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Water Industry Sees Glass Half Full
September 29, 2021 | Robert Bergman
The American Water and Wastewater Association’s (AWWA’s) 2021 State of the Water Industry Survey showed the highest level of optimism in the 17 years that they have been conducting the survey. The more than 3,021 people surveyed in the fall of 2020, rated the overall current health of the industry at 5.24 on a scale of 7 and 5.01 in five years.
The optimism comes despite the pandemic, extreme weather events and other 2020 challenges. It is based on their comments on issues including infrastructure, emergency preparedness, regulatory compliance and water resources management. It also investigates the impact of the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic on the water sector.
“The rise in optimism from water leaders doesn’t surprise me at all. The pandemic and the response to natural disasters in many regions also inspired us to shake off the ‘we-have- always-done-it-that way’ mentality. In some ways, we’ve leaped 10 years ahead of where we might have been. Working from home for those who can? Check. New ways of working, and new processes? Check. …. We’ve always been resilient, but what the last year reinforced is that we are adaptable too, and that’s a pretty unbeatable combination,” wrote Melissa Elliott, President, AWWA.
The optimism is not to say that there aren’t serious issues. For the ninth straight year, survey participants ranked the water sector’s two most pressing challenges: “Renewing and replacing aging water and wastewater infrastructure” and “Obtaining financing for capital improvements to improve the infrastructure.”
Contributing to the optimism was confidence there would be public funding available to help address the infrastructure challenges. The report cited WIFIA − The Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) which became law in 2014 and America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2018, which reauthorized WIFIA and the Drinking Water and Clean Water State Revolving Funds through Sept. 30, 2021. They were also encouraged that during the spring of 2021, Congress began work on bills to reauthorize WIFIA and the state revolving loan fund programs with significant increases in funding. Some of those funds are linked to the Biden Infrastructure and Jobs act, which will earmark $55 billion for the water and waste industry infrastructure improvements.
One of the fastest-growing issues was a concern for cyber security, which moved to No. 12, from No. 16 in 2020. This was even though they completed the survey before the highly publicized February 2021 cyberattack on a Florida water system. Prior instances of ransomware attacks and data breaches had demonstrated the need for water utilities to be vigilant in preventing similar attacks.
Asked whether their utility was planning, revising or assessing information technology needed to defend against a cyber intrusion, 20% of survey participants said their utility had fully implemented some form of plan to address cyber intrusion and 20% said their utility was assessing its cyber intrusion needs.
For more about how one water plant is upgrading its automation infrastructure cost-effectively to modern, cyber-secure controls see Migrating to the Open Secure Water Plant – A Bedrock Automation Case History