New AWWA survey shows growing optimism for future of water sector

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This year marks the 20th edition of the American Water Works Association’s (AWWA) State of the Water Industry survey, and responses continue a six-year trend of increasing optimism for the sector.

The current overall optimism of the water industry rated by all respondents is five out of seven, trending up slightly from 4.97 in 2022. Industry optimism levels are the highest they’ve been since the early 2000s, according to the annual survey. 

“AWWA members always amaze me,” said AWWA CEO David LaFrance in a statement. “It seems like the harder the challenges get, the more confident and optimistic our members become. It’s clear there are some significant hurdles in front of us — from infrastructure replacement to resource challenges to new contaminants to cybersecurity concerns — but water professionals never blink, they simply find ways to solve the problems in front of them and keep providing the world’s most vital resource to their communities.”

The State of the Water Industry survey results have been published annually since 2004 to help water utilities, service providers, regulators and researchers identify and prepare for challenges, opportunities and trends impacting the water community. More than 4,000 water industry professionals completed the 2023 survey.

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The survey’s report examines the need for water professionals to understand the importance of protecting water supplies, securing physical and cyber systems, and planning for routine and extreme events. Overall, 88% of all utility survey respondents say they have fully implemented or are in the process of preparing emergency response plans, and 72% of all utility respondents have fully implemented or are in the process of implementing a risk and resilience assessment. Sixty per cent of utility respondents have implemented or are considering implementing a climate action plan. 

Some of the top 10 challenges listed in the new report include aging infrastructure, long-term supply, financing, capital improvements, public value of water resources, watershed/source protection, aging workforce, public value of services, emergency preparedness, groundwater management, and regulatory compliance.

Eleven per cent of respondents indicated that their utility will be challenged to meet anticipated long-term water supply needs and 40% of respondents ranked public understanding of the value of water resources as critical.

For the issues facing the water sector in 2023, the top two most challenging issues were the rehabilitation and replacement of aging water infrastructure and the long-term drinking water supply availability. 

For large scale phenomena affecting the water sector, supply chain challenges (57%) and inflation (46%) took the top two spots. 

“Prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic and exacerbated by the economy and extreme weather events, supply chain shortages add to capital improvement challenges,” according to the survey’s report. 

In terms of regulations, 20% of respondents are extremely concerned about their ability to comply with regulations related to PFAS, while 15% of respondents are extremely concerned about their ability to comply with regulations related to lead and copper.

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