Defining a Resilient Business Model for Water Utilities

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Project Overview

This project examines the impact of the existing business model on the financial resiliency of water utilities. The project investigates the ability of water utilities to thrive in the presence of fiscal stresses that threaten to temporarily or systematically move an organization or industry off-balance or out of fiscal equilibrium. Resiliency goes a step beyond sustainability: indicating thriving, rather than just surviving.

What We Did

The analysis uses a large and unique dataset to conduct a primary exploration of recent financial trends and revenue resiliency. It does not seek to identify a single treatment for resiliency, but rather explores and highlights the variation among utility performance and operating environment. 

What We Learned

The analysis clearly shows that there is not one generalizable “new normal” or inevitable pre-ordained financial outcome for the industry. There are clearly differences between regions, states, and utilities. The analysis shows that the prevailing revenue model has posed problems for many utilities, but also continues to serve many utilities relatively well. Most importantly, this project reveals there is no single “silver bullet” strategy for revenue resiliency. The strategies chosen introduce practical practices for revenue diversity, redundancy, flexibility, and foresight: some of the key characteristics of a resilient system. This report presents examples of current, emerging, and “out of the box” strategies available to utilities to build a resilient business model.


As part of this project, the EFC at UNC and its partners produced:


Visit the Water Research Foundation project page for project #4366 to download the full report, two Excel-based tools, and to view recordings of the two webcasts and three instructional videos.