In earlier days of software technology deployment to water utilities, vendors pushed for on-premise storage of data and technological tools (even software). Servers were deployed to give the engineers at the water utility a sense that their data was ‘secure’ and available at all times. The water system engineer was comfortable in this seeming middle ground between having all their technology and data ‘somewhere out there at someone else’s mercy’ and having full control. Unfortunately, this approach wasn’t scalable to address all the needs the water system engineer had.
Drinking Water Policy Recommendations for the Biden Administration
In the midst of the worst climate change-induced disaster in the US state of Texas, we are resorting to doing the things we seem to be most adept at doing these days; blaming, shaming and, misinforming. Instead of rushing to provide help and assistance to the people most in need, essentially everyone in Texas right now, leaders are going about sharing false information on a Green New Deal that doesn't exist or shaming the people who do not have the means to get through the blackouts and water shortages, and most news outlets are just plain wrong about why a broad swathe of Texas has lost power and water. It’s a shame.
To say 2020 brought change to the water sector is an understatement. Increased adoption of technology, further attrition in the technician and engineer ranks, new processes and decreased revenue as a result of COVID. At the beginning of Q2 2020, we wrote about our expectations due to the pandemic and most of them have come to pass. And while it feels like there is light at the end of the tunnel with vaccines, ongoing change is inevitable and there will continue to be some transformative changes that we should expect as an industry in the new year. So here are some of our thoughts on the changes, trends, and transitions that the drinking water sector should expect. Some of them are from within the industry, which means water systems have some element of control, but most are from outside of the industry and, consequently, will cause disruption at scale.
In walking, eating lunch with, and talking to water system managers and operators there is one thing that has come to the surface as the real problem they have. Actually, it became more obvious because of how difficult it is to get to talk to water system operators and managers; they lack time.
It is not news to anyone who is involved in the utility industry that the workforce is retiring at a rate that the utility is unable to replace. In the water industry, it is projected that 30% of the workforce will be retiring over the next few years. According to the Brookings Institute, 1.7M people were involved in the operation, design, governing and management of U.S. water infrastructure. That means ~600k of those resources will be lost to retirement with no clear sight of replacement. That is a trend. We cannot reverse the fact that baby boomers are growing old and leaving the workforce in droves. We also cannot train enough people in time to replace these soon to be retired workers. And we absolutely do not want to train new employees in old approaches that do not factor in the changing nature of integrated enterprise management that is needed for the future utility.
Say what you will, and I’m not discussing the politics of this situation we find ourselves in with the pandemic, the prevailing facts suggest that we did not have a plan to fight COVID19. Or any pandemic. Those same facts also suggest that our systems – public health, governmental, technological, - are actually more fragile than we thought. The tech advancements we’ve made gave us a false perception of our underlying conditions.
In capturing data within the distribution edge of water utilities, through sensors or probes, some of the difficulties we hear from operations folk at these utilities include:
How can the public works director or the operations manager look at the future? How does one, saddled with the responsibility of ensuring clean potable water is provided to residents of their region, look to the future and identify the things that might change to shift their ability to deliver on the promise they make to their customers?