David and Goliath: How Missoula Used Eminent Domain to Municipalize Its Water

  • Cory Mann, M.R.P. 2018
  • Class

    CRP 8906 M.R.P. Exit Project: Thesis-Writing
  • Instructor

    Mildred Warner

The City of Missoula, Montana, used its powers of eminent domain to take ownership of its water supply from The Carlyle Group, one of the world's largest private equity firms, in 2017. This case study uses Missoula as a lens to investigate two important facets of water privatization, illustrated by this event. First, how do private equity firms differ from other forms of water service provision? What regulatory challenges arise when large private equity firms own water utilities? Second, what are the promises and pitfalls of using eminent domain for (re)municipalization? This research sheds light on the condemnation process, examining the actors, interests, legal barriers — and opportunities — that municipalities face. The findings suggest that private equity firms may be too big to regulate. When privatization fails, eminent domain can be a tool of last resort — but it is no panacea.

This thesis was awarded the 2019 Peter B. Andrews Memorial Thesis Prize for the best thesis prepared for the degree of master of regional planning. The prize was established by Mrs. Peter B. Andrews and Dr. George C. Andrews in memory of Peter B. Andrews (B.Arch. '55, M.R.P. '57).