Atlanta Bid Could Be Fierce
By Julie B. Hairston, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Consolidations and acquisitions among the companies in the emerging water industry will make the competition for the operations contract on Atlanta's main waste water treatment plant even more fierce than for last year's water contract, says one of the leading competitors.

Atlanta officials will begin within weeks to write the specifications that will be used to solicit bid for the city's R.M. Clayton Wastewater Treatment Plant later this year.

Meanwhile, top officials from Suez Lyonnaise des Eaux, the French parent company of United Water Services, came to Atlanta, the home of the company's largest North American contract, Thursday to discuss their plans for an expanding American presence.

Gerard Mestrallet, CEO of Suez Lyonnaise, said winning the Atlanta contract was a key element of the corporate expansion strategy.

"Atlanta for us will be a reference worldwide, a kind of showcase," Mestrallet said.

With a number of cities, including Birmingham, Nashville and Chicago, considering large operations contracts, industry leaders are poised to battle for a share of the largely untapped market.

"The water market used to be a local one everywhere in the world, and it still is local in the U.S.," Mestrallet said. "But it is becoming global."

Currently, Mestrallet said, there are more than 50,000 water companies in the United States. He predicted a rapid consolidation of that market.

United Water officials predicted that increasing privatization of water and waste water operations in the United States will produce significant savings for American consumers as well as improved water quality.

In Atlanta, they said the contract for waste water operations will mimic the results of the water contract.

"The savings will be very good and water quality improvement will be substantial," said David Sherman, president of United Water Services.

Because of its established relationship with the city and its established record of waste water operations in Indianapolis, Milwaukee and Gary, Ind., Sherman predicted that United Water would be "a target that everybody else will try to undercut" in the next round of bidding in Atlanta.