Guest Column | October 13, 2021

WWEMA Window: COVID-19 Challenges And Opportunities In The Water And Wastewater Sector

By Fritz Egger


The continuing COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in unprecedented economic and operational impacts to our industry, not to mention a high degree of uncertainty that persists. Beyond significant economic and business challenges, the pandemic has had more serious impacts as we have seen many lives lost and profound changes to the daily lives of a sizeable portion of the human race. The effect on the water and wastewater industry is highly significant.

Significant challenges abound as a result of the pandemic. These include:

  • In-person contact was largely eliminated, at least for a significant period of time. Although the current situation has improved, it is nowhere near pre-pandemic levels yet. WEFTEC 2020 was held virtually. Most organizations continue to limit routine travel. Although air traffic is increasing, it is still well below pre-pandemic levels. Many regions in the world, including the U.S., where vaccines have been widely available and free continue to see high infection and hospitalization rates as another wave of the virus unfolds due to the highly transmissible Delta variant.
  • Economic challenges abound for utilities, manufacturers, and manufacturers’ representatives, as well as for the public in general. Specifically:
    • Supply chain issues and disruptions are a global challenge. Los Angeles/Long Beach harbor, which handles 40 percent of U.S. imports, currently have a record backlog of 70 ships (per CBS News). George Seroka, Port of Los Angeles Directors states, “The American Consumer’s buying strength is so strong and epic that we can’t absorb all this cargo into the domestic supply chain.” A shortage of trucks and drivers to transport cargo from the ports is exacerbating the problem. The effect on deliveries has been severe. Recent energy problems in China also add insult to injury and further exacerbate the problem.
    • Steel prices, in particular stainless steel, have seen a dramatic price escalation. Per Allegheny Ludlum pricing, Stainless Steel Grade 304 is up 27 percent this year and 95 percent since January 2019. Stainless Steel Grade 316 is up 54 percent this year and 96 percent since January 2019. This has had a major impact on equipment suppliers and contractors in the water and wastewater industry, affecting both raw materials and purchased component prices.
    • Inflation has become a huge concern. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Consumer Price Index for all Urban Consumers (CPI-U) increased 0.3 percent in August after rising 0.5 percent in July. Over the past 12 months, the index has increased 5.3 percent before any seasonal adjustment.   
    • The labor market is extremely tight. Personnel shortages exist in many industries. This has increased the costs and difficulty of recruiting, hiring, retaining, and paying new employees. Signing bonuses for new hires are becoming more common. According to a recent report by PricewaterhouseCoopers, two in three Americans are considering quitting their jobs for better wages and more flexibility.
    • Current proposed “Buy America(n)” expansions in the Senate Infrastructure Bill have the potential to create enormous unintended consequences. This could result in increased costs, schedule delays, limitation of technology selection, and most concerning, the inability to source the components and products critical to protecting public health and the environment. While seemingly well-intentioned, the end result will be increased costs all around, particularly for utilities and their customers. WWEMA is actively working on this by educating government agencies, utilities, industry, and the public on the subject.

Although the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic has been negative and in so many ways catastrophic for many families and businesses, the experience gained during the last two years is already resulting in the creation of crucial new capabilities and technologies that will help us all to deal with further COVID-19 surges and future catastrophic events of all types. Times of crisis typically create unique opportunities for innovation. According to the World Economic Forum, the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated many technologies and processes including:

  • Online shopping and robot deliveries
  • Digital and contactless payments
  • Remote work
  • Distance learning
  • Tele-health
  • Online entertainment
  • Supply Chain 4.0 — Cloud computing, Big Data, Internet of Things, and blockchain
  • 3-D printing
  • Robotic and drones
  • 5G and Information and Communications Technology (ICT)

Impacts to our industry include:

  • Many manufacturers and service organizations have reconfigured workspaces to support social distancing, implemented remote work, or put a rotational in-office approach in place and have increased the use of technology.
  • Escalation clauses and renegotiation of contracts has become a necessity in certain situations, as costs have increased consistently and dramatically.
  • Wastewater analysis and surveillance is rapidly evolving as a useful and powerful tool in tracking pandemics, such as COVID-19.

Medically, mRNA technology has the potential to revolutionize many treatments, including those used for cancer.

The water and wastewater industry and its dedicated professionals have worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic. This dedication was seen especially early on, given the sector’s essential business designation, as staff at all levels responded to the need to continually supply clean water — something even more critical during the pandemic as hygiene took center stage. I have no doubt these professionals will continue to rise to meet these challenges and thus to provide a high-level of service to the public that is needed to safeguard their health and also support stability in our overall economy.

Fritz Egger is General Manager at SPIRAC® (USA) Inc. based in Newnan, Georgia. He currently serves on WWEMA’s Board of Directors and the Association’s Investment Committee and has been a long-time active member of WWEMA. WWEMA is a non-profit trade association that has been working for water and wastewater technology and service providers since 1908. WWEMA’s members supply the most sophisticated leading-edge technologies and services, offering solutions to every water-related environmental problem and need facing today’s society. For more information about WWEMA, visit or follow us on LinkedIn at