Water pollution has been a steadily growing challenge to many rapidly industrializing regions of the Pacific Rim. Governments have typically responded in the same way as those of the world's older developed countries, by piecemeal development of sewerage, leading ultimately to huge sewage disposal infrastructures in the public sector where resources have not been too scarce. The bureaucratic management of these services is not always perceived as effective by those whom it exists to serve. The paper examines the phenomenon of public bureaucracy, and critically reviews the benefits of the leading alternative, private sector involvement in the management of water pollution control. Using the history of institution building in Hong Kong as an example, it traces the development of an organizational style in response to water pollution issues. It suggests awareness of organizational characteristics and behaviour can help to improve service, but concludes that research into organizational effectiveness in pollution control is needed.