How to Forecast the Future as a Water Utility Executive

Jun 30, 2022

How can a water system’s public works director or operations manager look to the future and plan for risks? How does one, entrusted with the responsibility of ensuring clean water is provided to the residents of their region, deliver on their promise? How might they go about understanding the consequences of the multitude of risks facing their system and prioritize what’s most important?

These are some of the many challenges our water systems leaders are up against.  

And the urgency to solve them has never been more real. 

Between aging infrastructure, changing population and demographics, and extreme weather events, nearly every facet of our environment is accelerating the need for water systems to ramp up their ability to respond to incidents. 

The way the water industry accomplishes this is by embracing a new approach. We need to go from being reactive to the present to proactively planning for the future. 

What is your water system truly up against?

The first step toward a proactive approach is to get as clear as possible about the risks surrounding our water systems. At Varuna, we categorize these risks into three distinct categories: internal conditions, external conditions, and systemic conditions. 

Internal conditions are the risk areas the operators of the water system manage and have control over. Examples include:

  • Aging assets
  • Data security gaps 
  • Increasing work order requests

External conditions are the risk areas that are not within the operators’ control but directly impact the work of maintaining the water system. Examples of external conditions include:

  • Changes in population and land use
  • Rainfall severity
  • Customer demographics 

System conditions are the risk areas that go beyond the control of the operators and have a significant impact on the water system, such as:

  • Source water availability 
  • Drought and climate conditions 
  • Health outbreaks 

While it’s easy to understand what your risk categories are, things become confusing when you realize they are all changing… all of the time. 

Ultimately, this is the first half of what water systems are up against: complex and dynamic changes.

Identifying what’s most important

The tools and practices that have been used in the industry for years are struggling to keep up with these complex, dynamic changes. As a result, water system operators are left spending hours with IT revising massive risk spreadsheets or adding yet another Post-it note update to the ERP they completed 18 months ago.  

While these solutions work day-to-day, they still leave us vulnerable.

When you’re entrusted with making the right decisions to ensure your water system serves clean drinking water every day, you need to be able to see what is posing the biggest threat to critical infrastructure in real-time. 

You can evaluate the impact on critical infrastructure by factoring in:

  • The likelihood of system failure
  • When system failure is expected to happen
  • What threats out of your control might impact your infrastructure
  • How much control your water system has over the likelihood of failure
  • What the consequences of the failure will be
  • What the intensity of the consequences will be
  • What timeframe it will take to recover the system

Our next problem is that few tools allow a water system leader to monitor and weigh out risks across internal, external, and systemic risk factors.

This gap in risk decision-making clarity leads us to the second half of water systems are up against: complex and dynamic changes that feel impossible to monitor consistently.

Better risk-decision making starts with better data

Knowing that our environment can change at any time, the reality is risk assessments should be checked daily.

Having specialized software that not only backs up data but keeps it current and provides necessary analytics to help identify the most urgent risk facing their water system will allow water system managers to make data-driven improvements. 

Otherwise, time and effort will be spent creating risk assessments that expire as soon as something changes and provide little value in times of crisis.

This is why we built the Varuna Resilience Dashboard. It’s a tool that ensures all stakeholders are fully informed and the most critical risks get mitigated, addressed, or even predicted. 

Resilience isn’t a pipe dream.

It is possible. 

It just starts with the decision to adapt and change, just like everything else around us. 

Interested in learning more about the Resilience Dashboard? Check it out here and see if it’s a good fit for your city.