Fostering Research and Innovation Within Water Utilities

Water utilities are leveraging a dated business model to meet ever tightening requirements. Historically, this model has been driven by regulations and funded by system growth. However, recent trends of decreasing demand, increasing costs for infrastructure maintenance, and resistance to rate increases have prompted utilities to find ways to “do more with less.” To this end, utilities are forming research and innovation teams to capture new ideas and more effectively leverage external resources such as consultants, research centers, and universities to decrease the cost of service and establish new revenue streams. Currently, utilities lack clear guidance for developing and leading these teams. As such these efforts may have limited impact or may be abandoned prematurely due to a lack of understanding and proper planning.

The Birmingham Water Works Board and ARCADIS, Inc. are assembling research and innovation leaders from water and wastewater utilities for a series of collaborative workshops to develop guidance for fostering research and innovation in the public sector. The project has applied for support from the Water Research Foundation’s Tailored Collaboration Research Program and will also leverage the efforts of the WEF-WERF Leaders Innovation Forum for Technology (LIFT) program. The project will include the development of case studies from proven programs, key success factors, critical program elements, communication strategies, performance metrics, and recommended implementation pathways. Additional project support will be provided by WERF, WEF, and the American Water Works Association.

The project team is seeking utilities interested in joining this effort. Utility partners will benefit from the collaborative discussion of challenges and strategies for unleashing creativity within their organizations. Expected benefits to the industry include a broader array of ideas and approaches to the water utility business, increased engagement of the utility sector in development of technologies, and a catalyst for improved water services at a sustainable cost. Please contact Jason Carter ( or 205-930-5914) if you are interested in participating in this effort or would like more information.