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?
As the sources of water continue to become scarce - especially with the rise in populations, urban growth and climate change - the water utility's role in ensuring people get potable water becomes ever more critical. Because, fundamentally, the water provision in every city is an indication of its livability. There are the consequent public health issues and the loss of resiliency in the distribution system brought about by the aging infrastructure. These issues also affect the power industry which is one of the larger consumers of water provided by wastewater treatment facilities. A more comprehensive approach to managing this critical system is necessary.