By Dawn Kristof Champney
The theme of the WWEMA 105th Annual Meeting, held mid-November in Florida, was "A New Dawn." A double entendre indeed, given my announced retirement after 35 years with the organization and a realization that the municipal water and wastewater market is seeing signs of improvement as it recovers from the Great Recession of 2009 - two facts that I hope are unrelated!
This year's renowned speakers offered unique insights on the challenges, opportunities and expectations for growth for the water and wastewater industry in coming years.
John de Yonge from Ernst & Young's Global Cleantech Center highlighted that the U.S. water sector is on the verge of transformation, with the economic downturn having driven opportunity for change - from operational efficiencies and use of public- private partnerships (PPPs) to extracting energy from waste streams. The downturn has also presented opportunities for developing new approaches to financing that incorporate sustainability values. Rather than pricing water based solely on cost, he espoused a new tariff structure that considers the value of water. Advancing conservative utility bidding procedures and updating building codes to allow for procurement of efficient, cutting-edge equipment and technologies were also identified as effective tools to advance the industry.
In his presentation titled, "Do You Want the Good News or Bad News First? The State of the Water Utility Sector and the Business of Water," Tracy Mehan of The Cadmus Group opined that "America's infrastructure assets are threatened not by terrorist or enemies from abroad but by our own neglect or fecklessness." Inadequate investment in operations, maintenance and infrastructure; below-cost water rates; a staggering federal debt; and unfunded liabilities by state and local governments were among the issues he cited of greatest concern. At the same time, he offered words of encouragement that hope is on the horizon with greater national awareness of the need to invest in water and wastewater infrastructure and for a steady uptick in rates to support needed investment in the industry.
Further driving the investment in water infrastructure will be greater regulation of nutrients and management of stormwater discharges, along with increased use of PPPs. He concurred with de Yonge regarding the need to shift from the traditional commodity model of pricing to a more compelling services model that accounts for the true value of water in all aspects of society.
Another major driver that will transform the water industry in the coming years is water scarcity, noted Wade Miller of the WateReuse Association. "The problem is not a lack of water but a lack of enough water in the right places at the right quality at the right time," he observed. With only 7 percent of the 32 billion gallons per day of municipal effluent in the U.S. currently being reclaimed and reused, this market has large opportunity for growth, as do direct potable reuse, industrial reuse, desalination, and conservation, said Miller. The state of California alone plans to expend between $800 million and $1 billion annually on recycled water projects over the next decade, according to a survey conducted by WateReuse and other water organizations.
To help advance technology innovation to meet industry challenges, the Water Environment Federation (WEF) and the Water Environment Research Foundation (WERF) have undertaken an initiative called LIFT - Leaders Innovation Forum for Technology - as explained by Claudio Ternieden of WEF. The program will initially focus on shortcut nitrogen removal, phosphate recovery, digestion enhancements, biosolids to energy, and energy from wastewater. LIFT will afford technology providers a platform to showcase new products and facilitate collaboration on system testing, as well as help secure capital to minimize risk and achieve successful implementation, he noted.
Ken Kirk of the National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA) agreed that the economic downturn and affordability concerns have led to a "motivation for innovation." NACWA is engaged in the "Utility of the Future" initiative, whose purpose is to remove barriers and ensure incentives for energy conservation and production; water reclamation and resiliency; resource recovery; product stewardship; green infrastructure; and adaptive management approaches. NACWA will also spearhead a "Water Week" policy forum and congressional fly-in on April 7-9, 2014. It will include an exposition on Capitol Hill to educate policymakers on the life- saving role served by water and wastewater professionals.
WWEMA members left the Annual Meeting with restored confidence that through efforts such as "Utility of the Future" and LIFT, and with greater attention devoted to promoting the value of water and the benefits of investing in water infrastructure, the future of the industry is filled with great promise and excitement. I wish you well in your endeavors.
About the Author: Dawn Kristof Champney is president of the Water and Wastewater Equipment Manufacturers Association (WWEMA), a 105-year-old national trade organization representing the interests of companies that manufacture and supply products for use in potable water and wastewater treatment applications. Circle No. 245 on Reader Service Card