Who's Moving the Water in the 21st Century?

WWEMA's 31st Washington Forum attracted over 100 industry representatives and speakers who converged on the Nation's Capital to delve into the issues that are shaping the future of the water and wastewater industry.

by Dawn C. Kristof

WWEMA's 31st Washington Forum attracted over 100 industry representatives and speakers who converged on the Nation's Capital to delve into the issues that are shaping the future of the water and wastewater industry. The program encompassed a spectrum of topics from domestic legislative and regulatory developments, to global economic and market trends.

One session in particular piqued the audience's attention. Five senior executives from renowned companies in the industry took part in a panel session to discuss what it takes to compete in this dynamic industry and, in their opinion, Who's Moving the Water in the 21st Century – as the session was appropriately titled.

WWEMA Chairman and CEO of Aqua-Aerobic Systems, Bob Wimmer, moderated the session and generated an energetic dialogue between the session participants and the audience. Here are some of the highlights.

Steve Gorden, Vice President of Corporate Development for American Water / RWE, identified key trends that will impact future demand for water and wastewater technologies, including more stringent EPA regulations governing pharmaceuticals, endocrine-disruptors, and even operational standards for distribution and transmission, collector and interceptor conduits. In addition, with population growth of 3.2 million per year, and with eight states growing in excess of 6% per annum, there will be additional pressure to conserve and reuse water, Gorden predicted.

Tom Pokorsky, President of ITT Industries' Sanitaire Division, agreed that wastewater reuse and desalination will be high growth markets for years to come and that membrane filtration will be the technology of the future. EPA's surface water treatment rules will also drive demand for ITT's ultraviolet disinfection and filtration systems, Pokorsky noted.

Len Graziano, CEO of Severn Trent Services, stated that his company intends to capitalize on niche technology opportunities, such as arsenic treatment and alternatives to chlorination, as part of its disinfection and filtration platform for municipal and industrial applications. His company further plans to expand its contract operations business, which currently serves 600 sites in 32 states, he said.

Steve Wirtel, an Executive Vice President of USFilter, stated that his company also plans to expand its contract operations efforts in both the industrial and municipal market and will be dedicating additional R&D resources to developing membrane technologies for water and wastewater applications.

Unlike the other company representatives with strong municipal portfolios, GE will continue to focus on the industrial market, where it gets 90% of its revenues and can leverage its existing technology base to bring new and cost-effective solutions to its customer base, according to George Oliver, Vice President and General Manager for GE Water Technologies.

When the panel was asked what they view as key to the success of their respective companies, Graziano replied that Severn Trent Services has focused on its core competencies, building a brand through continuous product development and improving customer service. While still continuing to look for acquisitions, he believes that building strategic alliances will be the fastest and most productive way to expand markets.

GE's success, according to Oliver, is to be the number one leader of technology in every field they serve and to position their 2,200 field service engineers globally where they can best serve their customers.

In response to what new technologies are on the horizon, Wirtel of USFilter described technology to reduce biosolids, as well as membrane bioreactors used in lieu of a clarification process, making activated sludge more efficient. Pokorsky of ITT also noted the trend toward the use of membrane bioreactors as well as new monitors that can detect biological and chemical agents in water.

GE's Oliver identified desalination with membranes as a growth market, along with reuse and recycling by industrial customers who use 25% of all water, yet waste 85% of it. Other technologies of the future, according to Oliver, include remote monitoring, sensing and products that provide increased protection from pathogens.

Gorden of American Water / RWE believes that the back office of utilities has been ignored to date, offering great potential for new services like 24-hour national call centers. He further added that many communities have reached their bonding capacity which may result in their divesting of utilities, opening up new doors for public-private partnerships.

Another popular topic of discussion was the move toward design/build as an alternative delivery method.

Gorden stated that utilities are moving away from the conventional system of "design, bid, build and SUE" and embracing the design/build approach, which can offer significant savings in half the time. Wirtel agreed that while design/build/operate does not appear to be taking hold due to political inertia, the design/build approach is growing at a rapid rate. He offered the examples of Montgomery Watson Harza that expects one-third of its business to be in design/build, and CH2M Hill that acquired a construction company and plans to build half of its business around design/build in the next five years.

Graziano predicted that design/build will experience a 25% growth rate and will require selling to a different set of customers who will come to expect quality equipment. Pokorsky added that it is the way business is done overseas and that ITT is structured as a "systems solutions" company to accommodate this model.

All panel participants agreed that design/build will be good for business, with owners who will demand and pay for quality products. They acknowledged that it may require doing more work with the engineers upfront, but that it is certainly more profitable in the end.

The consensus was that the "movers and shakers" in the 21st Century water industry will be those companies that understand the marketplace, focus on their core competencies, provide cost-effective solutions using quality technologies, and never lose site of their customers' needs.

About the author:
Dawn Kristof is president of the Water and Wastewater Equipment Manufacturers Association. WWEMA was founded in 1908 as a non-profit trade association, representing the interests of companies that provide water and wastewater equipment for municipal and industrial applications worldwide.

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