Dec 04, 2009

Cautious but Confident

As we move into 2010 and attempt to chart its possible outlook, it is hard not to take a long look back and comment on some of the economic developments in 2009. It was certainly a challenging year. Collapse of the housing market and credit freeze, which had already begun in 2008, deepened the economic crash in 2009. In the water industry, this resulted not only in project delays but even project cancellations.

Even before President Obama signed the economic stimulus bill—also known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act—into law, municipalities began submitting lists of projects in hope that they would be approved for stimulus dollars.

Both skeptics and hopefuls kept a close watch on the stimulus bill developments. Would this bill only increase the country’s burden of an already huge national debt, or would it put construction workers back on the job, create sustainable jobs and fast-track water and wastewater projects around the country?

Almost 10 months after the stimulus was signed into law, there are just as many skeptics as hopefuls about the outcome of the bill. While the Obama administration says the stimulus money has helped curb layoffs, many in the water industry actually saw some projects being delayed and felt that the stimulus money slowed them down as projects that were ready to “go” came to stillness in hopes that they could get qualified for stimulus money.

Despite the fact that the stimulus investments may initially be slow, it is expected that activity will increase as we head into 2010.

At the Water & Wastewater Equipment Manufacturers Association 101st Annual Meeting, held Nov. 12 to 14, 2009, in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., Chuck Job, chief of the infrastructure branch at the U.S. EPA Office of Ground Water and Drinking Water, stated that many water and wastewater projects are currently in a bid process. According to Job, projects under contract and job creation will increase in the coming months as states successfully execute contracts by the Feb. 17, 2010, deadline.

So, what’s in store for the water and wastewater industry in 2010?

The most immediate challenge to the industry in 2010 is, of course, how soon the economic crisis sorts out and how it will impact the availability of funds for upcoming projects.

One thing that seems to improve the outlook for 2010 is this administration’s focus on green initiatives in regards to energy, climate change and government policies. In the months ahead, I think that green infrastructure will play a huge role in project spending. Urgency on issues with buried

infrastructure, freshwater shortages and full-cost pricing of water and wastewater services will continue to grow. As municipalities continue to be strapped for cash, there will be increased opportunities in energy efficiency and energy generation.

So, in regards to 2010, I do not think it will be a lot less challenging than 2009; however, while I would like to remain cautious, I am also confident that there will be more opportunities than challenges.

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