News Feature | June 11, 2018

Water Utility Lesson Of The Year: Resiliency

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,

September of 2017 was the busiest month of hurricane activity on record, according to the Weather Channel.

“Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria changed parts of Texas, Florida and the Caribbean forever,” the report said. For example, Puerto Rico’s water challenges have been enormous. Hurricane season officially restarted in June for Puerto Rico, where 11,000 people are still without power, according to The Independent.

It’s appropriate, then, that the engineering firm Black & Veatch’s latest annual report on the state of the water industry put a spotlight on the issue of resiliency during natural disasters.

Coastal states face unique challenges in this respect.

“Coastal states such as California and Florida face unique drought and seawater intrusion challenges that threaten their local water supply. Because of their proximity to the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, desalination would seem like a logical long-term solution for adding supply to their respective portfolios. However, high upfront costs and lengthy project schedules prevent implementation of desalination solutions, while public perception and reliability issues affect other alternative water supply options in these regions,” the report stated.

The report also framed those issues in light of the water-energy nexus, dissecting “the still-underexploited opportunities in water and power management that could strengthen communities and drive sustainability efforts,” the report states.

As far as the biggest challenge water utilities face when it comes to pursuing new energy solutions, 28 percent of respondents pointed to budget constraints and upfront costs.

More broadly, the issue of rates and affordability remain major challenges for utilities.

“Much work remains to help utilities communicate the value of water to a skeptical rate paying public. Performing cost-of-service reviews to address equitable cost-recovery issues, developing innovative rate structures and communicating with elected officials are just some of the ways today’s utilities are creatively seeking multi-year rate approvals,” the report states.

A study published last year said water may become unaffordable for one-third of U.S. households over the next four years.

Check out Water Online’s previous write-ups of Black & Veatch reports here.