According to Fortune Business Insights, “The global water and wastewater treatment market is projected to grow from $301.77 billion in 2022 to $489.07 billion by 2029, at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 7.1 percent”.
A portion of these dollar amounts includes the creation, operation, and maintenance of water infrastructure. Just like other sectors, aging infrastructure continues to be a major issue in the water, wastewater, and stormwater industries.
Web site statista.com references a 2021 survey of more than 200 American water industry stakeholders—75 percent of whom stated aging infrastructure was the most challenging issue facing that sector.
When congress in the US passed the Infrastructure Investment in Jobs Act in 2021, the government allocated an unprecedented $111 billion to upgrade water infrastructure, including:
- $45 billion to replace all lead pipes and service lines
- $56 billion to modernize aging drinking water, stormwater, and wastewater systems
- $10 billion to monitor and remediate PFAS chemicals in drinking water and upgrade small rural and household water systems
- $5 billion for water storage in Western states
Water and wastewater trends
Three main factors are driving this shift: The urgent need to decarbonize water treatment processes, reduce the strain on aging infrastructures, and adapt to rising water costs.
- Water reuse policies. Water reuse contracts have been increasing for more than a decade. Recycling water can be less expensive, less energy-intensive, and better for the environment than other water treatment methods, such as desalinization. Not only does it decrease the demand for new production capacity, it turns wastewater treatment plants from cost centers to profit centers. Municipalities sell recycled water instead of paying to treat wastewater.
- Advanced filtration techniques. In the US, utilities are required to test for 93 known contaminants. Newer filtration systems can filter more complex contaminants, and utility companies are ditching chlorine in favor of ultraviolet light, ozone, and activated carbon technologies.
- Water conservation. Smart meters have the potential to help customers conserve about 15 percent of water consumption by giving them feedback on water.
- The internet of things (IoT). This technology provides real-time data on the state of systems and processes (from leaks and operational issues to water quality and flow). Companies can use this data to make better decisions.
Stormwater critical issues
Historically, there has been a lot of emphasis on water and wastewater but, according to Mark Doneux, Administrator of Capitol Region Watershed District, stormwater would like to have a seat at the big kid’s table and be one of the big three—water, wastewater, and stormwater.
“Stormwater/rainwater is a resource; it’s not a waste product to be disposed of. And changing minds there has been a long-standing challenge for the water community. Rainwater can be used to replenish aquifers, irrigate landscapes, and even flush toilets,” says Doneux.
According to Doneux, the biggest issues affecting the stormwater industry are climate, aging infrastructure, and funding. The Water Environment Federation identified these three items as the most critical in their latest environment MS4 needs assessment document.
“These items sometimes act individually, such as the lack of funding in an area, but oftentimes, we see these key issues compounding themselves. For example, a community could experience a significant rain event that overtaxes aging stormwater systems, and then there’s a lack of funding to invest in these systems, so often compounding one another,” says Doneux.
One other upcoming critical issue is PFAS (polyfluoroalkyl substances), or forever chemicals, now showing up in stormwater.
PFAS were the subject of the 2019 American legal thriller film, Dark Waters, which is based on the story of a legal case against chemical manufacturing corporation DuPont (2002-2004) after the company contaminated Parkersburg, West Virginia, with unregulated chemicals.
The water and wastewater industries have been dealing with this pollutant for years and have a task force to deal with it. Now, PFAS are showing up in rainwater,” says Doneux. “It’s not an easy substance to remove, and we’re not sure how we’re going to deal with it.”
Automation increases efficiency and capacity
According to Doneux, as the stormwater sector matures and develops more practices and projects, there’s been a lot more emphasis on operation and maintenance compared to new construction.
Doneux highlights one technology that can have a tremendous impact on operations—continuous monitoring and adaptive controls (CMAC ). CMAC is a system that measures water flow and water levels, reports continuously to a cloud-based hub, and is tied into the weather service and a control system that can be controlled either manually or automatically.
“We have several of these systems employed. They’re automated, so they require no activity from my staff activity. There are predictive elements to the weather service so, if we’re expecting heavy rainfall we can automatically adjust levels in ponds or release water ahead of the event. We have a CMAC in a pond and if there’s a 75 percent chance or greater of a one-inch rainfall, the pond automatically drains two feet ahead of the event. This gives the pond greater capacity to hold more stormwater and decrease flooding.
According to Doneux, if you had a series of these up and downstream. If flooding is sensed downstream, the lake outlet control can hold back releasing lake water for a predetermined amount of time that doesn’t overflow the lake but also allows downstream systems to drain.
“It’s amazing how we can achieve a higher level of efficiency simply through automation,” says Doneux.
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