Water Utilities & Services

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Current language: English
Water Utilities & Services industry entities own and operate water supply and wastewater treatment systems (generally structured as regulated utility businesses) or provide operational and other specialised water services to system owners (usually market-based operations). Water supply systems include the sourcing, treatment and distribution of water to residences, businesses and other entities such as governments. Wastewater systems collect and treat wastewater, including sewage, greywater, industrial waste fluids and stormwater runoff, before discharging the resulting effluent back into the environment.

Relevant Issues (7 of 26)

Why are some issues greyed out? The SASB Standards vary by industry based on the different sustainability-related risks and opportunities within an industry. The issues in grey were not identified during the standard-setting process as the most likely to be useful to investors, so they are not included in the Standard. Over time, as the ISSB continues to receive market feedback, some issues may be added or removed from the Standard. Each company determines which sustainability-related risks and opportunities are relevant to its business. The Standard is designed for the typical company in an industry, but individual companies may choose to report on different sustainability-related risks and opportunities based on their unique business model.

Disclosure Topics

What is the relationship between General Issue Category and Disclosure Topics? The General Issue Category is an industry-agnostic version of the Disclosure Topics that appear in each SASB Standard. Disclosure topics represent the industry-specific impacts of General Issue Categories. The industry-specific Disclosure Topics ensure each SASB Standard is tailored to the industry, while the General Issue Categories enable comparability across industries. For example, Health & Nutrition is a disclosure topic in the Non-Alcoholic Beverages industry, representing an industry-specific measure of the general issue of Customer Welfare. The issue of Customer Welfare, however, manifests as the Counterfeit Drugs disclosure topic in the Biotechnology & Pharmaceuticals industry.
General Issue Category
(Industry agnostic)

Disclosure Topics (Industry specific) for: Water Utilities & Services

Energy Management
  • Energy Management

    Entities in the Water Utilities & Services industry consume significant amounts of energy for the withdrawal, conveyance, treatment, and distribution or discharge of potable water and wastewater. Typically, an entity’s largest operating cost after purchased water, chemicals, labour and utility operating costs is energy use. Purchased grid electricity is the most common energy input. In more remote locations, entities may use on-site generation to power equipment. The inefficient use of purchased grid electricity creates environmental externalities, such as increased Scope 2 greenhouse gas emissions. Environmental regulations may affect the future grid energy mix, resulting in price increases. Additionally, climate change is expected to impact grid reliability and affect the availability of water resources. As a result, water utility energy intensity may increase in the future as water resource access becomes more difficult. Alternative water treatment, such as recycling and desalination, also can require more energy. Together with decisions about the use of alternative fuels, renewable energy and on-site electricity generation, energy efficiency can influence both the cost and the reliability of the energy supply.
Water & Wastewater Management
  • Distribution Network Efficiency

    Water utilities develop, maintain and operate complex interconnected infrastructure networks that include extensive pipelines, canals, reservoirs and pump stations. Distribution networks may lose significant volumes of water (called ‘non-revenue water’ because it is a distributed volume of water not reflected in customer billings). This water is lost primarily because of infrastructure failures and inefficiencies, such as leaking pipes and service connections. Non-revenue real water losses may impact financial performance, raise customer rates, and squander water and other resources such as energy and treatment chemicals. Conversely, improvements to infrastructure and operating processes may limit non-revenue losses, increase revenue and reduce costs. Efficiently directing operational and maintenance expenses or capital expenditures to distribution systems including primarily pipeline and service connection repair, refurbishment, or replacement may improve entity value and provide strong investment returns.
  • Effluent Quality Management

    Water and wastewater treatment facilities produce effluent that may pose risks to the environment and human health. Effluent includes residuals and solids that consist of chemicals used in the treatment process and contaminants removed from raw water or wastewater inputs. Facilities discharge treated effluent into surface water or pump it into groundwater. Potential environmental impacts vary depending on the treatment and disposal process. Additionally, consumers and regulators are becoming increasingly concerned by substances that may not be treated by wastewater facilities, such as endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs). Because of the environmental risks associated with effluent, treatment facilities are subject to extensive environmental regulations to control and monitor their impact. As public and regulatory scrutiny of effluent quality increases with emerging concerns about some potentially harmful substances, entities may need to innovate to ensure effluent is not harmful to the environment or human health. Effluent discharges exceeding jurisdictional limits may result in significant regulatory penalties, and frequent or severe episodes may jeopardise a utility’s social licence to operate. Entities can avoid the financial consequences of poor effluent quality management through infrastructure and equipment planning, maintenance and operations, as well as the deployment of appropriately trained and experienced labour.
Access & Affordability
  • Water Affordability & Access

    Reliable clean water access is considered a basic human right in most jurisdictions. Affordable pricing and sufficient access are essential components of this right. Thus, structuring water rates in a way that the community perceives to be fair is an important part of the operations and functions of entities in the Water Utilities & Services industry. Entities that collabourate with regulators to implement rate structures that are well-received by the communities they service may be better able to maintain financial stability and take advantage of opportunities for growth—especially because of the widespread underfunding of water infrastructure in many regions. Entities that use rate mechanisms that inhibit access to water through prohibitive costs or otherwise, may face community opposition. Entities should ensure fair pricing and access, as well as rates that can adequately fund infrastructure over the long term, provide safe drinking water and wastewater treatment, and receive appropriate returns on capital.
Product Quality & Safety
  • Drinking Water Quality

    Entities in the industry must ensure that drinking water conforms to health regulations, satisfies customer expectations and is supplied reliably. To protect human health, entities must protect water sources from contamination, which also may reduce treatment processes and costs for entities. Comprehensive treatment processes are designed, developed and maintained to meet water quality standards, and the finished water output is monitored routinely for compliance and safety. Natural disasters, such as forest fires and flooding, may also affect water quality. Overall, entities invest significant resources to deliver safe drinking water consistently to customers. Failure to ensure adequate water quality may result in regulatory fines, litigation, increased operating costs or capital expenditures, reputational risk, and asset or business seizure.
Business Model Resilience
  • End-Use Efficiency

    Consumer level water efficiency and conservation—whether a product of government mandates, environmental consciousness or demographic trends—is increasingly important for long-term resource availability and the financial performance of the water supply segment of the industry. How utilities work with regulators to mitigate revenue declines while increasing end-use resource efficiency may be financially material. Water efficiency mechanisms, including rate decoupling, may ensure that a utility’s revenue can adequately cover its fixed costs and provide the desired level of returns regardless of sales volume, while incentivising customers to conserve water. Efficiency mechanisms can align utilities’ economic incentives with environmental and social interests, including improved resource efficiency, lower rates and increased capital investments in infrastructure. Water utilities may manage rate mechanism impacts through positive regulatory relations, forward-looking rate cases that incorporate efficiency and a strong execution of efficiency strategy.
Materials Sourcing & Efficiency
  • Water Supply Resilience

    Water supply systems obtain water from groundwater and surface water sources. Water supplies either may be accessed directly or purchased from a third party, often a government entity. Water scarcity, water source contamination, infrastructure failures, regulatory restrictions, competing users and overconsumption by customers are all factors that may jeopardise sufficient water supply access. These issues, combined with an increasing risk of extreme and frequent drought conditions because of climate change, may result in inadequate supplies or mandated water restrictions. The related financial impacts may manifest in diverse ways, depending on rate structure, but are most likely to impact entity value through decreased revenue. Water supply challenges also may increase the price of purchased water, which could result in higher operating costs. Failures of critical infrastructure such as aqueducts and canals, which could result from events such as earthquakes, can present catastrophic risks to customers of the water supply system and could inflict untold financial consequences. Entities may mitigate water supply risks (and the resulting financial risks) through diversification of water supplies, sustainable withdrawal levels, technological and infrastructure improvements, contingency planning, positive relations with regulators and other major users, as well as rate structures.
Physical Impacts of Climate Change
  • Network Resiliency & Impacts of Climate Change

    Climate change may create uncertainty for water supply systems and wastewater systems because of potential impacts on infrastructure and operations. Climate change may result in increased water stress, more frequent severe weather events, reduced water quality and rising sea levels that could impair utility assets and operations. Water supply and wastewater disposal are basic services for which maintaining operational continuity is of utmost importance. The increasing frequency and severity of storms challenge water and wastewater treatment facilities, and these factors can affect service continuity. Intense precipitation may result in sewage volumes that exceed treatment facility capacity resulting in the release of untreated effluent. Minimising current and future risks of service disruptions and improving service quality may require additional capital expenditures and operational expenses. As the likelihood of extreme weather events increases, entities that address these risks through redundancies and strategic planning may better serve customers and improve performance.

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