By Meg Kramer

April 25, 2019

The Water Center At Penn’s (WCP) Executive Director and Chairman of the Leading Utilities of the World(LUOW) Howard Neukrug introduced the newest LUOW members to a packed room at the Global Water Summit in London, England on April 9th.  LUOW is an exclusive group of the world’s most innovative and successful water utilities. This group comes together twice a year at the Global and American Water Summits to discuss challenges, share successes, and spur further innovation. Utility leaders from across the globe want to hear what this group has to say.

The newest LOUW members include Yarra Valley Water -Victoria Australia, Aguas de Portugal – Lisbon Portugal, Berliner Wasserbetriebe – Berlin Germany, SIAAP – Paris France and Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA) – Emirate of Dubai, United Arab Emirates. The addition of these five utilities brings the total number of LOUW members to 41. LUOW will cap its membership at 100 utilities.

Collaboration is a hallmark of the LUOW membership, so when utilities join the group they are asked to present their key challenges and innovations so that other utilities can expand their knowledge and potentially glean new ideas and strategies for their own operations. While the five utilities that presented in London shared some common challenges such as increasing stakeholder engagement, storm water management, wastewater treatment and increasing operational digitization, their unique approaches to challenges were as interesting as they were diverse. Here are a few that stood out.

After listening to its customers carefully, Berliner Wasserbetriebe discovered that its customers highly valued a particular part of the Spree River for swimming. However after heavy rains the Spree River is subject to short-term pollution due to combined sewer overflows. That part of the river was tested only every few weeks with results coming back 24-48 hours later, so customers didn’t know when it was safe to swim. To address the issue Berliner Wasserbetriebe undertook a research project with Flusshygiene company to develop a forecasting tool that would predict when the river is safe for swimming. The result was the creation of an app that forecasts water quality so customers have access to first hand information on the quality of water where they want to swim.

Aguas of Portugal is the largest water company in Portugal serving 80% of Portugal’s population. With the frequency and intensity of drought increasing, Aguas of Portugal understands it must take a broad perspective to address key challenges. Closing the water cycle through the development of wastewater treatment facilities that allow urban grey water to support agriculture and industry is part of that broad perspective. To close the water cycle, Aguas of Portugal works with industrial plants and agriculture to integrate water reuse for energy as well as irrigation needs, thus reducing overall dependence on groundwater.  In addition, water reuse ensures green corridors along city stay green so citizens see and enjoy the benefits of water reuse.

Yarra Valley Water serves the Victoria region of Australia and is the third largest water utility in Australia. The impact of climate change in the region is being felt acutely through higher temperatures and lower rainfall, yet the population continues to grow. Providing sufficient water supply under these increasingly challenging conditions is costly as desalination is now essential. As the cost to supply sufficient water through desalination went up, Yarra Valley Water had to grapple with raising costs customer  costs, but they took a novel approach to do so.

To understand what their two million customers expected and valued and to find a price that would be considered fair by everyone, Yarra Valley Water created a Citizen’s Jury.  The Citizen’s Jury consisted of 36 citizens selected at random to determine the price the community would pay for water. Yarra Valley provided the jury with background quantitative data about how clean and reliable water was being supplied to the community then let them find a balance of price and service that was fair for everyone.  The verdict?  A price that was equitable and that the community embraced.

One of Yarra Valley Water’s goals is to be an “environmentally restorative” utility through commitment to 100% renewable energy by 2025. To accomplish this goal they built Australia’s first large-scale food waste to energy plant which has also become a new business development opportunity. The Yarra Valley energy plant not only decreases food waste at landfills and significantly reduces greenhouse gas emissions, it provides financial return through gate fees, energy exports and decreased operating expenses.  In addition, through a partnership with the community, local government, and a nearby agricultural college, a sustainable farm that uses renewable energy and recycled wastewater is located at the energy plant and serves as a volunteer, education and food center for the community.  Yarra Valley Water has demonstrated that the more they can do to extend selves into community, the better for everyone.

These inspiring examples of leadership, innovative problem solving and commitment to do more as a utility showcases what it means to be a member of LUOW.  To close the session Raveen Jadurem, CEO of Watercare Services New Zealand, another LOUW member, summed up what it means to be part of the group. Being part of LOUW allows utilities to “take bits and pieces from each other, join the dots and share and grow to make the planet a better place.”  For more inspiration about what these leading utilities are doing to change the world, go to the LUOW website.