While businesses in other industries may still be suffering due to the challenging economic climate over the last five years, the water/wastewater market has a projected three percent annual growth rate in 2013, according to the American Council of Engineering Companies’ bimonthly magazine, Engineering Inc. By 2016, FMI Corp. estimates a five percent annual growth rate for the water sector.
At the forefront driving this growth is the aging infrastructure across the US. The American Water Works Association estimates that one million miles of water and wastewater pipes are nearing the end of their useful life and will need to be replaced. Severe flooding and droughts have also affected the lifespan of this underground infrastructure. Another factor for the projected growth is the additional scope of services being offered by water utilities. Among these new services are reclaiming and reusing water, using “green” infrastructure to manage stormwater, and finding commercial uses for the nutrients in wastewater.
FMI estimates that funding for the water sector will reach $45 billion by 2016; however, the investment needed to fix the aging infrastructure is almost double that amount. Unfortunately, federal funding for water has decreased by 90 percent since the 1980s, according to Engineering Inc., totaling just $1.4 billion in available funds in 2013. Drinking water funds are only at around $908 million this year.
Legislative efforts to subsidize the gap between the need and the availability of funds will come from the House of Representatives, who is working to extend and double the monies allotted for the Clean Water State Revolving Fund (projected at $13.8 billion over the next five years), as well as other projects. USA Today also reports that monthly water utility rates for municipalities have increased by 75 percent since 2000, especially in larger cities, and funding from some private investors is also available.
Despite the challenges, engineering consulting firms will benefit from the growth of the water and wastewater market, especially by providing management consulting support for water utilities. Other opportunities for work include helping to create asset management plans to prioritize spending of water utilities’ limited budgets and introducing options for sustainable stormwater filtration of wastewater.
“For many of our clients, their existing utility infrastructure is reaching the end of its useful life. In many cases, this infrastructure has been in the ground 50 to 100 years without much being done to protect it. This, with the tightening of regulatory compliance, has forced our industry to think broader when approaching a project,” says David Mohler, vice president of American Structurepoint’s Utility Infrastructure and Environmental Groups. “It is no longer about repairing a single section of sewer or water main, rather integrating the repair in to a larger project to kill multiple birds with one stone. It is about minimizing the impact on the rate payer, not just today, but for the life of the project.”
Read more of the May/June 2013 issue of Engineering Inc. here.