In June, the American Water Works Association (AWWA) held its annual conference and exposition (ACE) and due to the pandemic, the event was all virtual. So, it was no surprise that COVID-19, the reason we were all apart, was one of the most talked-about topics at the event.

From the opening general session to the passing of the gavel, the importance of water and the role of utilities in prevention strategies for COVID was a big focus at the event. With 90% of utilities suspending shut-off, revenues dropping by 70%, and social distancing putting a strain on how work could be done, they adapted quickly and kept the water flowing.

The countless stories shared at the conference showed examples of how the water industry isn’t betting against the odds but instead going all-in on building a sustainable future through innovation and creativity. 

In the session “Your Journey to Utility Intelligence,” three utilities showed how continuous improvement prepared them for the unforeseen challenge of the pandemic. Using existing infrastructure, their smart utility network allowed them to remotely manage the distribution system keeping water flowing and employees and residents safe. The more data the system has provided, opened up new application ideas and taken the guesswork out of daily operations. Situations like monitoring water level for flood awareness and analyzing chlorine to quickly manage water quality are just a few of the applications that have them set up to be a utility of the future.

So, while “business as usual” for most of us these days may mean kids running through backgrounds of business calls and a little less traffic to get to work. “Business as usual” for utilities means using data as their secret weapon to face tough challenges like water quality, cybersecurity, water scarcity and even unexpected weather, so you and I can go about our daily lives without worry.

I encourage you to check out all the sessions from this year’s conference, available through July 19th, and see how the hard work and endless innovation of an often-overlooked industry impacts our lives in ways we couldn’t think of, but thankfully, utilities are.