From The Editor | July 7, 2023

Water Pros Remain Optimistic Despite Mounting Challenges


By Kevin Westerling,


As they have for each of the last 20 years, the American Water Works Association (AWWA) published its State of the Water Industry Report recently, revealing the current concerns of drinking water, wastewater, and stormwater professionals in North America. The annual survey typically reveals plenty of year-over-year consistency, but this moment feels different: Highly problematic and ubiquitous per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) and lead contamination have become top priorities from a water quality standpoint, while volume concerns — scarcity and flooding — remind us of the existential threat that climate change poses.

And yet, the number-one concern from those surveyed was none of the above. Furthermore, the optimism level among respondents ticked up to a score of 5.0 (4.97 in 2022) on a scale of 1 to 7, signaling strong confidence in the industry’s ability to fulfill its overall mission — safeguarding public health, supporting and strengthening communities, and protecting the environment — both now and into the near future, as the score is a composite of their current and five-year outlook. Said AWWA CEO David LaFrance:

“AWWA members always amaze me. 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 … 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.”

There were more surprises to be had in the report, which can be downloaded here. But perhaps, considering the resoluteness described by Mr. LaFrance, there should be less shock and more awe about the level of grit displayed by water professionals.

Top 10 Challenges: 2023 vs. 2022

  • Despite the high profile and elevated importance of recent issues — with proposed federal PFAS Maximum Contaminant Levels (MCLs) having been published and the compliance deadline for Lead and Copper Rule Revisions upcoming in October 2024 — survey respondents continued to name rehabilitation & replacement (R&R) of aging water infrastructure as their top challenge, going on 10-plus consecutive years now.
  • Long-term drinking water supply and availability supplanted financing for capital improvements as the second-biggest challenge, with the latter dropping into the third spot.
  • Public understanding of the value of water resources catapulted into the fourth position, up from eighth in 2022.
  • Watershed/source water protection rounded out the top five after coming in seventh last year.
  • Compliance with current regulations snuck into the 10th spot and was this year’s only new entrant into the top 10 compared to 2022.
  • The remainder of the top 10 (followed by 2022 position) included:
    • #6 – Aging workforce/anticipated retirements (4)
    • #7 – Public understanding of the value of water systems and services (5)
    • #8 – Emergency preparedness (6)
    • #9 – Groundwater management and overuse (9)

Survey Says! Percentage Points Of Interest (figures rounded)

  • 20% are extremely concerned about their ability to comply with PFAS mandates.
  • 15% are extremely concerned about compliance with regulations related to lead and copper.
  • 38% indicated their capital improvement plans included lead service line replacements.
  • 88% have fully implemented or are in the process of preparing emergency response plans.
  • 60% have implemented or are considering implementing a climate action plan.
  • 32% have a fully developed drought management or water shortage contingency plan.
  • 31% have fully implemented a water conservation program.
  • 46% reported plans to update or install meter-reading systems.
  • 78% expect to increase water rates in the coming year.
  • 100% benefit from reading Water Online and Water Innovations to help meet their goals.

Okay, that last one is not from the AWWA report, but I believe it — because, optimism!