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A Virtuous, Critical and Complex Industry

Much like the hydrologic cycle, connecting the earth and atmosphere in the global circulation of water, the water industry itself is ever-evolving and shifting. As an organization that supports the virtuous North American water industry, you are part of something critical and special. Water is life.

The water industry continues to be in a challenging position. As outlined in the annual AWWA “State of the Water Industry” report the top concerns of their annual survey respondents were aging infrastructure and infrastructure funding noting that access to capital had become more difficult. However, with regards to the overall health of the industry, the 2,000+ seasoned water professionals surveyed responded positively, indicating they felt very good about their business now and in the future.

Focus on the End Customer

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Utilities’ customers include rate-paying consumers, businesses, and sometimes other utilities who then distribute the product to more consumers.  Most utilities put their customers’ interests first, with a laser focus on maintaining a high level of service (LOS).  Drinking water services are expected to be uninterrupted, safe, and appealing.  

Acceptable LOS is defined in many ways, and as a service provider, you help assure quality in all measures.  This could be defined by:

  •  federal regulations such as the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) and by additional regional regulations;
  •  socio-political expectations of the community being served, and 
  • the economic needs of businesses and households that cannot function without drinking water.  

When LOS isn’t met, there is social upheaval, and utilities suffer the consequences.  Public utilities having consistent operating or financial challenges increasingly have the possibility of being acquired by large consolidated utility companies, some of whom are publicly traded organizations on the U.S. stock exchange.  

Melding the New and the Old

While serving water utilities you experience the push and pull of new and old ideas.  The industry is, by necessity, risk-averse.  Slow, measured change is the norm.  This keeps the taps flowing, and the quality high.  But that doesn’t mean that the industry is standing still.  

There is evolving pressure around climate change that puts a new spin on managing flood and drought conditions.  Trade-offs are being made around sustainable sources of water and long-term storage.  

A change of the guard is happening, with seasoned veterans being replaced by new entrants to the workforce.  This new generation is more mobile and digitally native, with high expectations for the usability of systems, the safety of working environments, and concern for environmental protection.  

New management system frameworks are evolving and being increasingly deployed.  Municipalities such as the City of Los Angeles and associated regional agencies are deploying a One Water strategy, looking holistically at drinking water, stormwater and wastewater.  The AWWA is articulating the idea of Total Water Solutions, which extends the idea to water reuse.

 

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