[QTalks Ep. 11]

Last QTalks we reviewed the water industry in 2022. This month, we’re looking ahead, making predictions for 2023. Sharing their perspective, and joining our host Tom Freyberg, are industry experts:

  • Dragan Savic, CEO at KWR Research Institute
  • Newsha Ajami, Chief Strategy and Development Officer for Research at Berkeley Lab Earth and Environmental Sciences Area (EESA)
  • Will Sarni, CEO and Founder & Water Foundry

What do you think will happen this year in water? Are you optimistic?

The democratization of water will accelerate

Tom began by asking Will about his predictions surrounding the democratization of data over the next year. Will said that he predicts an acceleration of the democratization of water — but with some nuances. 

He referenced a question that Dragan asked in the past about why there is no Uber for water and said that he believes that the “Uberization” of water is on its way. He said that the rise in actionable information that goes directly to the consumer — in particular in smart water homes — provides homeowners and renters with information surrounding water use and quality is important. 

Secondly, he said that as well as the use of digital water technologies, the water sector will start thinking about transformation and strategy in order to make the move to being a digital water sector.

Entities will share water data more openly between themselves

Dragan went on to elaborate on his question about the Uberization of water. He said that he believes we will soon see collective data gathering and sharing since no one water utility or entity has all the data needed to understand the water cycle and water processes.  

He also referenced the fact that while cybersecurity concerns have historically been a concern and have created bottlenecks in terms of different stakeholders sharing water data, many companies and industries are now more open to the idea, which in turn will facilitate the initiative.

A circular water economy at every scale

Newsha talked about how important creating a circular water economy that can be executed on a smaller scale will be in 2023. She predicted that more utilities will try to use a circular water economy focusing on centralized reuse and also that there will be more disruption on a smaller scale in homes, neighborhoods, and buildings. She said that individuals will install more on-site reuse systems in a bid to facilitate the easier reuse of water. 

Dragan went on to say he predicts more fierce competition for the same water resources which in turn will lead to a more circular water economy. He said that this will also force stakeholders to consider non-conventional water sources such as water from agriculture or domestic wastewater. 

Newsha expanded on this by refocusing the definition of competition. She said that for many years wastewater has been looked at as something we don’t need and want to get rid of as fast as possible. However, she said there will now be a push for a better understanding of how we can repurpose the wastewater and is excited about how different solutions and technologies can help enable this.

A more diverse “menu” of non-conventional water sources

Tom mentioned that Will often speaks about non-conventional water sources and asked him if he predicts that some of these sources will gain momentum in 2023. 

Will began by saying that the whole “menu” of sources has been dominated by centralized systems, but that we are now moving towards a more diverse menu that will include localized, decentralized, and off-grid water supply and water treatment systems. He also commented on an emerging term of art, “extreme decentralization”, which is focused on what individuals can do in their homes to manage water.

The expansion of wastewater-based epidemiology

Tom then went on to ask Dragan about his predictions surrounding water and health outcomes in 2023. 

Dragan said that KWR worked on wastewater-based epidemiology during Covid-19 and said that this provided a better understanding of infections in the population. He predicted that in 2023 and beyond that wastewater-based epidemiology will scale exponentially in terms of tracking viruses and the evidence of drug abuse in sewers and looking into different medications to address them.

Optimism for the water sector in 2023

Tom rounded off the session by asking the panel what they are optimistic about in 2023. 

Will said he is most excited about innovation, partnerships, and collective action. He also said that this includes the creation of catalytic communities and unconventional partnerships —  such as bringing together people who aren’t knowledgeable about water together with experts — to forge collective action. 

Newsha also said that she’s optimistic and excited about building coalitions between soft infrastructure, data analytics, information technology, and green and natural infrastructure. She said she believes that this can be enabled by better access to data and information, and the building of trust to lead the water sector forward. 

Finishing up, Dragan said that KWR has been involved in water research for over 50 years, but is excited that this year they’re celebrating 40 years of joint research programs. He said that this is where water utilities and research organizations can come together to foster the innovation that keeps the Dutch and Flemish water industries in such good shape.

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