Experts address water’s hidden numbers

Helena Alegre, IWA Specialist Group Chair of Strategic Asset Management

Two IWA Specialist Groups met in Livorno, Italy to approach water infrastructure problems through the lens of economics, statistics, finance, and asset management.

The joint conference convened 134 delegates at plenary and parallel sessions, which covered topics such as Utility Bankability in Europe, or the Circular Economy in the Water Sector, while highlighting the major financial challenges facing utilities.

Delegates debated current topics beyond technical issues in the sector, said Jaime Gabriel Silva, to cover water governance, explore policy implementation, or assess the impact of regulations through water utility performance analysis.

An “opportunities-focused perspective” looked at the opportunities arising from sludge, greenhouse gas emissions and carbon trading with sessions linking sanitation to energy and food security.

Speakers included Patricia Castellarnau of the European Investment Bank, Hannah Leckie, at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, and Andrea Guerrini of the Azienda Servizi Ambientali.

The combined effort came together under the two chairs of the organising IWA Specialist Groups–Ed Smeets of Water Economics and Statistics, and Helena Alegre of Strategic Asset Management.

Parallel sessions on water, economics and finance covered 68 papers presented as oral presentations, which included economic valuation; tariffs and regulation; communication strategy; water demand; wastewater treatment plant management–cost benefit analysis; benchmarking and efficiency; and regulation, governance and policy.

On the asset management side, delegates discussed: finance and infrastructure; sustainability and sustainable solution; risk management; performance assessment of wastewater treatment plants and water reuse; asset management of stormwater; agriculture water management; and cost analysis and planning.

Speakers discussed methodologies, key indicators, case studies and difficulties to overcome in seeking long-term investments. Most approaches understood that, increasingly, the only way to obtain the necessary funding for the huge infrastructure costs ahead will be if you can economically justify investments.

“We believe that the themes under discussion were strongly appealing for the water community around the world with a well-balanced participation that allowed for a deep debate on the more actual water sector issues, as well as on the funding issues for the improvement of water infrastructures’ performance and sustainability, within a framework of growing risks and complexity,” said Silva.