Moving Toward Sustainability: It’s a Trek, not a Sprint!

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It’s no secret that water and wastewater utilities across the country are dealing with an unprecedented set of challenges including aging infrastructure, increasingly stringent regulatory requirements, and competing priorities within the communities they serve. The list goes on and on.  At the same time, more and more utilities are assuming leadership roles related to community sustainability, resource recovery and conservation, economic development, and climate change.  Given this combination of old and new “realities”, collaboration among utilities, states, regulators, and communities is not just desirable, it’s essential for the long-term sustainability of our water resources.

In this spirit of collaboration, U.S. EPA has recently released Moving Toward Sustainability: Sustainable and Effective Practices for Creating Your Water Utility Roadmap.  Developed with extensive input from a Steering Group of leading utility managers and states, the Roadmap is organized around the existing Attributes of Effectively Managed Utilities, endorsed by EPA, NACWA and other leading water-sector associations, as well as a selected set of proven and effective practices to help utilities move toward sustainability at a pace that meets their needs and the needs of their communities.  

The practices are, by design, not comprehensive.  Rather, they are progressive “practices with a purpose” organized under three levels:  

Level 1 – Practices focused on providing adequate fundamental services and maintaining compliance;

Level 2 – Practices that focus on optimizing operations through continual improvement; and 

Level 3 – Practices that help utilities fundamentally transform their operations, consistent with the directions set forth in the Water Resources Utility of the Future Blueprint developed by NACWA, WEF, and WERF.

Taken together, the practices provide an informal “progression model” for utilities to gauge where they stand and to help them progress over time, but they do not make any judgement about a utility’s current capabilities.  Where you are doesn’t matter nearly as much as where you’re going.  The new document can help you get there. Going forward, collaboration among EPA and other partners will remain a key piece of the puzzle.  EPA plans to sit down with NACWA, WEF, and others to look for ways to integrate and better communicate the relationship between this effort and other industry-led efforts focused on utility sustainability like the Utility of the Future Blueprint, WEF Energy Roadmap, and others.  This integration is important to send a clear and unambiguous message about the value our respective organizations attach to working with utilities of all sizes all across the country.

This week's blog comes to us from Jim Horne, Environmental Management Systems Project Manager in the Office of Wastewater Management at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and Tom Sigmund, Executive Director of NEW Water in Green Bay, Wisconsin.

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