Today’s water, wastewater and water resource managers face new and intricate challenges: water scarcity, unacceptable levels of pollution, environmental sustainability, aging infrastructure and a demanding public. While tackling this new reality is indeed daunting, these complex issues, which involve multiple stakeholders with conflicting objectives, can be addressed.
Sustainable planning for a secure water future is no longer a regionally isolated challenge. Due to the global trends in water scarcity and watershed management, industry leaders must think broadly when planning for the future. The interaction of major global trends, such as population and economic growth, water quality degradation, legal influences, supply deficiencies and climate changes, are creating water scarcity issues in a growing number of areas throughout the world.
It is no surprise that arid and semi-arid regions are facing challenges. However, more communities, even those with seemingly plentiful supplies, are becoming aware of the need for proactive planning to manage water resources.
“The more efficiently communities use their water, the better their ability to provide the resource to a greater number of people,” said John Kersten, Vice President and Water Practice Director for Black & Veatch’s management consulting business. “However, if a community isn’t short on supply, proper water management provides a cost-effective use of the resource, which keeps them from wasting money to treat supplies twice.”
According to Kersten, when communities properly manage water use and disposal, they more effectively maintain quality. He suggests communities plan ahead 25 to 50 years when considering future water needs, with stable communities able to stay on the shorter end of that spectrum and growth communities planning further into the future.
Kersten’s time frame is based on the fact that the lifespan for most water resource investments is at least 50 years. For example, a community considering riverbank infiltration can expect that technology to endure 75 years or more.
According to Dale Cherry, Client Account Manager for Black & Veatch’s global water business, long-term planning also should consider continued population growth, economic development pressures, land use, environmental regulations and water law.
“Proper water planning is the foundation for providing sustainable solutions to effectively, prudently and proactively manage water resources today, while accounting for future needs,” Cherry said. “We need broader, more holistic future water plans that encompass all aspects of operations and management.”
Other aspects of water asset management include rate planning, tax assessments and finance work. Such plans can explore ways that communities can leverage more creative avenues to finance new projects.
Getting the Public's Attention About the Value of Water
One aspect of water management is helping consumers understand water scarcity.
“People don’t realize the value of water,” Kersten said. “We need to expand the public’s understanding of this critical resource.”
One way to grab the attention of the public is through pricing. Rates should be built with pricing that signals to customers that the water they consume is valuable, so use it wisely, he said.
However, Kersten admits that as soon as consumers get used to increased rates, complacency sets in and increased consumption resumes. That’s why some regions implement water budgeting, which prices rates on set usages per customer. Once usage exceeds the budgeted amount, rates spike.
Kersten insists, though, that conservation is one of the best tactics to reduce water demand.
“Water conservation programs began in the late 80s as a way to educate the public on how and why to save water,” he said. “There was recognition of not having the right amount of water at the right time, so ordinances were put into place, such as low-flow toilets and shower heads, and xeriscaping, which eliminates or reduces the need for irrigation.”
According to Cherry, providing proactive and sustainable strategies for water resource management helps utilities improve the quality of life for their customers.
“Planning the maximum development of our water resources for the long-term benefit of all users, when properly conceived, can help connect individuals to the community in a way that is unparalleled to most other conservation activities,” he said.