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2018 Strategic Directions:Water Report

Data and Partnerships Serve as the Foundation for Tomorrow's Smarter Cities

The water industry has reached a turning point. Utilities are finally recognizing the power in digitizing operations and increasing economies of scale to extend asset life and address legacy funding issues. As the industry focuses more on sustainability, value and innovation, a new water economy appears to be emerging: Utilities are embracing data and infrastructure in new ways to maximize efficiencies.

The reality conveyed throughout the 2018 Strategic Directions: Water Report is that capital costs will continue to rise as infrastructure ages well beyond end-of-life expectations and regulatory uncertainty increases. Skepticism about the Administration’s proposed infrastructure plan adds additional complexity to questions about who will pay for much-needed repairs and upgrades. Calls to prepare for climate change and build resilience against extreme weather events also are stretching already thin budgets. However, water industry leaders in the United States and abroad are now innovating at an unprecedented pace, reinventing how technology is used to solve industry challenges.

The water industry’s digital evolution continues to be linked to conversations regarding sustainability, as maintaining or expanding asset life again was chosen as the most significant sustainability issue for utilities (Figure 1). As we see throughout this report, utilities are examining how data analytics can inform smarter operations and maintenance decisions and they are integrating these programs in their capital planning. Technology also is helping utilities communicate more effectively within their workforces and to their ratepayers and stakeholders, as well as within their infrastructure systems.

Figure 1: Which items represent the most significant sustainability issues for water utilities?

Which items represent the most significant sustainability issues for water utilities?

This year’s report explores how data are supporting innovations in alternative water supply, smart water solutions and case studies from state-of-the-art water infrastructure projects from around the world. Key areas covered in the report include the following:

  • Coastal States’ Alternative Water Supply Solutions

    Coastal states such as California and Florida face unique drought and seawater intrusion challenges that threaten their local water supply. Because of their proximity to the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, desalination would seem like a logical long-term solution for adding supply to their respective portfolios. However, high upfront costs and lengthy project schedules prevent implementation of desalination solutions, while public perception and reliability issues affect other alternative water supply options in these regions.

  • Asset Management

    Data analytics is helping water distribution, collection and treatment facilities operate more efficiently. We explore how organizations are leveraging automated monitoring systems to lower operating costs, manage processes and extend asset life.

  • Integrated Planning

    Water utilities increasingly are relying on comprehensive integrated planning to drive efforts forward. In addition, today’s planning is evolving to incorporate new technology and smart water infrastructure, all of which will help utilities gain the greatest return from their investments.

  • Rates

    Water utilities have made great strides in improving stakeholder education and engagement through an expanded array of communications channels. However, much work remains to help utilities communicate the value of water to a skeptical ratepaying public. Performing cost-of-service reviews to address equitable cost-recovery issues, developing innovative rate structures, and communicating with elected officials are just some of the ways today’s utilities are creatively seeking multi-year rate approvals.

  • Power-Water Nexus

    The traditional structure of the U.S. power sector is transforming, and utilities are beginning to examine how this will impact costs, reliability and resiliency. At the same time, environmental regulations and other market forces are pressing the nation’s energyintensive water and wastewater sites to lead the charge in efficiency, starting with new resource utilization strategies. As these disruptive forces collide, many utilities still lack a plan to address and gain from a greater understanding of the nexus of water and power.

  • Commercial and Industrial Water Trends

    Commercial and industrial water consumers no longer can take for granted a limitless supply of potable water – an unsettling proposition for organizations that view water as the lifeblood of operations. Heavy water users, from power plants to oil and gas refineries, chemical plants and data centers, are recognizing that they need to manage water differently. Business success may depend on it.


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