Christine’s Tea Room

Future Trends in Water Issues? Reflection on Bill Holman’s Speech
by Christine Chen -- November 20th, 2012

Even though it’s kind of late to reflect on a speech given in October, I think there are some trends about future water industry mentioned in the talk that could be very helpful and insightful for people wishing to put their nose in the area of water issues.


On 10/18, the course “Water Resources Management & Planning” was quite different from other days because Bill Holman, director of state policy at the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions, was giving a speech, “Water Supply System Practices: Raleigh.”  Holman, I knew, was also co-director of WUTAT (the Water Utility Advisory Task Force), a group of experts that provides recommendations and guidelines on water supply issues.  I’d read several reports from WUTAT, and looked forward to what Holman would have to say.

He shared observations from his practical experience in Raleigh about trends and troubles that modern society is facing.  With Holman’s consent, I would like to share some of the insights he provided:

Trends in New Century

  •    Population continues to grow but water use per capital decreases
  •    Water use per capital is decreasing due to several possible reasons: advanced water-saving technologies, water rate changes, education in conservation, etc.
  •    New business model needed
  •    With old business model, some water utilities have encountered financial imbalance. To be adapted to society with new characteristics, more profitable business model should be proposed. And they are actually emerging.
  •    Better customer relationship than ever before
  •    In the past, clean water is what water utilities provided. In the future, they will need to adapt to slower growth in water demand and higher water rates. So they will need people with excellent marketing and communication skills.

A Bit of Background Information

(This is a little bit long, but it explains my excitement for Holman’s speech.)

Holman spoke as part of the course “Water Resources Management & Planning,” which is taught by Professor Martin Doyle.  It’s a fairly new course so students can actually be involved in deciding the course content more actively. This semester, so far, we’ve learned about

Part 1: What is Water Planning, and what do utilities need to know?

Part 2: Statistical concepts in water planning (looking at floods, drought, and precipitation)

Part 3: Basics of Water Systems (typical water use)

Part 4: Forecasting and Financial Balancing (projecting future water demand)

The assignments haven’t, for the most part, been terribly hard, but there has been one that I’ll never forget.

A few weeks ago we talked about forecasting water demand over a 20- or 30-year scale.  We were assigned to forecast Greensboro’s future water demand and estimate its revenues. Forecasting is a complicated process because there are simply hundreds of factors shaping the result 20 years from now, but you can’t take all of them into account. So usually determining and ranking influential factors is the rule of thumb.

Getting More Confused……

We were given a 115-page public report, “State of the North Carolina Workforce 2011-2020,” as a reference for the facts, future trends, and statistical values we needed to do credible quantitative analysis.  Having this data was essential, but it also made things more complicated. For example, I identified the three most influential factors, or values, in determining future water demand to be be population, economics, and industries.  Assuming the population grows by 5% and other conditions remain the same, I forecast that we would get maybe 150 MGD (million gallons per day) as the total water demand. But if the local economy  isn’t in good condition — let’s say it decreases by 1% — and other conditions remain the same, then we would maybe 100 MGD.  In either case  — good economy or weak — we were also assigned to give the best and worst scenarios for water demand and revenues.  So we had six values to juggle now.   And the part I had the most trouble figuring out was which factors should be inter-correlated so if we changed one variable, the others will change correspondingly.  It doesn’t make sense to fix the other variables unless it’s because we’re just working on an assignment, rather than reality.

Since then I have strong incentive to know more about the water demand forecasting in practice. That’s why I was excited to know that an expert like Bill Holman was going to give a speech in class.

1 Comment

  1. Austin Wang
    Nov 29, 2012


©2016 Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University | Box 90328 | Durham, NC 27708
how to contact us > | login to the site > | site disclaimers >

footer nav stuff