The water industry provides drinking water and wastewater services (including sewage treatment) to residential, commercial, and industrial sectors of the economy. Typically public utilities operate water supply networks. The water industry does not include manufacturers and suppliers of bottled water, which is part of the beverage production and belongs to the food sector.


The water industry includes water engineering, operations, water and wastewater plant construction, equipment supply and specialist water treatment chemicals, among others.

The water industry is at the service of other industries, e.g. of the food sector which produces beverages such as bottled water.

Organizational structure

There are a variety of organizational structures for the water industry, with countries usually having one dominant traditional structure, which usually changes only gradually over time.

Ownership of water infrastructure and operations


  • local government operating the system through a municipal department, municipal company, or inter-municipal company
  • local government outsources operations to private experts sector,(private water operators)
  • national government operations
  • private water operators owns the system
    • BOTs - private sector building parts of a water system (such as a wastewater treatment plant) and operating it for an agreed period before transferring to public sector ownership and operation.
  • cooperation and NGO operators


  • Integrated water system (water supply, sewerage (sanitation) system, and wastewater treatment)
  • Separation by function (e.g. Dutch system where sewerage run by city, water supply by municipal or provincial companies, and water treatment by water boards), though some Water Supply Companies have merged beyond municipal or provincial borders.
  • Other separation (e.g. Munich, separated into three companies for bulk water supply, water and wastewater network operations, and retail)


Water quality standards and environmental standards relating to wastewater are usually set by national bodies.