By Dawn Kristof Champney, WWEMA President
The dust has settled after what felt like a quarter-century fight for the White House. President Obama has been given another four years to lead the nation out of economic turmoil and engage a divided Congress in pursuit of common ground. Necessity is the mother of invention, as the proverb goes, and rarely has there been a greater need for inspirational leadership among our nation's policymakers to find equitable solutions to the economic challenges we face. The alternative of continued stalemate is unthinkable. With their backs against the wall — or more appropriately, the cliff — I earnestly believe that compromise is in the making and efforts to avert fiscal calamity will succeed.
In the meantime, life goes on and there is plenty of work to be done to protect the environment and maintain the critical infrastructure that ensures access to safe drinking water and sanitation services 24/7 — an infrastructure that serves as the underpinning of all commercial activity. That bodes well for companies serving the stoic water industry.
At a recent meeting of the WWEMA Presidents Council, CEOs from all spectrums of the water and wastewater equipment manufacturing community shared their concerns about the detrimental impact expiring tax cuts and federal spending cuts could have on their businesses. Rising health care costs also weighed heavily on their minds. Yet they remained optimistic and were in universal agreement that pent-up demand for water and wastewater treatment plant rehabilitation, expansion and new construction would propel increased investments in water and wastewater technologies going forward, though at a modest rate. Likewise, the industrial market is experiencing a resurgence of activity, especially in the oil and gas sectors, helping to offset any weakness on the municipal side for those companies with product offerings applicable to both.
Other signs of encouragement include a rebounding municipal bond market, freeing up affordable capital to communities for needed infrastructure investments. The steady rise in housing starts and building permits also offers reassurance that the market for water and wastewater equipment has bottomed out and is on a path to recovery, though the pace of recovery is subject to debate.
WWEMA's 104th Annual Meeting held in November gave further credence to the belief that ours remains a viable market, capable of riding out waves of economic turbulence. Reports presented confirmed that federal regulations will remain a major driver in the industry with no end in sight. The Obama Administration is expected to soon release several new regulations, currently residing in the Office of Management and Budget undergoing final review, subjecting cooling water intake structures to new site-specific controls; requiring public water systems to take corrective action in the event of positive total coliform monitoring results; establishing effluent limits for ballast water discharges; and mandating electronic reporting by facilities with Clean Water Act discharge permits.
On the calendar for release in 2013 is a proposed rule updating the 26-year-old effluent guidelines for coal-fired power plant discharges; a new "post construction" rule to curb stormwater from newly developed and redeveloped sites; revisions to the Lead and Copper Rule; and a host of possible new and revised drinking water standards, encompassing a group of carcinogenic volatile organic compounds, nitrosamines and perchlorate. Action is also expected in 2013 and beyond to develop new regulations governing the discharge of wastewater from shale gas extraction and coalbed methane operations. These represent just a handful of the likely water-related rules that will be forthcoming from the Obama Administration in the next term.
A bright light in the conversations held and presentations made during this year's Annual Meeting was the emphasis on technology and the opportunities that abound to bring innovative, cost-effective solutions to the water sector. One speaker opined that we are entering the most exciting times this industry has ever seen when it comes to transformative technologies, noting that $50 billion had been spent in water technology investments in the last decade alone.
WWEMA members will no doubt lead the way in reducing costs and adding value in their product offerings to the municipal and industrial sectors alike.
About the Author: Dawn Kristof Champney is President of the Water and Wastewater Equipment Manufacturers Association, a non-profit trade organization founded in 1908 to represent the interests of companies that manufacture products sold to the potable water and wastewater treatment industry. Its mission is to inform, educate and provide leadership on issues that affect the worldwide water and wastewater equipment industry.