Water, Wastewater & Stormwater Industry Trends for 2021

stormwater infrastructureA look at drivers and influencing events of water industry trends in the first half of 2021

By Bob Crossen & Katie Johns

From proposed infrastructure bills and the ASCE Infrastructure Report Card to cyber security threats and delayed regulations, the news cycle for the water industry was filled to the brim.

Below are six of the biggest trends in the water, wastewater and storm water industries for 2021.

1.   Infrastructure on the Mind

At the start of March 2021, the American Society of Civil Engineers released the 2021 Infrastructure Report Card, a series of grades on U.S. infrastructure that is published every four years.

In this report card, Drinking Water received a C-, Wastewater Received a D+ and Storm Water received a D. The core issues behind these scores were related to asset management, and a continued decline in funding to update outdated and aging water, wastewater and storm water infrastructure throughout the country.

Just four weeks after the report card was released and published, President Joe Biden unveiled the American Jobs Plan, a $2 trillion infrastructure plan which called for $111 billion for water, wastewater and storm water funding. This funding would primarily push dollars into the Drinking Water and Clean Water State Revolving Funds, which lie at the core of industry funding, as well as programs to address lead in drinking water. In his speech about the plan, Biden said a goal for drinking water infrastructure is 100% lead service line replacement, which aligns directly with the language being drafted for the Lead & Copper Rule Revision.

In late June, the U.S. Senate and President Biden announced a compromise on a $1.2 trillion infrastructure plan. It is not yet clear when this plan would be brought to the floor at the time of publication.

2.   Lead & Copper Rule Delayed

Before Biden unveiled the American Jobs Plan, a memo from his chief of staff called for a delay in the effective date of the Lead & Copper Rule Revision (LCRR) to allow for additional public comment to further revise the rule. Throughout June and July of 2021, the U.S. EPA held and will hold community roundtables with cities across the country as well as Native American tribes. These roundtable discussion are expected to lead to changes in language for the LCRR.

The primary concern raised about the rule was that the action and trigger levels for lead in drinking water were not low enough at 10 ppb and 15 ppb, respectively. Health experts and community organizations called for those levels to be even lower, but utilities raised concerns about meeting those levels without adequate funding to pay for equipment to meet the new levels. Additionally, the burden of public communications, particularly for small systems also became an area of concern.

While the language may change, experts in the water industry have all rallied around some calls to action that are unlikely to change: lead service line inventory plans and lead service line replacement/removal programs. The finer details may see change, but utilities should begin now to find ways to take stock of all the pipe materials within their networks and begin a plan for how they will remove or replace any and all lead service lines by the LCRR compliance date, which currently stands to be in 2024.

waste water infrastructure3.   Water Utilities & Cybersecurity

In February 2021, national media latched onto a news story about a hack of a water treatment plant in Oldsmar, Florida, in which chemical levels in the plant had been altered and could have posed a health risk to the community.

An observant operator immediately noticed the change in levels and brought them back in line, but an investigation was initiated into how the hack could have happened. Although it was not a water system, the Colonial Pipeline hack also kept the issue of cybersecurity in the news.

As the water and wastewater industry becomes increasingly digital due to the rise of smart water technologies, cybersecurity has become a priority topic of discussion in 2021.

As such, the American Water Works Association and the Water Environment Federation have reviewed their cybersecurity guidelines for utilities and updated them with the most recent best practices and considerations.

4.   A Return to Live Events

First and foremost, the influence of coronavirus pandemic continued to be felt in early 2021. Live events were not on the horizon through the first four months, but as vaccinations became more widely available in the United States, more and more events confirmed their live presence.

And industry professionals showed an eagerness to return to work travel, conferences and trade shows. WWD surveyed its newsletter audience about returning to work travel and found 75% of the audience was interested in traveling in September or earlier.

In a similar survey, SWS asked its audience about its attitude toward traveling. At the time of the survey, 53.5% of the respondents were comfortable traveling with 46.7% marking Q2 (April, May and June) as when they would be most comfortable.

5.   Green Infrastructure Continues to Grow

In April, U.S. EPA Administrator Michael Regan announced the 2021 notice of funding availability under the agency’s Water Infrastructure  Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) program. The WIFIA funding will provide up to $5.5 billion to support $11 billion in water infrastructure projects and prioritize five areas. One of those areas is implementing new or innovative approaches regarding cybersecurity and green infrastructure. As inclement weather increases and intensifies, more and more communities are implementing green infrastructure measures into their storm water infrastructure to reduce flows to sewer systems and surface water.

6.   Storm Water & General Permits

In January, the EPA released the 2021 Multi-Sector General Permit for storm water discharges associated with industrial activity, and in March, it became effective. Change from the 2015 permit include sampling requirements and enforceable benchmarks for industrial storm water charges. In addition to this permit, the EPA has also proposed its 2022 Construction General Permit for storm water discharges from construction activity. When finalized, this permit will replace the 2017 CGP, which expires on February 16, 2022. The permit will cover areas where the EPA is the NPDES permitting authority in the EPA’s regions one through 10. According to the EPA, “Key proposed changes in the permit include new or clarified provisions related to erosion and pollution prevention controls, dewatering discharges, and permittee training.

Meeting Trends Head On

At the Water Pavilion during The Utility Expo Sept. 28-30 in Louisville, Kentucky, Water & Wastes Digest and Storm Water Solutions will tackle these trends with 42 educational sessions for water and wastewater utility professionals.

Lead & Copper Rule Revision Sessions

Covering the topic of the Lead & Copper Rule Revision is a presentation from Erica Walker of 120Water. She will share the broad strokes of the rule as it currently stands, give utilities an idea of what they can do to prepare, and provide some technology solutions to the challenges the LCRR will present to utility professionals. Additionally, Mike McGill of WaterPIO will share some communications strategies and considerations for utilities on how to talk about LCRR with drinking water customers.

Cybersecurity Sessions

On the topic of Cybersecurity, a session from XiO will discuss the issue from the perspective of a small community system, including common vulnerabilities and solutions that reduce risk and improve security.

Funding & Financing Sessions

Several sessions at the Water Pavilion will highlight specific projects and case studies along with the economics, funding and financing that made them possible. From current legislation that could fund the next big project to lessons from WIFIA loan holders, learn from peers about how to overcome this common challenge.

Green Infrastructure

To continue the discussion on green infrastructure, Robert Page of HNTB Corporation will present a case study from an Indianapolis community where localized flooding was a problem. Page will share how the project came together and explain how the project went from planning to design. Additionally, Bob Bridges of Oldcastle APG, will share a project out of  Ashland, Virginia, where a deteriorating parking lot was transformed into a storm water demonstration project for the region with permeable interlocking concrete pavement.

Storm Water & General Permits

To expand on the new Multi-Sector General Permit for industrial storm water discharges, Tyler Marshall, PE.  with Stanley Consultants, will present “Industrial Stormwater and the 2021 Multisector General Permit.” Marshall will explore the new permit and discuss cost effective strategies for getting ahead of the new regulations.

Bob Crossen is the senior managing editor for Water & Wastes Digest. He can be reached at wwdeditor@sgcmail.com. Katie Johns is the managing editor for Storm Water Solutions. Johns can be reached at swseditor@sgcmail.com.

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