Ideas. Action. Results.

New Paper Tackles Need for Innovation in Water Systems

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Washington, D.C.– Recognizing how critical water infrastructure is to all Americans, the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Water Task Force today released a new paper entitled Increasing Innovation in America’s Water Systems. This paper applies BPC’s previous recommendations on modernizing America’s infrastructure to the water sector, while exploring how to break down barriers to innovation, reduce costs, and improve health and environmental outcomes.

Water innovation brings several tangible benefits, including creating efficiencies, helping water systems meet regulatory requirements, and enabling better adaptation to emerging pressures. Despite the potential benefits, innovative technologies and processes seem limited to the largest water and wastewater systems.

The water sector in the United States has several enormous barriers that combine to create a stifling environment for innovation.

Overall, the water sector in the United States has several enormous barriers that combine to create a stifling environment for innovation. The industry as a whole suffers from fragmentation and inconsistent managerial and financial capacity, while individual water utilities are often faced with seemingly insurmountable political and technological risks that are combined with an evaporating budget and a dearth of technical support. This combination results in a climate that neither allows for nor incentivizes innovation within a public water utility. On the private side, regulatory barriers and a lack of risk sharing mechanisms have hampered the growth and adoption of technology.

Each of these barriers—risks, costs, regulations, and fragmentation—hamper innovation and factor into the current condition of the nation’s water infrastructure. Reducing these barriers and advancing the ongoing innovative efforts will require adopting regional collaborative solutions and creating an environment that is more conducive to innovation.

The report’s recommendations fall into four categories: increasing regional collaboration, incentivizing performance, directly supporting research and development, and reducing regulations that unnecessarily deter innovation.

Continuing the work of BPC’s Executive Council on Infrastructure, the Water Task Force’s members include former mayors George Heartwell (Grand Rapids, MI), Steve Bartlett (Dallas, TX) and Henry Cisneros (San Antonio, TX) as well as senior leadership from Xylem and American Water.