Guest Column | May 24, 2022

WWEMA Window: Water Stress And Historical Funding

By Bill Decker


Water stress occurs when demand for safe, affordable, usable water in a given area exceeds the available supply. We could add that water stress also occurs when there is an excessive amount of water due to rain events that exceed the local area’s ability to handle the storm or the storm flow.

While water stress is a global issue, more locally, over 80% of the U.S. either has or will experience water stress within the next 10 years. Some of this is due to the effects of shifting climate patterns and as a result, we have seen entire rivers running dry and the level in Lake Mead is at record lows. In the past few years, we have seen numerous 100-year flood events and some areas have had these events in back-to-back years.

When you add in the effects of water impairment due to pollution, including more recent developments like the widespread discovery of PFAS contamination, algal toxins, etc., one might rightly conclude that we have some serious issues to tackle as a nation, as states, as individual communities, and as an industry.

At the same time, whether we speak about agriculture, power, manufacturing, healthcare, recreation, or any other industry, the water industry delivers the critical resources that allows all activities to take place. There can be no quality of life without access to safe, affordable water and, equally important, the treatment of wastewater.

Recently, Senator Tom Carper (D-DE), Senator Shelly Moore Capito (R-WV) and Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) spoke to the Joint National Water Policy Plenary Session during Water Week 2022 about the importance of water and the historic level of funding delivered to the states through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. I appreciate their leadership, their remarks, their passion for the water industry and certainly applaud their efforts to increase the funding level for water. But, while this funding is historic, one would ask why? Why should this level of funding be historic and not normal? Why were there not more elected officials working together to secure the funding to deliver clean water to all in this country? What can we do as an industry to increase the visibility of water and the need for funding?

What can we do as an industry? First, let’s keep talking about our water. Within the U.S., we have some of the best available water treatment technologies, some of the best engineering firms, and some of the best operations staff. We deliver and process water at incredibly inexpensive fees based on our consumption. But every community is not at the same standard. With over 50,000 permitted water systems in the U.S., many small systems and often small communities are not at the same level and cannot afford the same treatment. We collectively need to tackle this issue at both a federal and state level. The dedicated funding in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law is a step in the right direction and needs to continue.

Second, we need to advocate for additional reuse technologies while reducing our water footprint. Conservation is certainly part of the solution to water stress. Technologies such as low-volume toilets, lower flow shower heads, and more efficient laundry machines go hand-in-hand with practices like drought-tolerant landscapes and more drought-tolerant agriculture. But as an industry, we also need to continually improve our collection and distribution networks. As a nation, we lose too much water through pipe leaks and are not replacing pipes nearly fast enough based on their age. I think it would be interesting if every water bill included the recent non-revenue water numbers so that we can see how we are doing as individual communities.

Third, we need to continue to look for ways to better manage extreme weather events while minimizing their impact on both water distribution and on wastewater treatment. While we have made great strides in recent years to increase our reliability and sustainability as an industry, we can still improve.

More importantly, what can we do to increase our visibility as an industry? This visibility needs to occur at the local, state, and federal level. We need to increase engagement in our hometowns so that people understand the critical work that takes place at both the water and wastewater facilities and appreciate the qualification and dedication of the public works staff. Some plants are becoming educational facilities and those communities tend to have better community support for necessary rate increases. Along with that, every elected official at every level should be a water advocate. We need to let officials hear from us as an industry and we need to continue educating them along with our fellow citizens on why we need to continue investment in infrastructure. Georgetown University Professor Mark Giordano summed this up perfectly when he was speaking about drinking water: “Almost always, the drinking water problem has nothing to do with physical water scarcity. It has to do with the scarcity of financial and political wherewithal to put in the infrastructure to get people clean water. It’s separate.”

I could not agree more.

While we may not be able to completely eliminate water stress, we can certainly alleviate the effects of it for more communities and that will require the water industry carrying the message to all consumers and elected officials until we remove the funding limitations and make the recent “historic” funding routine.  

Bill Decker is Vice President and General Manager, Equipment and Services Group, for Aqua-Aerobic Systems Inc. (a Metawater Company) located in Loves Park, IL. He serves on the Water and Wastewater Equipment Manufacturers Association’s Board of Directors as Vice Chair and Chairs the Department of Commerce Environmental Technologies Trade Advisory Committee. 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