Today’s clean water agencies are looking beyond traditional operational models and are deploying new technologies and approaches that provide greater overall benefit to the communities they serve. Going beyond simple compliance with all applicable laws and requirements, the “Water Resources Utility of the Future (UOTF)” concept is defined by clean water utility leaders pioneering innovative technologies and cutting-edge practices to recover resources, improve operational efficiency and sustainability, and provide value to their ratepayers beyond the clean water they produce every day.
NACWA is committed to making sure that the wide array of UOTF issues – including energy production, resource recovery, water reuse, green infrastructure, watershed-based approaches and other related or emerging issues – are embraced by federal policymakers and key stakeholders. NACWA will continue to work with Congress, EPA and other key federal agencies to ensure barriers to broader adoption of UOTF practices are addressed, and that incentives and funding for implementation are explored.
In 2013, NACWA, the Water Environment Federation (WEF), and the Water Environment & Research Foundation (WE&RF), released the publication, Water Resources Utility of the Future…A Blueprint for Action, to capture the groundbreaking transformation that was occurring at wastewater utilities as they progressed beyond simple compliance with the Clean Water Act.
Consistent with its role as the nation’s recognized leader in clean water advocacy, NACWA quickly followed the release of the Blueprint for Action with the Water Resources Utility of the Future…A Call for Federal Action. This document outlines ten priority actions that Congress and the Federal Government can take to help realize the vision of the Utility of the Future.
In 2015, NACWA, WEF, WE&RF, and subsequently WateReuse, released the Water Resources Utility of the Future Annual Report. In lieu of additional annual reports, the group created the Utility of the Future Today Recognition Program.
The Utility of the Future Today Recognition Program
As interest in the UOTF concept expanded from its early stages, a growing number of utilities have successfully implemented new and creative programs that address both technical wastewater and community-level challenges. To showcase this important work, four water sector organizations — NACWA, WEF, WE&RF and WateReuse — with input from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), established the Utility of the Future Today Recognition Program.
The annual recognition program seeks to:
- Identify and promote those utilities that are building on a foundation of excellence in management, and
- Help small, medium, and large utilities transform their operations over time by implementing the innovative UOTF business model.
Utilities that receive recognition are featured in a Compendium of Honorees. This compendium is an invaluable resource of UOTF best practices.
The Digital Utility of the Future
An emerging component of the UOTF arena is the growing reliance on data-driven decision making. The technological advances in cloud computing and communications, coupled with analytic capabilities, are enabling clean water utilities to better use the data they already have – especially to plan and execute new ways of collecting data that are improving the efficiency of their operations.
By adopting these data-driven approaches—and thus assuming a Digital Utility of the Future posture—a utility is reducing costs, mitigating risks, enhancing customer experience, optimizing performance and gaining efficiencies, all while improving water quality and the environment more broadly.
In 2016, NACWA convened a discussion group of thought leaders focused on the issues of smart water technologies and the Digital Utility concept. That discussion led to the formation of NACWA’s Smart Utility Task Force. The Task Force’s first initiative was the development of a whitepaper, Envisioning the Digital Utility of the Future, which outlines the opportunities presented by a move toward a digital utility.