Every day I’m reminded of how our reliance on water reaches far beyond the local level, and of the importance in sharing resources and knowledge. In addition to cooperation on an international scale, part of keeping the water industry running on a consistent basis is how well everyone in our field is able to respond to “megatrends” that affect the availability of water globally.
“Megatrends?” you might ask… “Is that referring to the latest Transformers or SyFy Channel movie?” Not quite, but preparing for issues like climate change, infrastructure updates, population growth, and watershed preservation easily takes as much planning and attention to detail as producing a major blockbuster. The ability to effectively provide water and wastewater services hinges on understanding these challenges and on proactive measures to reduce the related risks. Although I’ve talked about these megatrends individually before, our current corporate responsibility report provides some great context for the realities of the following global challenges.
Weather volatility places a high need for resiliency on water systems. In some areas, increased runoff, flooding, or sea-level rise are top concerns, causing potential reductions in water quality and damage to the infrastructure used to treat and deliver water. In other cases, more frequent, stronger storms or regions that are becoming drier must be addressed by modifying operations, or by hardening some systems while building flexibility into others. Preparing for necessary adaptation is crucial.
Water Quality, Watershed Preservation, and Biodiversity:
The need is greater than ever to preserve watersheds and biodiversity and ensure plentiful sources of clean water for all communities. Careful planning is essential to safeguard adequate supply for the future, and that requires engagement with municipalities, local communities, and customers. Biodiversity improves water quality and makes ecosystems more resilient to the stresses of pollution. Native plant and algae species can help to purify local water resources, and a diverse range of flora and fauna help support local water systems’ ability to cleanse themselves of toxins and other contaminants. As stewards of our shared resource, it is in everyone’s best interest to protect watersheds and support the preservation of diverse ecosystems.
The nation’s water infrastructure system is aging and needs repair. Due to the current low rate of replacement, broken and leaking pipes currently waste 1.7 trillion gallons each year in the U.S. Because the nation’s network of water pipes – which, according to the American Water Works Association, spans 700,000 miles and is four times the length of the National Highway System – is underground and out of sight, it is easy to take clean, dependable water for granted. Failure to make necessary investments in infrastructure may lead to $206 billion in increased costs for businesses and households between 2011 and 2020 according to the American Society of Civil Engineers. Careful planning, public advocacy, and partnerships are necessary to address our nation’s infrastructure challenges and ensure clean and sufficient water in the future.
As the global population continues to grow, perhaps the biggest challenge will be managing freshwater resources for all. We must ensure the long-term viability of this precious resource for food production, and individual and residential use, while also meeting commercial and industrial water needs. Farms must have reliable water supplies to feed the nation and the world, as the U.S. population is expected to grow 44 percent by 2050. Water efficiency and conservation are essential pieces of the puzzle to meet these growing needs for water from all sectors despite changing weather and climate patterns.
A much more likely threat than giant alien robots or “sharknados,” we recognize these challenges that our industry faces on a daily basis, and are committed to making the needed investments to ensure our water systems meet future demands. Through research and innovation, collaboration with key stakeholders, as well as our expertise in long-term management and asset planning, we are responding to the threats facing our U.S. water systems and planning for a bright future!