The American Water Works Association (AWWA) — a nonprofit organization with 51,000+ members who supply 80% of the nation’s drinking water — has embarked on an effort to provide a clear and actionable vision for water utilities to achieve sustainability (in the broadest meaning of the word) by 2050. The project, aptly named Water 2050, is spearheading a series of community engagement efforts, fostering invitation-only think tanks, and commissioning timely and relevant studies. The studies will determine optimal pathways and ideal targets for water and wastewater utilities to follow as they reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to zero (or below), help to maximize the total value of One Water, and address longstanding inequities related to the the availability of safe and affordable drinking water for disadvantaged communities.
NAWI was invited to participate in the first of 5 invitation-only think tanks. Focused on the topic of sustainability, the first think tank included NAWI Industry Advisory Council member Joe Jacangelo (who is also the current President of the AWWA) and a wide range of experts, including many from outside the water utility community. The proceedings of the 2-day deliberation will be summarized into a draft report that will be circulated in approximately 2 months. AWWA Water 2050 will convene future think tanks in 2022 and 2023 on the subjects of technology, economics, governance, and social/demographic factors.
In spite of the team’s diverse background, a few key themes and issues rose to the top of the discussion:
- Water and wastewater utilities need to deliver benefits in addition to safe and affordable drinking water, including physical infrastructure that provides multiple benefits to communities such as ecological services and natural disaster resilience.
- The water and energy sectors need to work together to coordinate water treatment and energy supplies in ways that maximize system resilience, lower cost, and reduce GHG emissions.
- Utilities need to shift from a solitary water system focus to an integrated watershed mindset in which water utilities coordinate with one another and other water users and stakeholders to optimize the use and reuse of water.