New plan for water utilities of the future has merit, but faces big hurdles



By Neil Strother

Pike Research


Three major clean water groups have released an important document outlining steps they say need to be taken so that traditional U.S. wastewater utilities can be transformed into "utilities of the future.” 


The collaborative document, called "The Water Resources Utility of the Future: A Blueprint for Action,” was produced by the National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA), Water Environmental Research Foundation (WERF), and Water Environmental Federation (WEF).  This ambitious plan faces some major hurdles.  However, given its scope and the array of organizations behind it, the blueprint could have a far-reaching impact on water management, if it doesn’t get bogged down somewhere along its zealous path.


To encourage and support utilities of the future (UOTFs), the blueprint envisions "transformational thinking” and bold action in four main areas:

·         Legislative and regulatory, calling at one point for a new congressional caucus on UOTF to raise awareness among legislators and the public, as well as state-level legislation to address wastewater issues

·         Institutional and programmatic, for example, acknowledging and paying for storm water management as part of a broader integrated water management approach

·         Financial and risk management, for instance, expanding federal grants on UOTF initiatives and using financial incentives to reclaim and reduce wastewater

·         Utility leadership and internal management, encouraging the adoption of "lean” operations and the use of Six Sigma tools for continuous process improvement


The 48-page blueprint also calls for accelerating the pace of technology innovation in this sector by establishing a new advanced research and development (R&D) program for clean water, and applying a pooled risk-sharing strategy and reciprocity for technology approval across the 50 states.

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