MPT: Could you explain some of the dangers posed by America’s out-of-date utilities infrastructure?
Vikram Takru: I look to classify that into four big things. The first thing is health and safety of our population—think about what happened in Flint when we had an aging infrastructure. Or what happened in California when we couldn’t maintain our infrastructure? Well, we burn down cities. Or look at what happened in Texas. We had a big freeze and people die basically right there in their homes.
The second big thing is operational efficiency, which is directly linked to something we all can relate to, our monthly bills. Our utility bills always keep going up and up and up. We have never seen our bills go down. Why the heck are utilities so inefficient, which is causing our bills to go up? Also, it is affecting national economic well-being or GDP to stay competitive around the globe.
The third thing is around climate change and sustainability. Water is running scarce, and for the first time, water is trading as a commodity on Wall Street. Unfortunately, compared to oil where we have other options, there is no option to no water. So I think if we look at that situation, we need to become smart and fast. Otherwise, we all are screwed basically.
And the fourth area I look at, which is tied to aging, out-of-date utilities, is our ability to fight wars of the future. We are right now on the tip of the spear. Our future wars are not going to be fought with, you know, guns and fighter jets. These wars will be on our infrastructure. They will be cyber attacks on our critical utility infrastructure.
MPT: You’ve mentioned that the new Drinking Water and Wastewater Infrastructure Act provides resources for improvements, but what are some of the obstacles we’ll need to overcome?
Vikram Takru: The biggest problem that this act or any business runs into is the adage, “execution eats strategy for lunch,” right? To address some of the big problems, right at a high level, it’s easy to pass acts. It’s also easy to get the money there, right? But the problem is that once you go into the details, then you realize that the national infrastructure is not one straight line.
The infrastructure for water and wastewater is owned jointly between cities, between investor-owned utilities, between residential and commercial owners, and various other people who own the property rights on where this infrastructure is. Basically, around where you own the water that comes to your home, it’s not just coming from that utility. It has probably shared utility infrastructure from different cities and municipalities. Along with that, water is traveling basically in your home through an infrastructure that you actually own as a residential customer.
Keeping that in mind, to improve some of the key aspects of infrastructure—like, for example, removing lead and improving water quality—it is going to be a massive, just massive effort across communities, across people, and across utilities to execute on it.
To listen to an extended version of this interview, be sure to subscribe to MPT’s podcast, The Efficiency Point.
MODERN PUMPING TODAY, August 2021
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