As social distancing and stay-at-home orders continue to be enforced across the country, U.S. water industry leaders are looking to accelerate innovation in strategy, operations, and capital planning by harnessing digital assets and data analytics. In Black & Veatch’s newly released Strategic Directions: Water Report, it documents the efforts that leaders have put forth to adopt and implement technology that is geared towards pushing better decision-making, optimizing and prioritizing system investments, and driving cost-efficiencies. All to help deliver sustainability and resilience to the industry as new and traditional hurdles impact service providers around the country.
The recurring concerns about aging infrastructure, a graying workforce, floods, drought, and now the global pandemic are increasingly testing the resilience of water systems along with the financial resilience of many water providers. The Water Report details the transformative time the industry is currently in, as the migration towards data-driven “digital” or “smart” water technologies picks up speed around the country. Built on a survey of nearly 300 water industry leaders paired with expert analysis, the results helped bring this age of change and evolving technologies to light.
The industry’s main challenge is the continuous need to update and repair aging infrastructure. Eclipsing such issues as justifying capital improvement programs, managing capital costs, or system resilience. 15 percent of respondent’s report having a fully integrated approach to data management compared to just 5 percent the year prior. More than half of the 300 surveyed say their data management is strengthening but not yet fully integrated which is contributing to lost optimization opportunities.
“With all of the industry’s challenges, both old and new, now is the time for a broader, dedicated embrace of data to fully appreciate when, where and how much to invest in our systems,” said Cindy Wallis-Lage, president of Black & Veatch’s water business.“Funding is likely to become scarcer in the years ahead, so incorporating digital water to capitalize on a utility’s data is more critical than ever to ensure the greatest return on capital and operational investments.”
Climate change – and increasingly worrisome predictions about it – continue to grab attention among water utilities as one of their rising challenges. Adding to that is the coronavirus pandemic, which has rattled the water industry as many commercial and industrial customers – a water utility’s largest-volume consumers – were forced to temporarily halt operations, straining utilities’ revenues, and cash flows. “The water sector is at a crossroads where normal assumptions and practices are outdated, forcing the need for wider, thoughtful adoption of technology, outside-the-box thinking and longer-term planning,” said John Chevrette, president of Black & Veatch Management Consulting. “Industry leaders and other decision-making stakeholders must collaboratively strategize about everything from enhanced efficiencies and solutions to funding challenges to produce a water ecosystem that’s more responsive, abundant and secure.
 Suhr, Jim “New Strategic Directions Report reflects critical role of data in ‘digital’ water systems.” Businesswire, 16 June 2020, https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20200616005873/en/Black-Veatch-Climate-Change-Global-Pandemic-Highlight