2021 Association Forecast for the Water Industry

Jan. 20, 2021

AWWA, NACWA & WEF share insights into the regulatory & legislative future of the water industry

About the author:

Bob Crossen is senior managing editor for Water & Wastes Digest. Crossen can be reached at [email protected].


Last year, Water & Wastes Digest (WWD) asked associations throughout the industry to share a small brief forecasting the upcoming year. Those briefs highlighted each association’s focus of year, the regulations and legislation they had at the top of their minds, and what that could mean for the future of the industry.

The coronavirus pandemic changed and shifted all of that by bringing to the forefront of the industry conversations on water access, water equity and water affordability. Discussions on diversity and inclusion were propelled even further following the death of George Floyd. And, of course, the 2020 Presidential Election is likely to have a profound effect on the future of the water industry as well.

The following association forecasts were submitted to WWD in the days immediately following the election, and as such, they have an air of uncertainty about them. They do, however, note some of the legislative and regulatory agendas that — regardless of presidential administration — that will play a critical role in the industry in 2021. And, of course, the coronavirus is still an ever-present force imposing itself on travel, in-person business meetings, and other work conducted throughout the industry.

WWD staff hopes the words from these associations will provide some bullet points and guidance as you navigate 2021.

Raise a Glass to Drinking Water Quality

By Chris Moody, M.Eng, P.E. 

AWWA Regulatory Technical Manager

Last year Tracy Mehan and I wrote a regulatory forecast for drinking water in 2020, which included predictions of continued work to address per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), a final decision on perchlorate, and a continued effort to finalize the lead and copper rule (LCR). 

Despite an active deregulation agenda, and a global pandemic, the U.S. EPA maintained the course. In 2020, EPA withdrew the determination for perchlorate, proposed a determination for perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS), and continued the process of finalizing the LCR revisions. As the new year begins with a new administration forthcoming, the EPA and the Biden Administration are expected to continue efforts to enhance drinking water quality protection. Such efforts will include focus on PFAS, microbials and disinfection byproducts (M/DBPs), and the implementation of recent rules. 

Since the publication of the PFAS Action Plan, EPA has taken a wide variety of actions to conduct research, develop analytical methods, and to address contamination in the environment and drinking water supplies. This year, EPA will continue work to evaluate drinking water standards for PFOA and PFOS and will work towards finalizing the Fifth Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule to require monitoring from 2023 to 2025, aiding future decision making efforts for PFAS. The designation of PFAS as hazardous substances under Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act was identified in the PFAS Action Plan and was specified as a priority for the Biden Administration and so is a possible objective for the agency this year. 

In a stakeholder meeting this past October, the EPA and other experts laid out a wide range of potential opportunities to protect public health from M/DBPs. This effort stemmed from the Third Six-Year Review and was prompted by a settlement between the EPA and the Waterkeeper Alliance, which set the EPA onto a timeline to propose M/DBP regulations in 2024. 

Key topics included addressing risks from legionella and brominated haloacetic acids. This year will be a critical year for stakeholder engagement to support EPA in identifying opportunities for meaningful public health protection.

Finally, EPA is expected to be busy guiding water systems through recently promulgated rules, such as the America’s Water Infrastructure Act for 2018 (AWIA 2018). Under AWIA 2018, systems serving less than 100,000 persons have deadlines this year for completing risk and resilience assessments and/or emergency response plans. This will be a big lift for the agency. 

Additionally, EPA is expected to continue providing guidance to water systems to better address risks from lead and to comply with the LCR. 

While it may be a few weeks late, AWWA raises a glass (of tap water) to drinking water quality improvements for this year.

A New Era for Infrastructure Investment

By Emily Remmel, NACWA Regulatory Affairs Director

This year has undoubtedly been a tumultuous year for Americans, from the coronavirus pandemic to the presidential election, but there is renewed sense of optimism moving into the new year. Although Washington will remain a divided government, a new political dynamic could finally push long-overdue water affordability and comprehensive infrastructure legislation across the finish line and provide municipal water utilities — and Americans alike — with the much-needed financial relief to maintain and improve critical water and wastewater services

President-elect Joe Biden will play a pivotal role. His decades-long moderate approach to legislating and governing will be critical, but more importantly, Americans need him to support a renewed interest and heavily invest federal dollars and resources to rebuild our nation’s severely aged infrastructure. The President-elect has a strong relationship with both U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, which will hopefully bode well in reaching a bipartisan consensus on infrastructure investment.

In addition, for the first time in more than two decades, there is a real possibility for new guidance on affordability. EPA is on the brink of finalizing an updated financial capability assessment guidance that recognizes the shortcomings of the existing methodology and takes into account how rising clean water rates disproportionately impact low-income households. 

The bottom line — clean water utilities need real federal financial support and the new administration and new Congress have a real opportunity to bring America’s water infrastructure into the 21st century with a renewed urgency to innovate our dated infrastructure and deliver clean, safe and affordable water to every American. 

We, in the water sector need continue sounding the alarm on these critical issues and find new ways to effectively advocate and communicate that water — and a federal commitment to water policy — should be a top priority going forward. 

PFAS Promulgation & Water Reuse Action Plan

By Steve Dye

​​WEF Legislative Director

Water Environment Federation is interested in EPA developing PFAS methods for monitoring to go along with its implementation of the NPDES PFAS Interim Monitoring Strategy.  

WEF also looks forward to seeing how states implement EPA’s guidance on the Maui decision and implications to jurisdictional waters. Also of note is WEF’s desire to continuing working with partners and the EPA on the Water Reuse Action Plan, and to continue to drive forward the action items identified and being implemented by the water sector partners.  

Finally, WEF was pleased to see the EPA release proposed changes to the Financial Capabilities Assessment (FCA) guidance in Sept. 2020. Many of the changes reflect recommendations WEF, NACWA and AWWA had proposed in 2019 that will better address affordability challenges communities are having for lower income ratepayers. Allowing communities to use additional data and financial capabilities assessment tools when determining how best to plan for infrastructure investments without overburdening community and ratepayer affordability is a priority for WEF.  Once EPA has finalized the 2020 FCA, WEF will be working with federal, state and local agencies to ensure that the proposed changes are utilized appropriately and effectively.

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