2030: The Water Industry You've Never Seen Before

<p><strong>A tech guy's predictions on water over the next ten years.</strong></p><p>The end of a radical decade in digital transformation is nearly complete. Rapid advances in 'buzzword' technology like AI, ML, IoT, &amp; cloud computing coupled with related workflows and systems like design thinking, mobile first, customer journeys, e-commerce, and the SaaS-ification of everything have changed how nearly every major global industry does business.</p><p>Water, although lagging by most tech standards, is no exception. There's an endless supply of opportunities to attend conferences, workshops, and forums focused on the digital transformation of water - and if you've been around long enough you've undoubtedly heard terms like "Digital Twin", "Smart Water", "Smart Metering", "Next-Gen SCADA"... and the list goes on.</p><p><strong>BUT writing predictions solely on tech advances in the water sector would be boring because they a.) are inevitable and b.) don't afford the opportunity for me to be wildly incorrect... and for you to laugh at me in ten years when I'm completely wrong.</strong></p><p>Instead, I've focused on a variety of topics in water and split the predictions up into three categories of 'likelihood of happening'. To make this even more fun for you I've started with the predictions that are the 'wild stuff' and ended with those I believe are most likely to happen.</p><p>Keep in mind these predictions are NOT what I hope will or will not happen, just guesses.</p><p>-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------</p><p><strong>Highly Unlikely - "The Wild Stuff"</strong></p><ul><li><strong>Water utilities start marketing and selling packaged drinking water</strong></li></ul><p>This one is bound to raise some eyebrows with my colleagues but stick with me.</p><p><a href="https://www.investopedia.com/news/bottled-water-marketing-trick-century/"><strong>Bottled water sales are at all-time highs</strong></a>. At the same time, trust in public water utilities and water quality is&nbsp;<a href="https://ropercenter.cornell.edu/blog/water-crisis-worry-and-lack-trust-blog"><strong>at an all-time low</strong></a>. Cash strapped utilities facing monster infrastructure repair costs have few places to turn to generate enough funds to pay for necessary work. Short of increasing water bills to astronomical levels (<a href="https://www.npr.org/2019/02/08/691409795/a-water-crisis-is-growing-in-a-place-youd-least-expect-it"><strong>which very well may happen</strong></a>), utilities will have to consider alternative methods of financing their services.</p><p>Bottled water prices command a&nbsp;<a href="http://www.container-recycling.org/assets/pdfs/media/2006-5-WMW-DownDrain.pdf"><strong>4,000% premium over tap water</strong></a>&nbsp;and are often bottled from, or near,&nbsp;<em>the exact same source as tap water</em>. If utilities doing business as usual can't work with bottled water companies, maybe they will compete and beat them at their own game.</p><p>There are many reasons why public drinking water utilities could have an edge on bottled water companies. They are closer to the center of the population they serve than many of the bottled water manufacturers, which would significantly decrease shipping and transportation costs and allow them to undercut the prices of bottled water. They already have a relationship with the end consumer and could integrate marketing and billing with existing ERP systems. They provide <a href="https://www.foodandwaterwatch.org/about/live-healthy/tap-water-vs-bottled-water"><strong>just as safe, if not safer,</strong></a>&nbsp;drinking water so quality wouldn't be a concern.</p><p>They could also get crafty with their marketing and focus on selling boxed water to limit single use plastics, sell 5 gallons recyclable/refillable or stainless steel drums, or even set up premium experience brick and mortar shops at drinking water facilities - which would also give them the opportunity to educate the public on the hard work they do to deliver water 24/7, 365.</p><p style="text-align: center;"><em>If you can&rsquo;t beat &lsquo;em, join &lsquo;em?</em></p><ul><li><strong>Saltwater aquaponics/hydroponics makes a significant dent in decreasing freshwater consumption for land-based agriculture</strong></li></ul><p>A North American water conference I attended had a keynote speaker who left all in attendance speechless. The presenter,&nbsp;<a href="https://www.nasa.gov/centers/langley/news/researchernews/snapshot_DBushnell.html"><strong>Dennis Bushnell</strong></a>, was a NASA scientist and futurist who claimed that everyone in the water industry was looking at the freshwater crisis in the wrong light.</p><p>The concept he presented, backed by loads of research and data, was that the water 'crisis' is a farce - there is more than enough water to take care of humanity... we're just using the wrong type of water.</p><p><a href="http://blogs.worldbank.org/opendata/chart-globally-70-freshwater-used-agriculture"><strong>~70% of all freshwater usage in the world goes to agriculture.</strong></a>&nbsp;The speaker instead argued for&nbsp;<a href="https://www.ozy.com/fast-forward/saltwater-saviors/30923/"><strong>extensive use of&nbsp;</strong><strong><em>saltwater&nbsp;</em></strong><strong>for agriculture&nbsp;</strong></a>- saying we need to pump saltwater inland in coastal regions to decrease the freshwater usage in agriculture - and that the bulk of our protein, energy, and survival requirements could be met with fish, algae, sea vegetables, and any number of ocean-based and salt-loving life forms.</p><p>If that wasn't enough, he claimed the saltwater farms would further benefit society and create&nbsp;<em>more</em>&nbsp;freshwater from evaporation and condensation processes - bringing rain to traditionally arid regions.</p><p><em>Should we even worry about freshwater scarcity when we have an abundance of saltwater that can meet societal food needs?</em></p><ul><li><strong>Atmospheric water generation goes big:</strong></li></ul><p>There have been a number of start-ups (<a href="https://www.zeromasswater.com/rexi/"><strong>zero mass water</strong></a>,&nbsp;<a href="http://www.infinitewaterinc.com/"><strong>infinite water</strong></a>,&nbsp;<a href="http://www.wahainc.com/"><strong>water harvesting inc</strong></a>...<strong>)&nbsp;</strong>in recent years making big news for pulling water out of air. The technologies and applications vary but the basic premise is the same - air has moisture that can be extracted for tremendous benefits to end users, primarily those in environments where water comes at a premium price.</p><p>However, a lack of viable business models coupled with tumultuous hardware cycles has left many investors and consumers high and dry. As these technologies mature and the price of water continues to rise, I expect water-from-air extraction companies to become more viable, but perhaps not before 2030.</p><p>---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------</p><p><strong>Moderately Likely - "I Won't be Surprised If..."</strong></p><ul><li><strong>Water utilities significantly increase social media and PR efforts</strong></li></ul><p>Water utilities are&nbsp;<a href="https://www.ksl.com/article/46597636/sticker-shock-over-water-bills-i-cant-afford-to-water"><strong>notoriously bad</strong></a>&nbsp;at communicating the value of their efforts to the public. The&nbsp;<a href="http://www.clevelandwater.com/blog/why-do-more-water-main-breaks-occur-during-winter"><strong>heroic efforts</strong></a>&nbsp;of many industry professionals are often unnoticed and under-appreciated. Despite providing clean water nearly 24/7 to the bulk of the U.S. population customers are shocked and upset when a water main breaks, rates increase, or a boil advisory is issued.</p><p>Many industry leaders I've spoken with believe the way to win over the public is in the streets - literally, by repairing and replacing broken infrastructure. Although that will likely help decrease water main breaks and water quality concerns, that's not where the real war is won.</p><p><em>The war for the mind and trust of the customer isn't in pipes - it's in perceptions.</em></p><p>The real war is won online and through multi-channel marketing and communications efforts. If the industry doesn't tell our story, somebody else will. And who knows what that 'somebody' might say.</p><p>Fortunately, we have a number of leaders taking initiative to help share our story. Women like&nbsp;<a href="https://www.roguewatergroup.com/"><strong>Rogue Water</strong></a>&nbsp;(shameless podcast plug we did&nbsp;<a href="https://www.theh2duo.com/captivate-tag/transcend-h2o/"><strong>here</strong></a>) have formed a niche PR/communications company focused solely on the water sector.&nbsp;<a href="https://www.linkedin.com/in/travisloop/"><strong>Travis Loop</strong></a>&nbsp;at the&nbsp;<a href="https://www.linkedin.com/company/water-environment-federation/"><strong>Water Environment Federation</strong></a>&nbsp;has done dozens of&nbsp;<a href="https://wordsonwaterwef.com/2019/05/06/words-on-water-87-adam-tank-on-communication-for-the-next-generation/"><strong>podcasts</strong></a> with many industry leaders. Engineering firms have spun up communications consulting divisions with the help of former utility professionals like&nbsp;<a href="https://www.linkedin.com/in/trina-mcguire-collier-3363b59/"><strong>Trina McGuire-Collier</strong></a>.</p><p>We even have a few utilities that are doing a great job. The Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District&nbsp;<a href="https://twitter.com/neorsd"><strong>twitter account</strong></a> has over 8,600 followers and counting largely due to 'toilet humor':</p><p>And we can't forget individuals like&nbsp;<a href="https://www.linkedin.com/in/khunapong/"><strong>Khun Khunaraksa</strong></a>&nbsp;vlogging on YouTube, or&nbsp;<a href="https://www.linkedin.com/in/jimlauria/"><strong>Jim Lauria</strong></a>&nbsp;posting a water quote a day for well over a year now.&nbsp;<a href="https://www.linkedin.com/in/o2environmental/"><strong>Paul O'Callaghan</strong></a>&nbsp;and several great partners aired a 'blue carpet' documentary in Hollywood late this year on the importance of water stewardship around the world -&nbsp;<a href="https://www.braveblue.world/"><strong>Brave Blue World</strong></a>.</p><ul><li><strong>Distributed water infrastructure and decentralized treatment solutions become more broadly accepted</strong></li></ul><p>Yes - I'm biased. But companies like&nbsp;<a href="https://www.organicawater.com/"><strong>Organica</strong></a>&nbsp;are doing some&nbsp;<a href="https://infrastructuremagazine.com.au/2019/04/30/changing-the-image-of-sewage-treatment-organica-food-chain-reactors/"><strong>really cool work</strong></a>. Rapid urbanization of cities around the world and increasing construction costs will no longer support the land hogging, energy inefficient water infrastructure solutions of years past. Even more, cities cannot afford to build and maintain large networks of underground piping to collect and distribute water and wastewater.</p><p>Cities around the world are beginning to realize the benefits of decentralizing water and wastewater infrastructure - for a fantastic overview take a look at&nbsp;<a href="https://www.linkedin.com/in/lynnbroaddus/"><strong>Lynn Broaddus</strong></a>&rsquo; recent report on&nbsp;<a href="https://broadviewcollaborative.com/opportunities-in-distributed-water-infrastructure/"><strong>opportunities for distributed water infrastructure</strong></a>.</p><p>I was fortunate to speak with a number of start-up founders over the last few years who are working on distributed solutions, including the CEO of&nbsp;<a href="http://epiccleantec.com/"><strong>Epic CleanTec</strong></a>,&nbsp;<a href="https://www.linkedin.com/in/aarontartakovsky/"><strong>Aaron Tartakovsky</strong></a>&nbsp;and&nbsp;<a href="https://www.linkedin.com/in/jacobnagar/"><strong>Kobe Nagar</strong></a>, Founder of&nbsp;<a href="https://www.374tech.com/"><strong>374Water</strong></a>. While the market adoption for these types of technologies is still nascent the future looks bright for companies that can out-engineer and outsell their tried and true competitors.</p><ul><li><strong>Design build and collaborative delivery models become the new normal</strong></li></ul><p>There is a growing trend in the United States for water infrastructure construction and consulting companies using more collaborative project delivery models, including&nbsp;<a href="https://www.bv.com/news/black-veatch-bolsters-water-infrastructure-design-build-expertise"><strong>DB</strong></a>/<a href="https://www.waterworld.com/home/article/16190499/designbuildoperate-gains-popularity-in-us-market"><strong>DBO</strong></a>/<a href="https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2017-03/documents/epa_p3_perspective_final_2.24.17.pdf"><strong>DBFO</strong></a>,&nbsp;<a href="https://waterdesignbuild.com/category/cmar/"><strong>CMAR</strong></a>, and a host of others.</p><p>Having spoken with some of the leading experts in this movement, including&nbsp;<a href="https://www.linkedin.com/in/mark-alpert-2741455a/"><strong>Mark Alpert</strong></a>&nbsp;and&nbsp;<a href="https://www.linkedin.com/in/bryan-bedell-dbia-2692775/"><strong>Bryan Bedell</strong></a>, as well as attending a water&nbsp;<a href="https://dbia.org/conferences/design-build-for-water-wastewater-conference/"><strong>Design Build Institute</strong></a>&nbsp;meeting I am confident collaborative delivery models will become more prevalent throughout the 2020's.</p><p>Cost conscience utilities and technology-forward construction companies will propel these project methods into the mainstream. To add fuel to the fire we also see a number of U.S.&nbsp;<a href="https://dbia.org/advocacy/state/"><strong>states passing legislation</strong></a>&nbsp;to encourage more collaborative delivery models.</p><p>---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------</p><p><strong>Highly Likely - "I'll bet you a dollar that..."</strong></p><ul><li><strong>PFAS continues to see increasing airtime as a dangerous water contaminant&hellip; </strong><a href="https://theconversation.com/we-should-be-cautious-but-not-concerned-theres-little-evidence-pfas-exposure-harms-our-health-122044"><strong>until they don&rsquo;t</strong></a><strong>.</strong></li></ul><p><a href="https://www.pbs.org/newshour/science/pfas-toxic-chemical-millions-peoples-drinking-water"><strong>PFAS</strong></a> and associated derivatives, as well as microplastics, are rapidly making their way into the mainstream conversation on water quality. According to some sources, these substances can be found <a href="https://nypost.com/2019/03/04/toxic-pfas-are-everywhere-heres-how-to-avoid-them/"><strong>practically everywhere</strong></a>&nbsp;-&nbsp;<a href="https://www.businessinsider.com/pfas-bottled-water-whole-foods-cvs-2019-7"><strong>even being found in bottled water</strong></a>&nbsp;(hint &ndash; bottled water isn&rsquo;t always a&nbsp;<a href="https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/should-you-drink-tap-or-bottled-water/"><strong>safe alternative to tap water</strong></a>).</p><p>However, there is&nbsp;<a href="https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/pfas/health-effects.html"><strong>still debate about</strong></a>&nbsp;whether or not PFAS is harmful to humans due to both the exposure limits and dosage (thank you to an early colleague,&nbsp;<a href="https://www.linkedin.com/in/brent-kobielush-63956b32/"><strong>Brent Kobielush</strong></a>, for teaching us that &lsquo;the poison is in the dose!&rsquo;).</p><p>I anticipate a frenzy over PFAS in the next few years... but as regulations, treatment technologies, and media hype cycles change PFAS will no longer be discussed and something else will undoubtedly take its place (insert furor over&nbsp;<a href="https://www.watertechonline.com/wastewater/article/15547091/contaminant-of-the-month-benzene"><strong>Benzene</strong></a>,&nbsp;<a href="https://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/drugs-in-the-water"><strong>Pharmaceuticals</strong></a>, and even&nbsp;<a href="https://foodrevolution.org/blog/chlorine-water-harmful/"><strong>Chlorination</strong></a>).</p><ul><li><strong>Increased packaged water sales &ndash; bottles, cans, glasses, boxes...</strong></li></ul><p>As of 2017, bottled water is the&nbsp;<a href="https://www.beveragedaily.com/Article/2018/06/01/Bottled-water-takes-top-spot-in-US-in-2017"><strong>number one beverage in the U.S</strong></a>. by volume. ~70% is&nbsp;<a href="https://www.plasticsnews.com/article/20190213/NEWS/190219930/bottled-water-use-continues-to-climb"><strong>packaged in single use plastic</strong></a>&nbsp;which has been a hot button topic for many in the water and sustainability industries. Although there are signs the&nbsp;<a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/nestle-to-refresh-bottled-water-business-as-sales-turn-flat-11571298398"><strong>growth may be slowing</strong></a>&nbsp;we as an industry shouldn't be comfortable knowing the public continues to see bottled water as a 'go-to' source for their drinking needs.</p><p>Many of us in the industry believe we should push the benefits of tap water - check out our summer intern <a href="https://www.linkedin.com/in/tori-thomas-1a1623133/"><strong>Tori Thomas</strong></a>' article in&nbsp;<a href="https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/i-disagree-my-boss-tori-thomas/"><strong>spirited defence of tap water</strong></a>.</p><ul><li><strong>Under and over abundances of water around the world become more pronounced</strong></li></ul><p>One quarter of the world's population faces&nbsp;<a href="https://www.wri.org/blog/2019/08/17-countries-home-one-quarter-world-population-face-extremely-high-water-stress"><strong>extremely high levels of water stress</strong></a>. Cities like Chennai rapidly&nbsp;<a href="https://www.csmonitor.com/World/Asia-South-Central/2019/1016/A-city-in-India-almost-ran-dry.-What-will-prevent-a-repeat"><strong>approached &lsquo;day zero&rsquo;</strong></a>&nbsp;just as devastating floods occurred&nbsp;<a href="https://www.wri.org/blog/2019/06/how-does-flood-prone-city-run-out-water-inside-chennai-day-zero-crisis"><strong>almost simultaneously</strong></a>.&nbsp;<a href="https://www.citylab.com/environment/2019/04/cape-town-water-conservation-south-africa-drought/587011/"><strong>Cape Town Throttled Water Usage</strong></a>&nbsp;and with a little help from nature narrowly averted Day Zero disaster in 2018. Water scarcity has become so bad in many parts of the world that 1,000 experts&nbsp;<a href="https://www.financialexpress.com/lifestyle/science/shocking-fall-in-groundwater-levels-over-1000-experts-call-for-global-action-on-depleting-groundwater/1803803/"><strong>have banned together</strong></a>&nbsp;for a call to act on the rapid global depletion of groundwater.</p><p>Where I live the&nbsp;<a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/09/11/us/midwest-flooding.html"><strong>great flood of 2019</strong></a>&nbsp;wreaked havoc on farms, highways, and homes across many parts of the Midwest.&nbsp;It was eerie to drive north on I-29 from Kansas City and feel like I was in the Florida Keys with water on both sides of the highway as far as the eye could see.</p><p>Whether it's due to climate change, population growth, geographic differences, or the media, we will hear about droughts and flooding much more than we ever have before.</p><ul><li><strong>Increased recruitment &amp; retention of a diverse workforce</strong></li></ul><p>One of the biggest ongoing concerns in water is the age and lack of diversity of the workforce. As noted in&nbsp;<a href="https://www.brookings.edu/research/water-workforce/"><strong>Brookings Institute Research</strong></a>, and even with wages consistently exceeding national averages, only ~10% of workers in water are under 24 years of age.</p><p><a href="https://www.brookings.edu/research/water-workforce/"><strong><em>"Water workers tend to be older and lack gender and racial diversity in certain occupations, pointing to the need for younger, more diverse talent."</em></strong></a></p><p>Utilities and companies have taken note and&nbsp;<a href="https://www.waternewsnetwork.com/aging-water-workforce-spurs-industry-recruiting-efforts/"><strong>ramped up efforts</strong></a>&nbsp;to attract and retain the next generation of talent. Leaders from non-traditional backgrounds like&nbsp;<a href="https://wordsonwaterwef.com/2019/12/09/words-on-water-115-ifetayor-venner-on-the-value-of-a-variety-of-experiences/"><strong>Ifetayo Venner</strong></a>&nbsp;are making their mark in the sector, as are individuals like&nbsp;<a href="https://theh2otower.org/staff"><strong>Melissa Meeker with The Water Tower</strong></a>&nbsp;and&nbsp;<a href="https://globalwaterworks.org/?founders=auto-draft"><strong>Mary Conley Eggert with Global Water Works</strong></a>.</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>&nbsp;</p>
KR Expert - Adam Tank