Black & Veatch Water Report: Data, Cybersecurity and Resiliency Planning Hold Promise for Water Industry Amid Aging Workforce, Climate Change

Report highlights contaminant removal, funding among other headwinds in ever-evolving industry
Jun 4, 2024 10:00 AM ET
Campaign: Water
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OVERLAND PARK, Kan., June 4, 2024 /3BL/ — Against the backdrop of consistent concerns plaguing the U.S. water industry — aging workforce and infrastructure, along with the ongoing threat of natural disasters worsening by climate change — the sector continues to evolve in working to address an onslaught of change, according to Black & Veatch’s newly released 2024 Water Report.

The report, based on expert analyses of a survey of roughly 630 U.S. water industry stakeholders, details complex U.S. water, wastewater and stormwater sectors that are trying to muscle through a tug of war of conflicting priorities. Yet opportunity exists, with the promise of digital technologies and innovations leading the list of ways in which operators can make better decisions and get the most of their graying assets and limited resources.

Among sustainability, workforce and climate change, a few new themes took center stage this year, including contaminants and cybersecurity. In April, the federal government announced a regulatory limit for all municipal water systems for six perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, known collectively as PFAS or “forever chemicals.” And on the increasingly pressing matter of cybersecurity, a March letter by the Biden administration asked all governors to bolster security in their states for water and wastewater systems, warning that “disabling cyberattacks” are targeting utilities across the country, with the trend threatening to “impose significant costs on affected communities.”

“As the headwinds whirl, the industry on many metrics appears to be better positioning itself against the challenges of the times, either independently or with outside guidance from experts like Black & Veatch,” said Mike Orth, president of Black & Veatch’s governments and communities business. “Slowly but surely, U.S. water utilities are discovering and pursuing new ways of doing business by leveraging integrated approaches to both planning and delivering strategic, financial and operational resilience.”

The new report offers a comprehensive overview of what’s changed — and what has not — in an industry with enormous potential to accelerate innovation in strategy, operations and funding.

Some other key findings of the report include:

  • Roughly two-thirds of survey respondents (65 percent) cited aging infrastructure again as their foremost challenge, much as it has been for decades.
  • Aging workforce and the challenge of hiring qualified staff remains in the top two for the third consecutive year at 47 percent, down from 51 percent in 2023.
  • 41% of respondents don’t expect funding for capital infrastructure projects over the next five to 10 years to be enough; only roughly a quarter said it’ll just meet the requirement (27 percent) or that funding will be sufficient (24 percent).
  • Nearly half (45 percent) said they’ve pursued state and federal funding (including the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law), with an additional 39 percent saying they plan to do so.
  • Six in 10 respondents cast sustainability as a critical strategic focus, a slight drop from the previous two years.
  • About half of respondents report that their utility has sustainability goals and the means to measure them.
  • More than eight of 10 respondents to Black & Veatch’s survey cast cybersecurity investment just as important as physical security, with 97% noting both cybersecurity and physical security as “very important” or “important.”
  • Two-thirds of respondents prefer that they govern their cybersecurity themselves, down from more than 70 percent over the previous two years.
  • 42% of survey respondents say that PFAS has been detected in their water supply; 36% foresee the need to provide a PFAS treatment solution in the next 5 years, up from 21% in 2023, and most (61%) are planning for a main treatment plant retrofit as a primary solution.

Contact Black & Veatch for more information.

Editor’s Notes: 

About Black & Veatch 
Black & Veatch is a 100-percent employee-owned global engineering, procurement, consulting and construction company with a more than 100-year track record of innovation in sustainable infrastructure. Since 1915, we have helped our clients improve the lives of people around the world by addressing the resilience and reliability of our most important infrastructure assets. Follow us on and on social media.

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