U.S. Filter’s goal to own the world’s water came one step closer to reality when French-based Vivendi SA announced March 22 it is acquiring U.S. Filter for $6.2 billion.

After the deal is completed, Vivendi will be the world’s largest water company — with an estimated $12 billion in annual sales in the water business. Once approved, the transaction would nearly double the revenues of Vivendi’s water treatment business through its Paris-based Generale des Eaux subsidiary, where U.S. Filter will be merged.

“What we recognized is that we share a vision of a full-service, global water enterprise,” said Jean-Marie Messier, chairman of Vivendi. “The world’s population is continuing to grow. Industry is demanding ever-higher standards of processed water for manufacturing and the demand for quality wastewater treatment to protect the environment has never been greater.”

California-based U.S. Filter owns two out of the top 10 and three out of the top 46 plumbing and mechanical contracting companies in the country. Since March 1998, U.S. Filter has purchased the Kinetic Group ($378 million), No. 2 on the 1998 PM 100; Fullman Co. ($130.34 million), No. 9 on the 1998 PM 100; and J.B. Rodgers ($82.92 million), No. 46 on the 1998 PM 100.

“This transaction makes strategic sense for us,” said Richard Heck-mann, U.S. Filter’s chairman and CEO. “Generale des Eaux offers U.S. Filter an enormous worldwide market for everything we manufacture. Together we will have a capability for tapping the municipal privatization market in the United States and elsewhere that we haven’t had before.” Vivendi is one of France’s largest companies, offering services in water concessions, media and telecommunications and construction. Vivendi will pay $31.50 per share in cash for U.S. Filter and assume $1.7 billion in debt. It is the largest French acquisition ever made in the United States.

Generale des Eaux was founded in 1853 to supply water to cities throughout France. It has more than 4,000 municipal contracts in France that provide drinking water treatment services to more than 25 million people and wastewater treatment services to some 16 million people. Outside France, Generale des Eaux provides water and wastewater treatment services for 65 million people on every continent. Vivendi has 235,000 employees in 90 countries.

U.S. Filter, founded in 1990, has more than 28,000 employees in 94 countries with revenues near $5 billion. It operates on three different levels in the industry, manufacturing valves, fittings and couplings; distributing $1.3 billion worth of plumbing goods; and becoming service-oriented with its newly purchased companies.