“Water is the driving force of all nature.” — Leonardo da Vinci
It’s not news that life on earth depends on water. But water as a news topic has taken center stage, as we witness extreme weather that is causing record floods and droughts all over the planet. Our global civilization is waking up to the economic value of water to business, and the reality that we cannot take clean water for granted.
As water professionals, we keep our thumbs on the pulse of water megatrends. Here’s a round-up of our top water news stories of the year.
Record droughts force change
The American West is experiencing its most extreme drought in 1200 years, with Lake Mead reaching its lowest capacity ever. This past summer, Europe had its worst drought in 500 years. Sections of the Yangtze in China dropped to their lowest level in at least 250 years.
These record droughts are turbo-charging innovation in water reuse and conservation, including major investment from the Department of Energy to support the research of breakthrough technologies – like desalination and treatment of nontraditional water sources – for reliable and affordable freshwater supplies.
Public policy work is expanding too, especially in drought-weary, population-dense areas like Southern California, where Santa Monica and other cities are seeking to cut dependence on the Colorado River and become locally self-sufficient through local water resources such as groundwater, stormwater, brackish groundwater and even wastewater. Santa Monica’s Climate Action & Adaptation Plan includes support of these initiatives as well as resources for consumers to install drought-tolerant landscaping and rainwater harvesting systems.
Forever chemicals get more attention
We now know just how pernicious and dangerous certain chemicals are in the water supply, particularly polyfluoroalkyl and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). Heralded as wonder chemicals invented in the 1940s, they helped create non-stick cookware, water-repellant clothing and flame retardants, but their adverse impact on human health – and their ubiquity in water sources all over the world – is now fully becoming known.
While the EPA works feverishly to develop federal guidance for water treatment that will aid treatment plants in removing PFAS from drinking water, the private sector is already developing PFAS technology that goes beyond removal to actual destruction. This is key if we don’t want to kick this can of a problem to the next generation.
The Inflation Reduction Act passes
The water provisions of the Inflation Reduction Act include $4 billion to address drought resilience, $550 million for domestic water programs and $12.5 million for emergency drought funding for Native American tribes. Coupled with the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law passed in late 2021, which included $50 billion for improvement of the U.S. water, wastewater and stormwater infrastructure, these buckets of government spending stand to stimulate the water industry to a degree never before seen. Simultaneously rising interest rates could pose a countermeasure to large scale borrowing, putting the brakes on a massive spending spree, but the headline here is positive for the water industry: Finally, there is real public funding to make long overdue improvements in aging water and wastewater systems.
In the 2022 State of the Water Industry report from the American Water Works Association, utility professionals were surveyed about their most pressing challenges. The top three are: the renewal and replacement of aging water and wastewater infrastructure, financing for capital improvements and long-term drinking water supply availability. We’re encouraged that the federal government and the water industry are already tackling these biggest concerns.
Our clients are actively engaged in drought mitigation, water reuse technologies, PFAS and other chemicals-of-concern removal and destruction, pipe system preservation and resilience, lead remediation and every aspect of public water. They stand ready to assist the water treatment industry achieve their goals, and we couldn’t be more proud or eager to support their work.
While Jacques Cousteau rightly said that water and air had become “global garbage cans,” it’s heartening to see how hard companies and people are working to undo that mistake.
We hope your 2022 was full of good water news, too, and we look forward to continuing to help you share the stories of the important water work you are doing in 2023.