Early in a new year people love to look at trends and make predictions. Some—such as who will win the big game or the Best Picture Oscar—are purely entertaining. Others provide a serious outlook that help influencers, policy makers, business heads and other leaders best fulfill their responsibilities to a variety of communities. Water trends fall into this latter group.
I’ll start with a prediction for the year ahead. Everything we’ve been focusing on for the past several years—from infrastructure to innovation—will remain important to the present and future sustainability and availability of water. Despite the progress we’ve experienced, no critical aspect of our work is ready to be solved. Now, let’s look at the trends in a few key water categories we see on the horizon.
Consumer wants and customer service: Society’s desire for instant gratification and “total convenience” is only going to grow. Therefore, water utility service and products will reflect this while working to empower consumers to be smart consumers. Extended live customer service hours, 24-hour online access to customer accounts, and apps that give customers real-time reports on usage, utility emergencies and the like will continue to emerge. More products that allow consumers to access, use, conserve and recycle water with utmost ease of use and convenience will enter the market.
Water conservation and reuse: Focus on leak detection and repair will remain a top priority for minimizing water waste underground and in the home. Awareness campaigns that motivate change of habits for greater water conservation will also continue, and, along these lines, the use of smart water metering technology will become more standard as a means to manage water consumption. Reclaiming wastewater for reuse—especially in areas of drought—will stay high on the priority list, and emphasis on the economic benefits to businesses and industry will grow stronger in order to encourage recycling wastewater as a standard practice.
The water-energy relationship: The idea of water and energy conservation going hand-in-hand will advance. Water and energy companies will consider each other as critical partners and work to innovate and utilize technologies to maximize the power and the conservation of each. Business and industry will start to look for ways to use this relationship to their advantage and you’ll see a greater desire to achieve “carbon neutrality.”
Technology: The ongoing quest for innovation in water will be led by artificial intelligence, real-time information and data, and pretty much anything that can take stress off our aging infrastructure. As mentioned above, technology will also be paramount to customer service. Lastly, technology will be used very heavily in, yes, predicting environmental trends impacting water.
Infrastructure: The voices advocating for infrastructure investments, repair and replacements will grow louder than ever!
Collaboration: Collaboration will rule the day as infrastructure concerns heighten and the municipal water sector experiences rising costs for labor, materials and operation. Collaboration will also be key as water influencers work to address water availability and conservation issues on all levels—from local to regional to global.
While American Water cannot be 100% certain of where things will go, we can give ourselves and customers a good idea of where to look. Doing so can allow us stay ahead of dynamics influencing our life and work, be prepared for new influences on our lives and economy, and capitalize on opportunities for advancing goals.