US utilities to intensify digital water programmes – here’s why


Black & Veatch has released the results of a new report exploring the adoption of digital technologies by US water utilities.

The study was conducted amongst 300 water sector leaders and has revealed that industry stakeholders are planning to accelerate innovation in strategy, operations and capital planning.

Utilities are planning to harness digital assets and data analytics to optimise the operations of their water networks, improve network resilience against wildfires, floods and droughts and to enhance customer services.

The majority of the survey participants will adopt digital solutions to ensure better decision-making and drive cost efficiencies that help deliver sustainability.

Aging infrastructure and a graying workforce remain the key challenges facing the water industry.

New challenges include wildfires, floods and droughts.

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Key findings of the Strategic Directions: Water Report, include:

  • More than half of water utilities – 56% of respondents – say their data-management efforts are strong and getting stronger, but not yet fully integrated.
  • The vast majority of water utilities report they are collecting plenty of data. Still, only roughly 20% of respondents say they are leveraging it effectively for digital transformation, meaning most utilities have a long way to go in their push to optimise their utility data analytics.
  • Climate change is playing a larger role in water supply planning, with 55% of respondents including it in their future forecasting – a shift in mindset over previous years.
  • Natural or man-made disasters (nearly 84%) and catastrophic failure of infrastructure (56%) were the two most significant resilience concerns among respondents.
  • Water and wastewater utilities are actively responding to mandates by conducting resilience and vulnerability assessments; more than half – 54% – have done so in the past year, with an additional 22% having carried that out in the past two to three years. This shows utilities are taking threats seriously and addressing vulnerabilities to become more resilient.
  • When it comes to the confidence level of their utility’s ability to meet current and still-evolving contaminant levels established by state and federal agencies, responses varied. One-third voiced extreme confidence in their adherence to dynamic standards for various contaminants, slightly more than those who considered themselves very or moderately confident.
  • Faced with the specter of climate change and increasingly extreme weather events, nearly 60% of respondents say water reclamation and reuse are part of their sustainability goals and metrics, demonstrating that an expanding portfolio of water reuse strategies is becoming the norm.
  • One-third of respondents say their customers probably don’t understand what it takes to supply them with clean, potable water, as well as wastewater and stormwater services – making it incumbent on the utility to help them appreciate the cost involved.

Cindy Wallis-Lage, the president of water business at Black & Veatch, said: “With all of the industry’s challenges, both old and new, now is the time for a broader, dedicated embrace of data to fully appreciate when, where and how much to invest in our systems.

“Funding is likely to become more scarce in the years ahead, so incorporating digital water to capitalize on a utility’s data is more critical than ever to ensure the greatest return on capital and operational investments.”

John Chevrette, the president of Black & Veatch management consulting, adds: “The water sector is at a crossroads where normal assumptions and practices are outdated, forcing the need for wider, thoughtful adoption of technology, outside-the-box thinking and longer-term planning.

“Industry leaders and other decision-making stakeholders must collaboratively strategize about everything from enhanced efficiencies and solutions to funding challenges to produce a water ecosystem that’s more responsive, abundant and secure.” 

The report is available for download.