When we rang in the start of a new decade last December, none of us had any idea how 2020 might actually turn out. The year began with so much promise, and then we got to March. The world screeched to a halt as we all tried to “flatten the curve” by staying home. Many have lost their jobs as our industry event calendar was wiped clean. Hiring freezes, combined with the need to do more with less, have left many feeling spread too thin or wiped out.
The city and state shutdowns and disruptions to all facets of industry are ongoing, and as we look ahead to 2021, it’s hard to see a time when all this might finally end. For many, this year has often felt like trying to fly an airplane while building it, and yet so much good has come out of an incredibly turbulent time.
I’m sure I am not alone when I say that before March, I barely spoke to my neighbors unless I happened to bump into one on the way to throw out the trash. Today, we’ve created a sort of “pandemic pod,” and I’ve seen many of the neighborhood families more than I have seen my own during this time. Our kids have played in the driveways together as playgrounds and parks in the area were closed, and our neighborhood group text is full of positive messages and offers to help with anything from an extra cup of sugar to housekeeping and laundry services for a woman with young children whose husband was deployed during this time.
As of the writing of this column, remote working is still the de facto practice in many industries. Technologies that were already available, but rarely used, are now primary business tools. The pandemic has shown us new ways of doing business and given many people more flexibility into how they do their jobs in the process.
When, after March 2020, almost all scheduled in-person events were canceled, virtual became the only game in town to bring our industry together. While some events in Q1 have moved or announced they will move forward in an online format, at some point in 2021, hybrid events and eventually in-person events will return.
According to Bluefield Research, “The recent fallout has led to changes in consumer behaviors, company operations, and strategic planning overnight. As a result, the water industry is compelled to pivot toward more resilient services, solutions, and sectors [in 2021].” (You can read more about Bluefield’s outlook on page 8.)
Indeed, the pandemic has provided a catalyst for change, with a focus on new technologies in the water industry. One notable example is wastewater-based epidemiology, which we have written about extensively this year. Wastewater treatment has been brought to the public’s attention, just as the spotlight has been focused on the need for adequate sanitation and clean water services in light of the public health crisis. This is good news for our industry. As citizens become interested in the work that we do, support from community leaders and government will follow. Many industry advocacy groups have already called on Congress to increase funding for utilities. The Water Environment Federation (WEF), American Water Works Association (AWWA), National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA), and others have requested that our nation’s water and wastewater systems be included in any future coronavirus relief legislation moving forward.
As we turn the page on 2020, rather than thinking about the bad this year has given us, let’s consider the opportunities that have been created as the old ways of doing business have paused amid the pandemic.
Here’s to a healthy, happy — and hopefully in-person — 2021. Thanks for reading! WW