| AWWA Survey: Infrastructure, financing remain top water issues; emergency preparedness concerns increasing
AWWA Articles

AWWA Survey: Infrastructure, financing remain top water issues; emergency preparedness concerns increasing

Crew from Waukesha Water UtilityFor the ninth straight year, water professionals ranked aging water infrastructure and the ability to pay for renewal and replacement as the sector’s most pressing challenges. Not surprisingly, emergency preparedness and cybersecurity jumped in importance during a year impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and increasing attention on cyberattacks. (Pictured right, crew from Waukesha Water Utility)

The American Water Works Association’s (AWWA) latest State of the Water Industry (SOTWI) survey, conducted between September and November 2020, asked utility and non-utility participants from the United States and Canada to rank the water sector’s most pressing challenges. The top six are:

1.    Renewal and replacement of aging water and wastewater infrastructure
2.    Financing for capital improvements
3.    Long-term water supply availability (ranked 3rd in last year’s survey)
4.    Emergency preparedness (ranked 8th in last year’s survey)
5.    Public understanding of the value of water systems and services (ranked 4th in last year’s survey)
6.    Watershed/source water protection (ranked 5th in last year’s survey)

Cheryl PorterIn addition, cybersecurity increased in the ranking of top water sector challenges to No. 12 from No. 16. Although the survey was completed before several highly publicized cyberattacks in 2021, instances of ransomware attacks and data breaches were already demonstrating the need for water utilities to be vigilant in preventing similar attacks.

Complete survey results are available in the newly-released 2021 AWWA State of the Water Industry Report (pictured right) and accompanying Executive Summary, both available on the Association’s website

Great Lakes Water Authority, like the majority of North American water systems, is grappling with how to address aging infrastructure. “To build resiliency, we are simultaneously working to meet stringent standards for safe and clean drinking water while investing in the maintenance and renewal of critical infrastructure that is vital to our community,” said Cheryl Porter (pictured right), chief operating officer with Great Lakes Water Authority.

“By prioritizing water sector financing now, we can better provide stability while continuing to protect our water quality,” she added.

Altogether, survey participants from small, medium and large utilities similarly ranked the top six challenges. Beyond these issues, very large utility participants placed a high priority on compliance with current and future regulations. Smaller utilities were more concerned with public understanding of the value of water resources.

The top two recurring challenges reflect the complexity of how water utilities address and pay for the replacement of aging infrastructure. The water community, along with public and private partners, continues to seek greater federal assistance to meet these challenges. 

This is primarily in the form of loans from the Water Infrastructure and Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA), the drinking water and wastewater state revolving loan fund programs, pandemic relief programs, and special loan programs being considered in the U.S. Congress for lead service line replacement. AWWA and its partners are urging the Congress to reauthorize WIFIA and the state revolving loan fund programs with significant funding increases.

More information is available on AWWA’s State of the Water Industry resource page.