as well. System boundaries usually coincide with political boundaries rather than natural (watershed) boundaries.

Typically, water accountability practitioners are distribution system operators and water conservationists are public affairs or policy professionals. Lacking a national awareness and consensus on the overall water loss problem, these two camps historically did not interact widely or integrate their efforts under a single water conservation/ efficiency mission. Fortunately, this has begun to change as stakeholders from both disciplines are now coordinating on a number of important initiatives.

Establishing standards amid this wide array of conditions is complex but as demonstrated by the implementation of complex water quality mandates under the U.S. Safe Drinking Water Act (1974, 1996 amendments), not insurmountable.

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