At a continuing education course, I was privileged to discuss asset management with some very knowledgeable operators. During the discussion, one of the primary issues raised on several occasions was the need to inform the public about the importance of water and wastewater treatment. I agree with them. Before I was working in this industry, I did not appreciate drinking water and wastewater treatment as I do now.
Consumers should not consider the drinking water or wastewater industries only when rates need to be raised or when an emergency arises. Infrastructure is failing and needs to be repaired and replaced. Populations are growing. Many people do not think about the infrastructure underground––out of sight, out of mind, so to speak. Instead of waiting for an emergency, a consumer outreach program could maintain a constant level of awareness. Consumer outreach should be an ongoing process, and the message needs to be clear and concise. This could lead to better outcomes for consumers and utility services. Specific projects could generate the revenue needed for completion, and there could be standing accounts instead of magic money to handle emergency situations.
Utilities are tasked with maintaining environmental compliance and meeting consumer expectations. These are not easy tasks to accomplish on ever-shrinking budgets. I really do believe that there is a better way, and a consumer outreach program is just one component of a larger asset management plan.