French utilities giant Suez Lyonnaise des Eaux SA has made its second splash of the month in the United States with its move to purchase Nalco Chemical Co., a water-treatment group.

The $4.1 billion agreement comes fast on the heels of the deal Suez Lyonnaise made on June 15 to buy Calgon Corp., a water-treatment company based in Pittsburgh.

Suez Lyonnaise Chairman Gerard Mestrallet said today that the company is keenly eyeing other opportunities in the rapidly changing U.S. water sector.

"We want to develop our presence in the United States with local partners and teams," Mestrallet said.

Suez Lyonnaise will launch an all-cash offer of $53 a share for the Naperville, Ill.-based Nalco Chemical. The French company plans to merge Nalco with its water-treatment units, Calgon Corp. and Aquazur.

Nalco shares rose $9, to $51.50, today on the New York Stock Exchange.

The merger will save Suez Lyonnaise $100 million over one year and will make it the world leader in water-treatment services, the company said in announcing the deal. The deal still must be confirmed by both companies' boards.

Suez Lyonnaise and its main rival, fellow French utility Vivendi SA, are competing fiercely for market share in the United States, where municipalities are launching a wave of privatizations.

Vivendi paid $970 million this month to buy Superior Services Inc., a Milwaukee waste-management company. In March, Vivendi paid $6.2 billion for U.S. Filter Corp., a water-treatment concern.

Nalco provides on-site services to over 45,000 industrial and commercial customers in more than 120 countries. Its 1999 revenue was expected to be about $1.94 billion.

Suez Lyonnaise intends to base its worldwide water-treatment operating center in Chicago. The company provides drinking water to 77 million people and waste-water services to 52 million people.

Even after the U.S. purchases, energy remains Suez Lyonnaise's core business, with water second and waste services third, Mestrallet said.

"Frankly, I think it will remain the case," he said. "The energy market is changing quickly in the United States and Europe, and we also want to be active in that market."