Water 2050
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Think tanks and critical drivers of the future of water:

By engaging in thoughtful, intentional, and inclusive discourse resulting in bold, achievable goals, AWWA’s Water 2050 initiative will shape a long-term vision of the future of water that will chart a course for a successful and sustainable water sector.

Water 2050 Overview

Ultimately, Water 2050’s influence extends beyond the water community, fostering partnerships and cross-sector collaboration for mutual and global benefit.

Starting in 2022 and working through the end of 2023, Water 2050 will:

  • Engaged in meaningful conversations. Thought leaders from within and outside the water sector gathered at intimate “think tanks” to examine the future of water through the prism of five key drivers.
  • Enlisted strategic partners. Collaboration among water utilities, service providers, academia, water-sector organizations, and nontraditional partners will be essential. We also reached beyond the water sector to engage corporate water users, nonprofit organizations and other stakeholder groups for fresh insights.
  • Fostered intergenerational responsibility. Today's and tomorrow’s water professionals and leaders must work together to create a successful future. The voices of young and emerging professionals remain an integral part of the initiative.
  • Captured collective knowledge. AWWA issued reports on insights from each think tank and published additional guidance to support the water community in realizing the Water 2050 vision.

All of this supports the critical mission of the water community: safe water, healthy people and a sustainable planet by examining five drivers critical to the future of water.

Sustainability: Sept. 21-23, 2022
Technology: Dec. 5-7, 2022
Economics: Jan. 23-25, 2023
Governance: Feb. 27-March 1, 2023
Social/Demographics: April 26-28, 2023

Think Tanks Summary and Path Forward: A summary of each think tank and identifies the common themes that emerged from each.

Dear 2050 Video:
Hopes and ideas about the water sector from 2023

Water StoryMaps
Explore StoryMaps that contain real-life examples of projects, innovations, and strategies that inspired artistic renderings.

Get the report(s) summarizing each of the Water 2050 Think Tanks


Five Forces Driving the Future of Water

AWWA has identified five critical drivers that will influence progress toward a sustainable and resilient water future: sustainability, technology, economics, governance and social/demographic.

These drivers will be considered by the Water 2050 think tanks and shape all future work supported by this initiative.

  1. Sustainability. Managing our planet’s limited water resources and built infrastructure for water is paramount. Climate change is among the biggest risks. It will bring conditions that are more fierce and less predictable: extended droughts and heatwaves, increased hurricanes and wildfires, and severe winter storms. The future will require skillful and creative stewardship of our most vital natural resource, as well as innovative approaches to keep water infrastructure strong and resilient.

  2. Technology. As the world enters the fourth industrial revolution, water professionals have access to new technologies that are changing the way they interact with water resources, water systems and the people they serve. Advances in data, analytics, the Internet of Things (IoT), machine learning and artificial intelligence will increasingly empower consumers and influence water system operations. Adoption of new technologies will solve complex problems and sometimes introduce unintended challenges.

  3. Economics. Water is a critical economic engine for North American communities and across the globe. Increasingly, the water community is asked to do more with less, while also addressing rising infrastructure needs. We must consider important economic factors such as regionalization, supply chain resilience, decentralized treatment, ESG approaches to assessing risks and value, and the benefits of a circular economy. Rate-setting will occur in a world more keenly aware of equity and affordability challenges.

  4. Governance. The roles of federal, provincial, state and local governments significantly impact how water utilities are operated and regulated. Both economics and governance will shape the model of tomorrow’s water utilities. Some communities may turn to regional solutions to gain efficiencies. As regulatory structures evolve, communities will have to evaluate new approaches, such as fit-for-purpose standards and decentralized treatment. 

  5. Social/Demographics. Public interest and concern about water quality and equity is rising, which means all communities must work to strengthen public trust. Simultaneously, potential population shifts between urban and rural areas are creating resource and infrastructure challenges — while also forcing community-driven water solutions. Population growth in water-stressed communities will require innovative thinking to manage limited supplies. 

March 11, 2022: AWWA announces Water 2050 initiative. AWWA Connections article.

June 12-15, 2022: Water2050 at ACE22. This initiative was a hot topic at AWWA’s Annual Conference and Exposition (ACE22) in San Antonio, Texas.

  • June 13: A path to Water 2050 begins at ACE22. AWWA Connections article.
  • June 15: The Last Drop closing keynote panel focused on the Water 2050 initiative.
  • The AWWA Pavilion in the Exhibit Hall featured a Water 2050 exhibit.
  • A new video, The Future We Create, featured what AWWA Young Professionals are thinking about the future of water. This debuted at the conference and will be shown throughout the initiative.  

Sept 21-23, 2022: Water 2050 Think Tank 1 - Sustainability. Twenty-four thought leaders gathered in Las Vegas exploring the theme of sustainability.

Dec. 5-7, 2022: Water 2050 Think Tank 2 - Technology. Thought leaders met in Silicon Valley exploring the technology theme.

Jan. 23-25, 2023: Water 2050 Think Tank 3 - Economics. Twenty-six thought leaders met in New York City exploring the theme of economy.

Feb. 27-March 1, 2023: Water 2050 Think Tank 4 - Governance. Twenty-seven influential thinkers developed nine recommendations for the future of water governance.

April 26-28, 2023: Water 2050 Think Tank 5 - Social/Demographics. A diverse group of influential thinkers helped develop nine proactive recommendations considering key social and demographic shifts.