Water/Wastewater’s Current Challenge: Money

Sept. 6, 2012
Funding is one big current challenge for the water-and-wastewater-treatment industry, says Julia Anastasio, director of sustainability for the Washington, D.C.-based American Public Works Association.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency “keeps adding mandates, and that makes our members’ operations that much more difficult, in the sense there are more requirements, including daily ones.” And that costs more money.

Some water infrastructure projects are also being delayed, particularly where older communities are losing populations, says Eileen O’Neill, deputy executive director of the D.C.-based Water Environment Federation (www.wef.org).

“The bills are pretty high,” says Anastasio. Also, consumers now are having to pay the true cost of water. “Many of us have paid only the operating costs. Now, we need to pay maintenance and other costs,” she says.

But fewer people means fewer dollars. That concerns Mike Healy, utility operations manager for the City of Grass Valley, Calif., and the chair American Public Works Association's (www.apwa.net) water resources committee. “The vast majority of municipal and private utilities budget annually for treatment plant improvements, based on X amount of customers,” he says. “But when you have to spread those costs over a shrinking new-customer base, it taxes those utilities to do more with less.” And that means, Healy explains, “You defer capital purchases and long-term planned maintenance, including replacements.”

While O’Neill observes that although now is a tough economic time, “it’s an exciting time in the wastewater-treatment sector.” That doesn’t mean there won’t be challenging questions from regulatory and risk-management views, she says. But she emphasizes, “Water and wastewater treatment are not places where failure is tolerated. We’ll probably go through  a couple of tough years, especially until the economy picks up.”

Adds Healy, “With the economy the way it is now, there’s competition for every dollar spent.

C. Kenna Amos, [email protected], is anAutomation World Contributing Editor.