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Feature Tapping Into The Value Of Water By educating key stakeholders on the true value of water, utilities can better position themselves to secure much-needed and longoverdue funding. By Kevin Westerling T he value of water is a study in contrasts: It is both blatantly obvious (try living without it for a day) and easily overlooked. In the United States, potable water has been so cheap and readily available that few consumers consider the process that brings it to their spigot. The nation's crumbling distribution system, in particular, is out of sight/out of mind — until it's out of service. Clearly, with respect to water, public perception is not reality. Those in the industry realize that highquality water that adheres to today's strict regulatory standards is not easily produced and certainly not cheap. On the contrary, the cost is rising to the point of unsustainability. Cost drivers include the aforementioned failing infrastructure and regulations but also population growth and water scarcity. In terms of dollars, you have probably heard reports in recent years about the massive investment needed to repair, replace, and expand America's water/ wastewater system — or, more likely, you're living it. A 2012 study by the American Water Works Association (AWWA) estimated the cost to be $1 trillion over the next 25 years1, raising the question: "Where do we get the money?" While financing initiatives such as public-private partnerships and loan programs, like the State Revolving Fund (SRF) and the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA), are viable solutions, the fact is that most capital improvements will ultimately be financed through water sales revenues. In other words, the same customer who takes water for granted — and 22 wateronline.com ■ considers it a right — will need to pay more for it. No one ever likes to pay more, and it's an especially hard sell in this economic climate. However, there are few things (one could argue nothing) more vital to a community and a society than clean water. When lobbying for the rate increases necessary to achieve sustainable operations into the future, utilities must reset the common (mis)understanding of the value of water so that it gets the attention — and money — it deserves. This article provides a two-phase approach to getting water its just due. Phase 1: Win Over Decision-Makers Via Asset Management A recent research study conducted by McGraw-Hill Construction and CH2M HILL analyzed the use and benefits of water infrastructure asset management, defined as "a set of practices and methods for delivering desired services to residents and businesses, at the lowest lifecycle costs (including environmental and social costs), while managing risk to an acceptable level." 2 The report looked at the rate of adoption and the effectiveness of asset management in the water sector, broken down into three main categories: technology and data practices, strategy and performance measurement practices, and processes and methods for sound investment decisions. A survey of 451 utilities across the U.S. and Canada revealed that the single greatest benefit to practicing water infrastructure asset management was the "improved ability to explain and defend budgets/investments to governing bodies," cited by Water Online The Magazine