Over the course of three days in Chicago, the Water Online editorial staff sat down with leading members in the water industry at WEFTEC 2021. We asked them all one simple question: What is the biggest challenge facing the water industry today?
We found their responses hit on similar themes, including aging infrastructure, climate change, aging workforce, innovation, and supply-chain issues. Below is a sampling of the responses we heard, lightly edited for length and clarity.
“The current state of infrastructure and the deterioration rate of what is happening and the lack of resources, which is common knowledge in the industry. The only thing that can make a change is the adoption of technology and that’s where I guess the holy grail will come. Nobody can go and replace the whole system within a reasonable period to fix the problems.” – Elly Perets, Asterra
“I guess since we’re a thermal monitoring company, the biggest challenge we see is in electrical infrastructure. That’s where we came from, we’re in data centers, we’re in oil and gas, we’re in paper and pulp. We’re doing global rollouts with different data center customers, so the challenge that we see in the industry has been highlighted — because we’ve done our research, so we’re looking into AWWA [American Water Works Association], into WEF [Water Environment Federation], into WRF [Water Research Foundation] with the challenges that water was experiencing.” – Bryan Collins, Exertherm
“Macro view is the value of water — the general public understanding that we need to put money into infrastructure, and it’s the will of the people. If the general public isn’t willing to pay more for their water, if they’re not willing to pay more taxes to improve the infrastructure, it’s gonna end up that we’re not gonna have an infrastructure that really is a 21st-century infrastructure.” – Jim Lauria, Mazzei Injector Company, LLC
“The aging infrastructure … the need to repair the ever-increasing pipe breaks, optimizing how you spend your money, and putting it toward the right things and most effective places that the infrastructure needs is a challenge. That’s where I think we need technology, machine learning, and artificial intelligence, to get all that data to help optimize your expenditures and put it toward the places in the infrastructure that need it the most.” – Kenji Takeuchi, Mueller Water Products
“This probably will come as no surprise to you guys, but the biggest challenge is that we are terrible on aggregate at telling stories about ourselves and our industry. And in the absence of good storytelling, we don’t attract investment, we don’t attract public interest, we don’t attract federal dollars, and if we can’t do that, we’re in a world of hurt. We’re just gonna stay sort of stagnant.” – Adam Tank, Transcend Water
“You have an aging infrastructure and I think a lot of municipalities have to figure out how are they are going to redirect their investments into the right areas. We see that decision-making every day with our projects.” – Mark Kustermans, Trojan Technologies
“Sustainability and resilience are aspects that we need to look into, especially with all the unprecedented weather conditions associated with climate change.” - Vincent Puisor, Schneider Electric
“The biggest challenge from my perspective is climate change; that’s a big thing that’s impacting our industry.” – Matt Pine, Xylem
“One driver is preparing for the future in terms of a changing workforce, and a reduced workforce. With so many people retiring, figuring out how to use the tools we have to train people and bring people into the water industry to do this work. I think a lot of utilities are just, over time, dealing with that challenge.” – Chris deBarbadillo, Black & Veatch
“The biggest challenge is one that has lingered in this industry for many years: we have a real difficult time bringing innovative technologies into the marketplace at the speed at which the technologies are ready. The industry is just reluctant to accept some of the new technologies due to natural tendencies that you can’t take risk with how you’re serving your customers.” – Rich Cavagnaro, AdEdge Water Technologies, LLC
“We’re seeing a lot of customers struggling with moving to the cloud and adoption of web services and off-site applications. In the old days, they either didn’t use software at all, which is a very common thing, or if they did they would use on-premise applications and kind of feel safe because they really weren’t on the internet .” – Eric Dorgelo, Aquatic Informatics
“The engineering community is still outdated. Their technology emphasis is poor, in my opinion. They still do things the same way they did them 40 years ago, with electricity. There’s nothing wrong with that, but there are technologies out there that are much more efficient with less labor requirement.” – Jim Dartez, RELIANT Water Technologies
“Supply chain is the main challenge across this industry and many other industries. Having access to raw materials and components has really been a struggle. On top of that, of course, is the logistic aspect when importing products from overseas.” – Piero Suman, Amiad Water Systems
“COVID has certainly created its own set of unique challenges for everyone — staffing, supply chain — an absolutely impact, so everyone is gonna have to scramble.” – Dennis Calvert, BioLargo
“The biggest problem I see in the industry right now, the biggest immediate challenge, is the supply-chain issue. You have various problems where manufacturers cannot get their supplies to provide to customers. And what that entails is a customer cannot open a plant because they can’t get product. A customer cannot maintain their machines because they can’t get repair equipment.” – Patrick Murphy, Blue-White
“There’s a myriad of challenges now that we face with the COVID situation: material, supply-chain issues, and fluctuating material costs are certainly challenges that everyone is contending with. Talking to colleagues with other manufacturers, there isn’t anybody who’s immune from that right now. We manage through that.” – Jim Torony, HOMA Pump Technology
“I would relate these back to COVID — the supply chain issues you’re seeing, both from our domestic and international suppliers. And, also, other jobs. Our products are usually a small part of a bigger job, but we’re seeing projects be pushed back or delayed because all of the materials aren’t there to start that job.” – Steve Roehrig, Hydra-Stop
“The biggest challenge in the industry today deals with COVID-19, supply chain, and labor issues. The whole thing is basically in disarray and a challenge every day to try to meet those requirements.” – Chris Curry, JCM Industries, Inc.
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