Academic journal article Management Quarterly

Water/wastewater: Crucial Infrastructure for Rural Economic Development

Academic journal article Management Quarterly

Water/wastewater: Crucial Infrastructure for Rural Economic Development

Article excerpt

Successful rural economic development depends on a sound infrastructure, including adequate water and wastewater treatment facilities to meet Clean Water Act standards. Innovative electrotechnologies can offer favorable economics for smaller rural applications. Three case studies are examined.

One of the most important elements of a successful rural economic development program is the availability of sound infrastructure--reliable and reasonably priced electricity, good roads, good communications facilities, quality schools, and, in particular, adequate water and wastewater treatment to meet Clean Water Act standards. Water and wastewater treatment technology is, for the most part, commercially available in large-size facilities, not usually economically suited for the smaller applications required by rural communities. An important new initiative of NRECA's Rural Electric Research (RER) program is to examine the feasibility of innovative electrotechnologies for water and wastewater that can offer favorable economics in small sizes in order to promote rural economic development and, as an added benefit to the electric co-op, operate predominantly with off-peak electricity.


In late 1990 the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), the research arm of the nation's electric utility industry, enlisted the support of the American Water Works Association Research Foundation (AWWARF) and the Water Environment Research Foundation (WERF) to address a growing common concern: existing and proposed environmental regulations that will have a major impact on the way water, wastewater, and electric utilities do business.

The water supply and wastewater industries are major users of electricity, annually consuming an estimated 75 billion kWh--approximately 3 percent of the nation's total electric power consumption.

This energy use is expected to rise, partly because of new and pending regulations such as amendments to the Safe Drinking Water Act, proposed revisions to the Clean Water Act, and new restrictions on sludge handling. Meeting these regulations will require added treatment capacity and new technology applications, which contribute to increased energy consumption and treatment costs.

EPRI's Municipal Water and Wastewater Project was thus established as an inter-utility effort to provide an opportunity to help manage the uncertainty of environmental regulations and to sharpen the research focus and accelerate technology transfer to this important customer group.


Electric cooperatives do not generally share in this industrywide challenge of providing electric service to large power-consuming water/wastewater facilities. Many rural communities wish they had these problems--but the facts are that these large facilities are just not very economically attractive for the smaller water/wastewater treatment needs in rural America. So rural America continues to depend for the most part on private wells for drinking water and septic tank/drainfields for sewage treatment.

A national survey conducted by NRECA shows that most rural Americans are not connected to central water and sewer systems. In some areas, more than 90 percent do not have adequate water and sewer service.

Without these services, rural areas face insurmountable problems in trying to create jobs and expand and attract industry. Moreover, if water/wastewater services are to be provided to rural communities, who can handle the job, and where will the leadership come from? "Using cooperative know-how and innovative technologies, rural electric cooperatives are willing and able to take on the job," according to Glenn English, NRECA Executive Vice President.

Nearly 50 percent of the 402 electric cooperatives responding to the NRECA survey said they plan to seek information and funding to develop water and sewer systems in their service areas. …

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