Wastewater utilities and contractors and designers that work in the wastewater sector must be prepared to adapt to a changing regulatory environment and a volatile economy in order to stay afloat, according to speakers and attendees at the Water Environment Federation’s annual conference, held Oct. 11-14 in Orlando. Greater regulatory enforcement, the current economy, technology advances and the need for sustainability-based measures are clearly pressing WEF members to make short- and long-term changes.

Peter Silva, assistant administrator with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Water, said his agency will step up its enforcement efforts. The National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permitting programs for stormwater and agricultural runoff, for example, will receive greater emphasis, he said.

Outgoing WEF President Rebecca West, who is director of technical services for Spartanburg Water in Spartanburg, S.C., said she’s “going to remain optimistic” about EPA’s stance on increased enforcement, which will impact utilities such as Spartanburg’s. “There’s no doubt that [enforcement] will be looked at a little closer than it has in the past,” she said, but added, “I’m encouraged. We’ve seen more openness to sit down and talk about how [a regulation] truly is going to be implemented.”

Perhaps the greatest force for change is fiscal, West said. The challenge for utilities is, “How do we adjust our business model to meet today’s economy?” she said. “This is truly a different world. There are no trends we can look at.”