The Great Lakes

Something In the Water: Black & Veatch 2021 Water Report says industry is at a crossroads

America’s water industry survived the Covid-19 pandemic by turning to new technology and adapting to the accelerated speed of change. Now it needs to do the same thing in response to the climate crisis. 

That’s the view of Black & Veatch’s 2021 Water Report

The pandemic forced water utilities to innovate and move operations online like the rest of us. The result was new thinking around tech, potentially drawing out a roadmap for how the water sector can move forward. 

Over two thirds of stakeholders in the industry reported that remote work during the pandemic opened their minds to new ways technology can transform their companies.

The wakeup call is coming just in time, as extreme weather events are sweeping across the world, with floods, droughts, and wildfires set to happen more frequently in the coming years. Right now we don’t have water systems that can survive it. New tech is the answer. 

Black & Veatch’s report lays out some of the crucial next steps for the water sector’s future.

The first step? Renewing dated infrastructure. In the words of Black & Veatch president Cindy Wallis-Lage, current systems are “well past their prime”.

Three quarters of survey responses agreed old infrastructure was the most glaring issue today. 

Digitizing water systems will allow the industry to better measure output and efficiency, leading to systems that are more sustainable and resilient.

Digital solutions, including sensor technology and new devices, require data. Black & Veatch’s report found that water utilities have a lot of data, but it’s not always put to good use. Only five per cent of responses called their data both “robust and fully integrated”. To prepare for water needs of the future, data has to be better implemented into operations.

Cindy Wallis-Lage’s executive summary also points to the pressing need for better contaminant removal to address new maximum contaminant levels. We need special attention paid to analyzing and investing in treatment technologies.

With potential for new funding from Biden’s infrastructure package, and the spirit of innovation in the air, Wallis-Lage wants the industry to make a change. In the wake of Covid-19, and gearing up to tackle the climate crisis, she says water systems across America are at a crossroads.

A panelist at the second week of the Water Leaders Summit, echoed this same sentiment: “water is having a moment.” 

After a year of upheaval that forced innovation and quick adaptation, the water industry has the opportunity to keep the momentum going, for the sake of public health, and the planet. It just has to seize the moment. 

You can read the full 2021 Strategic Directions Water Report here.


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