Innovating for Water’s Future Roundtable – Challenges and Barriers to Innovation

The U.S. Water Alliance (USWA) and the Water and Wastewater Equipment Manufacturers Association (WWEMA) recently convened a roundtable of industry leaders to discuss ways to promote the development and adoption of innovative approaches and technologies within the water industry.

“Innovating for Water’s Future” was an all day event consisting of three sessions and began with an in-depth discussion on challenges and barriers to innovation. During this session water and wastewater equipment manufacturers, municipalities and public works officials discussed and shared their point-of-view on the biggest barriers to innovation.

According to the findings of a recent survey conducted by WWEMA, the top five barriers to innovation for manufacturers are:

  • The risk-averse nature of the industry
  • The low cost of water
  • Procurement methods that give preference to low cost vs. lowest cost of ownership; Complicated state permitting requirements
  • Buy American restrictions

This discussion also focused on the barriers to innovation from the standpoint of municipalities, who are dealing with steep increases in water expenditures. Between 2001 and 2010, local governments spent $864 billion on public water (including both capital expenditures and operations/maintenance).

Municipalities continue to face challenges such as such as inflation; population growth and expansion; uncertainty about the economy; and the possibility of a cap being placed on tax-exempt bond financing. Most of these challenges are out of the control of cities and counties, which make it difficult for municipalities to meet their water demands, never mind innovate.

The biggest challenge from public work directors’ perspective was the challenge of upgrading facilities without disrupting the community and their own operations. Dismantling, construction and installation of new technologies without interruption of critical services within a restricted area can makes innovation extremely challenging from a public works perspective.

Participants of this session included Deb Lavelle, Chair, WWEMA; Rich Anderson, Senior Advisor, U.S. Conference of Mayors and Robert Steidel, Director of Public Utilities, City of Richmond (Virginia).

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