State of the Water Industry

It has been said that “friends come and go, but enemies accumulate”. Perhaps a similar axiom could apply to the water industry – “solutions come and go, but challenges accumulate.” 

Case in point, it has been known for decades the effects of lead on cognitive development and regulations for control of lead in tap water have been on the books since 1991. Nonetheless, the Flint, MI water crisis demonstrated that occurrence and control of lead in tap water is still a challenge for some utilities. (Download Mission: Water magazine to view infographic Lead: An Accumulating Problem)

Compliance with current regulations, including the lead and copper rule ranks 20th on the list of concerns for water industry professionals according to the 2017 State of the Water Industry (SOTWI) survey conducted by the American Water Works Association

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One of the most noticeable trends from the survey which has been conducted annually since 2004 is a steady decline in how professionals perceive the health of the water industry. 

The causes of this trend are not known but it could be related to the growing number and complexity of industry challenges. For example, the degraded status of infrastructure is well-known among industry professionals so it isn’t surprising that the top ranked issue from the survey is renewing and replacing (R&R) water and wastewater infrastructure, as it has been for every one of the most recent surveys.

Financing for capital improvements, a closely related topic, ranks 2nd. Funding infrastructure projects is becoming increasingly challenging. The available financing seems to be sufficient, but there is an annual investment gap of $11 billion. (See financing options for YSI instrumentation.)

The trouble is that justifying the needed projects to rate-payers is a hard sell. The US public has come to expect outstanding services even as our systems operate out of the view of most consumers. It is not surprising, then that public understanding of the value of water systems/services and water resources come in at 4th and 5th.

Strategic customer engagement via the new medium of social media is now critical to winning support. Once projects are completed, who will operate them? Concerns over the aging workforce and talent attraction and retention come in at 12th and 14th, respectively. It is expected that much of the existing workforce will retire in the next 5 to 10 years. The new hires that take the place of the retirees will require new and different skills to operate the increasingly technical and complicated infrastructure needed to meet new regulations calling for new permit requirements. A renewed emphasis on attracting and retaining talent is imperative.     


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