Examining Regulation and Innovation in Municipal Wastewater

January 2020

In order to meet the 21st century demands, innovation is needed in municipal wastewater treatment. The innovation ecosystem in municipal wastewater treatment, however, is highly complex, and regulations at multiple levels are intended to ensure that new technologies will not result in detrimental impacts to water quality. Past research from the Wheeler Water Institute has suggested that many wastewater utility managers see these regulations as a barrier to innovation. In order to better understand these perspectives, we are pursuing multiple research projects that examine the relationship between innovation and regulation in municipal wastewater.

Part 1: Wastewater utility manager perspectives

In the first part of this initiative, we used a national survey to examine how wastewater utility managers understand various aspects of regulation, and how those aspects relate to innovation. We conceptualized regulation in terms of three interrelated aspects: (1) regulatory requirements, (2) regulators and relationships, and (3) the broader regulatory environment.

We find that utility managers generally identified factors related to regulatory relationships and factors related to the broader regulatory environment as the greatest barriers to innovation, and indicated that addressing these aspects of regulation would encourage innovation.

Utility managers placed far less emphasis on specific regulatory requirements and their stringency. We conclude that efforts to encourage innovation should focus on helping utilities and regulators build relationships and better navigate the complex processes that influence decisions about new technologies.

Future projects examining the perspectives of regulators and a select set of innovation case studies are forthcoming.

Access the research article:

Examining the complex relationship between innovation and regulation through a survey of wastewater utility managers

For more information

Contact Mike Kiparsky, Director of the Wheeler Water Institute.

This research was funded by US Environmental Protection through Paradigm Environmental, Inc. Additional support was provided by the ReNUWIt Engineering Research Center.