Taking the ‘No’ out of Innovation

June 19, 2014

I just returned from the American Water Works Association (AWWA) Annual Meeting in Boston where for the second year in a row, WWEMA co-chaired a session with Randy Moore of Utility Service Co. Inc. on barriers to innovative technology. The title of the session, which had attendance as high as 120 people, was “Overcoming Barriers to Innovation and Technology in the Water and Wastewater Industries.” Among the highlights of this year’s session:

  • •  Peter Grevatt, director of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Office of Ground Water and Drinking Water, made it clear that EPA has embraced the roles of new innovations and technologies through initiatives such as its cluster program and a second iteration of an Innovative Technology Strategic Plan.
  • •  Mark LeChevallier, director, Innovation & Environmental Stewardship for American Water, discussed the work being done at the private utility to improve oper­ations, efficiency, and monitoring through technology.
  • •  Professor Joe Quarini, Faculty of Engineering at the University of Bristol, provided an animated, interactive presentation on the use of “ice pigging” to clean water and wastewater pipes. 

Each of the five AWWA Innovative Technology Initiative subcommittee chairs reported on their groups’ progress and goals. The groups are researching and developing solutions to five barriers to innovation originally identified by WWEMA through a member survey. The barriers include:

  1. 1. The risk-adverse nature of the water sector,
  2. 2. The low economic value placed on water,
  3. 3. “Or equal” bidding/procurement requirements,
  4. 4. Complicated regulatory requirements and
  5. 5. Trade restrictions/barriers.

The session ended with a one-hour interactive dialogue with the attendees discussing their views on the barriers and the steps that need to be taken to further promote innovation in the water industry.

While we still have a ways to go before we can truly claim that the U.S. supports, encourages and actively promotes innovation, it seems as though the stars are aligning and a number of initiatives at the federal, state and local levels are coalescing to bring these issues and concerns to the fore. We need to stay on top of this and keep pushing to bring these barriers down. Innovation is happening in countries all around us, and we need to make sure U.S. manufacturers and companies have the same opportunities as their counterparts around the world to innovate and create the solutions for tomorrow’s problems today.

Vanessa M. Leiby is executive director of the Water and Wastewater Equipment Manufacturers Assn., a Washington, D.C.-based trade organization that has represented the interests of manufacturers serving the water supply and wastewater treatment industry since 1908. Leiby can be reached at [email protected].

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