Water, Wastewater Utilities Face New Challenges to Future Resilience

A new collection of insights published by Arcadis highlights five fundamentals for utilities to successfully navigate aging infrastructure, a changing workforce and increasingly intense shocks to their systems.

With U.S. drinking water and wastewater infrastructure earning a C- and D+ respectively on the American Society of Civil Engineers 2021 Infrastructure Report Card, “Building a fit-for-future utility” outlines how utilities can optimize costs and avoid unsustainable rate increases.

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“Utilities are fighting an uphill battle against emerging challenges,” said Tanya McCoy-Caretti, client development director for Arcadis. “From transforming their workforce and addressing aging infrastructure, to embracing digitalization or accounting for the effects of climate change, our research has consistently shown that water utilities are aware of future stressors, but their roadmap to resilience remains a challenge to complete.”

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Research shows less than 15% of utilities feel equipped to fully cover costs of providing service in the future. Despite the EPA’s announcement that the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act will facilitate more than $12 billion in water infrastructure projects and the Biden administration’s proposed $111 billion in water infrastructure investment within the American Jobs Plan, optimizing available funding to bridge the gap and meet ever-growing needs will remain critical as utilities modernize their operations.

RELATED: ASCE’s Infrastructure Report Card Gives U.S. ‘C’-Grade

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Arcadis compiled data from surveys of water professionals and research from the past three years. The findings center on five interconnected elements of fit-for-future utilities: innovation, resilience, advanced asset management, intelligent water and the workforce. The needs of people, including employees, customers and stakeholders, were paramount in all five areas. Familiar challenges to the water industry, including the upcoming wave of retirements, lack of diversity and rate increases, were accounted for in forming the recommendations for how utility leaders can address challenges.

“It’s a perfect storm,” said John McCarthy, president of Arcadis’ water business in North America. “Utilities know they need more data, and they need to become more resilient to costly natural disasters, get better visibility into their operations and train their workforce to look beyond the scope of one facility and into the community it serves. When you dig into each of these challenges, it’s clear that putting people first is critical to driving lasting positive change.”

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SOURCE – Arcadis