Megatrends Channel Water/Wastewater's Future

May 1, 2009
Andy Richardson, chief executive officer of Chicago-based Greeley and Hansen (, a multi-state engineering firm specializing in the water and wastewater sector, sees 10 megatrends shaping the sector’s future.

His first is “the dawn of the replacement era.” Richardson estimates that about $600 billion—split equally for repair and replacement—is needed “to bring infrastructure back to the basis that it was in the 20th century.” What will be the source of that money? “From governments or within utilities’ service areas,” says Rebecca West, president of the Water Environment Federation (, Alexandria, Va. “We definitely need to spend money today, if we haven’t already,” she adds.

New regulations comprise Richardson’s second megatrend.  Though both the U.S. Safe Water Drinking Act and the Clean Water Act have greatly impacted clean-up of receiving waters, “50 percent [of the pollution] comes from non-point sources,” Richardson notes. Those include agricultural and unregulated stormwater flows.

Megatrend 3 is utility reorganization. “They have to do more with less,” declares Richardson, past president of the American Water Works Association. They’re also going to have to focus more on customers, which is his megatrend 4. “Customers want to be more involved,” he observes. The public going green trend impacts tracking and implementing projects, he adds, and that compels better communications. “What people don’t understand, they won’t support.”

The shift of decision-makers from the technical arena to, perhaps, more business and political arenas is Richardson’s megatrend 5. “You see more utilities today managing themselves as a business. That’s a big change,” West comments. “But the public must have a better understanding of whom it elects and how [elected officials] manage the water supplies,” she emphasizes.

Demand for greater efficiency and total-quality management is megatrend 6. Richardson describes it as “doing more with less—looking for every opportunity for automation, in real-time.” To him, that means full-time use of instrumentation and automation. Security issues lend themselves to instrumentation and automation, he adds.

Richardson’s megatrend 7 is total water-resource management and water reuse. West calls that combination “the big picture of water-supply management.” It will involve “looking at everything from a watershed approach—the highest quality water for the highest quality use,” Richardson says. The idea here involves “not just quality, but also quantity,” he explains. That involves finding the appropriate economic approach to treating not just drinking water but also wastewater.
From a sustainable-watershed approach, megatrend 7 “could lead to reconsideration of how water and wastewater should be regulated in the United States,” he observes. For example, in the western United States, “there could be a merging of the riparian-rights doctrine with the allocated-rights doctrine, as people look to secure water supplies.” Richardson notes that states are already beginning to look at the inventory of who has access and rights, “to make sure there is enough secure supply in the future.”

Megatrend 8 involves work environment change. “There is a huge brain drain, because of baby boomers retiring. By 2010, you will have 67 percent of the workforce ready to retire,” Richardson says.” So utilities are seeking ways to capture intellectual capital, he explains. Besides the obvious hiring of younger staff, other ways include artificial intelligence or automation.

Anthropogenic climate change muscles its way in as megatrend 9. “You need to be giving forethought,” he advises. “People in industry are very concerned about how to plan.”

The final megatrend reaches into consumers’ wallets. “Rates for water and wastewater treatment are going to have to rise,” Richardson asserts. “What will end up happening is that rates may be based on value vs. just cost of service.” That also means years-, if not decades-long cost subsidies may become relics. But recouping the full cost of services might not be possible in all communities, suggests West, who is also director of technical services for Spartanburg (South Carolina) Water (, a municipal water-and-wastewater function.

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

Greeley and Hansen

Water Environment Federation

Spartanburg Water

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