Washington Forum to Focus on Future of Water Industry

2003 marks the 30th anniversary of the WWEMA Washington Forum. It also marks the passage of the Clean Water Act 30 years ago.

By Dawn Kristof

2003 marks the 30th anniversary of the WWEMA Washington Forum. It also marks the passage of the Clean Water Act 30 years ago. As I write these remarks, we are in the process of planning this year's event to take place on May 8-9 in our Nation's Capital. Over the course of two days, our members will hear from the nation's policy makers on what lies in store on the legislative, regulatory and international fronts as it pertains to the market for water and wastewater products and services.

Leaders from across the industry will offer their perspectives on the business outlook for the water market. Understanding the political and economic drivers that will determine the future health and wealth of the water and wastewater market is critical to our member companies as they plan their goals and strategies for growth.

What are the primary drivers that impact the demand for water and wastewater products and services? Money, for starters. The federal government is running up a massive deficit, which will only worsen in the event of war. State and local governments are faring no better. New home sales plummeted 15% in January. All signs should be pointing downward, but results are up in the public works sector. Annual gains of 19% for sewer work and 10% for water supply systems were recently reported by McGraw-Hill Construction's Dodge division.

Ken Simonson, chief economist for the Associated General Contractors of America, will address this topic at the upcoming Washington Forum in a presentation titled, "The Economic and Political Outlook for Water/Wastewater Construction: Flush Times Ahead or Drying Up?" He will offer his views on the future construction market involving water and the political climate for infrastructure funding.

So if funds are drying up, why isn't the water and wastewater market doing the same? I can think of two good reasons: politics and people!

On the political front, EPA keeps issuing new regulations and enforcing existing ones. This year alone WWEMA's two regulatory committees covering drinking water and wastewater issues are tracking 19 new regulations under development that will impact municipal and industrial facilities and spark demand for a variety of existing and new technologies in the years to come. We have invited senior policy makers from EPA to this year's Washington Forum to shed light on these regulatory developments.

As for people, they keep proliferating! The world's population of 5.9 billion is growing faster than ever before – by about 230,000 people a day. The next 35 years are projected to add another 2.5 billion people – 90 percent of them in developing countries! Compounding this reality is the fact that per capita water consumption is rising twice as fast as the world's populations. So, too, has the public's expectation for improved water quality. Rapid population growth and water consumption is placing greater stresses upon our fragile environment and demand for solutions are being heard across the globe.

International trade specialists will offer their insights into the greatest opportunities for U.S. providers of water and wastewater products and services in the coming years. WWEMA will also be entering into a Memorandum of Understanding with the U.S. Department of Commerce's International Trade Administration during this year's event as further evidence of the growing importance that exports will have on the viability of our industry.

Our 30th Washington Forum will also be taking an in-depth look at what some view as a facilitator for growth, and others as an impediment to growth, that being the EPA-sponsored Environmental Technology Verification Program. This program continues to expand its reach into all water and wastewater product sectors and could play a critical role in getting any products specified for water security-related applications.

A session will be devoted at this year's Forum to understanding the genesis of this program, what is driving its development, and whether it will prove to be a "boon or bust"' in advancing the state of technology in the water and wastewater industry.

In reviewing the program from WWEMA's 1st Washington Forum held in 1973, it is interesting to note that many of the drivers that impact us now are no different than those that consumed our attention 30 years ago: funding, legislation and regulations, technology development and foreign trade. What has changed is the depth of knowledge we have acquired as an industry to resolve yesterday's problems, meet today's challenges and anticipate tomorrow's needs as stewards of the environment. WWEMA's Washington Forum provides our members the knowledge base from which to better serve their municipal and industrial clients.

About the author: Dawn Kristof is President of the Water and Wastewater Equipment Manufacturers Association. WWEMA was established as a national trade organization in 1908 and represents the interests of the nation's leading producers of water and wastewater technologies used in municipal and industrial applications worldwide.

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