Nobody needs a crystal ball to see what the near future is to bring for the water industry in the U.S. Our future, like the present, will clearly be driven by population growth, economic development, regulation, and aging infrastructure, so the need for water and wastewater services will continue to increase.
Underground infrastructure will be an area of increasing focus and investment as aging pipes are rehabilitated and replaced. Alternative sources of water, including reuse and desalination, will become increasingly important as traditional sources of surface and ground water become more stressed. Brackish groundwater or sea water desalination are at the forefront of technologies being considered to ensure a stable supply over a long period of time—but these come with the attached need for brine disposal and salt management.
As I mentioned in an interview for Water & Wastes Digest in 2006 (See “Expectations for Tomorrow’s Water Dynamics,” May 2006, WWD) I expect the water industry to become increasingly focused on the implementation of process technologies more amenable to automation, and also to become more committed to reducing water loss in distribution and collection systems.
As the list of regulated contaminants such as endocrine disruptors and disinfection byproducts grows and requirements become more stringent, water and wastewater utilities and the companies that serve them will be challenged to implement solutions that not only help achieve higher standards but also make the most of existing facilities and optimize operations.
I would remind utilities to carefully consider unanticipated consequences of treatment changes.
For example, distribution system water quality problems could arise from a treatment solution, so balance and flexibility are key. It will become more important to address disinfection byproduct formation at the farthest reaches of the distribution system, instead of looking at the average for the entire system.
Unable to expand outward, utilities are increasingly finding it necessary to retrofit existing facilities with high-rate processes to improve finished water quality within the same footprint. Membrane filtration and associated pretreatment processes such as inclined plate settlers, Actiflo, and high-rate DAF will become even more popular for this reason.
Taking center stage
In the wastewater arena, effective and publicly accepted residuals management practices will take center stage, and wet-weather quality control strategies will gain more attention.
We will all continue to be challenged by the need to recruit and retain the engineering talent to address these issues, doing what we can to motivate young people to enter a profession that will protect our resources and improve the quality of life.
These trends, along with increased costs and delays in project implementation, are likely to move the U.S. toward U.K. and Australian models of procurement based on multi-year, multi-project framework or alliance type agreements in order to maximize access to the necessary project implementation and procurement skills. We’ve seen and will continue to see increased interest in alternative project delivery methods such as design-build delivery in the U.S.
One example is Black & Veatch’s recent acquisition of MJ Gleeson’s U.K. water business. The motivation for this was a desire to become a single-source, integrated provider of engineering design, process engineering, and construction for water clients worldwide.
The trend of having a single-source provider is likely to provide a model specifically for the U.S. in the future.