Water utilities in the United States have been delivering clean water and safely collecting and treating wastewater for over 100 years. But what about the next 100 years?
Utilities are facing new and worsening challenges like water scarcity and quality, extreme weather events, population relocation, regulatory changes, and emerging contaminants—while also facing labor force shortages and an ever-increasing funding gap.1,2
Overcoming these challenges requires approaching the problem with a sustainability mindset. Sustainability encompasses how we respond to these problems in a way that enables continuing successful operation now and well into the future. Interest in sustainability is not only driven by the need for operational improvements, but also by federal agencies, regulations, and community interests.
The EPA Clean Water and Drinking Water Infrastructure Sustainability Policy states, “Federal investments, policies, and actions should support water infrastructure in more efficient and sustainable locations to best support existing communities, enhance economic competitiveness, and promote affordable neighborhoods.”3 The EPA has begun creating resources for utilities, such as the Attributes of Effectively Managed Utilities tool, to promote sustainable water and wastewater systems.4 This policy emphasizes the federal-level focus on sustainability and how they expect sustainability to be enacted into the future.
Regulations around sustainability topics are continuing to evolve over time. Some regulations are well established—such as greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions regulations for cars and aircraft—but are facing potential expansion into other areas. Some regulations are new—such as emerging contaminant limits—and are rapidly evolving as our understanding of the challenge grows.
Staying on top of regulations and the best solution for compliance requires significant effort and education. Evoqua is your trusted partner in navigating complex regulatory waters using our expertise on regulatory matters and effective solutions.
Sustainability goals are becoming an expected part of many communities’ strategic plans. Topics like net zero commitments, water justice, water self-sufficiency, and ecosystem protection are becoming more common, and often impact the utility.
Net zero commitments are commitments that municipalities, utilities, corporations, or other organizations make to emitting a net zero volume of greenhouse gas. As of March 2023, only one US utility has made a future net zero commitment, but 104 US cities have made future net zero commitments that could impact the water utility.5 These commitments are important to reduce the impact of greenhouse gas emissions on the environment and will impact decision making at the utility to comply with the commitment.
Environmental justice is the fair treatment of all people in regard to environmental regulations, laws, and policies.6 Within environmental justice is water justice, which ensures that all people have access to safe and affordable water and wastewater.7 Meeting your community’s environmental or water justice goals will require utilities to create on democratic water policies and sustainable development practices that promote equitable water management.
Water self-sufficiency, or the ability for a community to meet most or all of their water needs directly, is critical in the face of increasing scarcity to reduce costs and reliance on imported water. There are many strategies to ensure water self-sufficiency, from reducing water consumption to adding local water supplies including reuse programs. Reuse spans from agriculture reuse to onsite non potable reuse to direct potable reuse and can increase a community’s available water and reduce the cost and operational burden of purchased water.
Each utility will have unique needs and challenges to navigate into the future based on their community’s needs and unique situation.
Solutions with Sustainability in Mind
The increased focus on sustainability across water and wastewater also means an increased focus on solutions. Evoqua’s portfolio can help you meet goals around GHG emissions, water use reduction, wastewater as a resource, emerging contaminants, and more. Evoqua’s biotrickling filters for vapor phase odor management utilizes a fuzzy logic pH control system to reduce water usage by up to 70% while maintaining performance. Bioxide® liquid phase odor control solution can not only prevent odors and corrosion, but also reduce methane emission from the collection system in a recent study. And Evoqua’s deep understanding of the regulatory picture with emerging contaminants and our expertise with granular activated carbon and ion exchange resin can be used to solve your emerging contaminant challenges.
Contact us today to discuss sustainable water solutions for your application.
1. Report Card for America’s Infrastructure: Wastewater - https://infrastructurereportcard.org/cat-item/wastewater-infrastructure/
2. US EPA Water Sector Workforce - https://www.epa.gov/sustainable-water-infrastructure/water-sector-workforce
3. US EPA Clean Water and Drinking Water Infrastructure Sustainability https://www.epa.gov/sites/default/files/2016-01/documents/clean-water-and-drinking-water-infrastructure-sustability-policy.pdf
4. US EPA Effective Water Utility Management Practices- https://www.epa.gov/sustainable-water-infrastructure/effective-water-utility-management-practices
5. Global Water Intelligence Water Without Carbon - https://www.globalwaterintel.com/water-without-carbon
6. US EPA Environmental Justice - https://www.epa.gov/environmentaljustice
7. US Water Alliance an Equitable Water Future - https://uswateralliance.org/initiatives/water-equity