Water + World: 2020 in Review

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2020 will definitely go down in history as an unforgettable year… much like 1933 (ahem).

However, through all the highs and lows, and more lows, we’ve carried on with our important work, making water sustainable for all and we’ve launched a brand new global community in the midst of it.

So, as we near the year’s end, we thought it was timely to take a look back at all we’ve discovered, accomplished and talked about in 2020.

Our mission

To inspire water industry leaders to explore novel ideas, openly discuss challenges, and experiment with technology to safeguard the world’s most precious resource for future generations.

What we accomplished in 2020

AquaLAB’s Connect Community represents a 47 M impact on people across the globe
  • 188 members on AquaLAB Connect
  • Who? Decision-makers and changemakers from 48 water organisations
  • Why? To be inspired, discuss what they are dealing with and collaborate with peers to solve common challenges
  • Impact: 47,000,000 people across the globe


In January, in the wake of Australia’s bushfires, news broke about a Novel Coronavirus spreading quickly in Wuhan, China

Bushfires: In January, the Australian bushfires were very much on our minds and hearts. Comedian Celeste Barber showed us the power of one by raising a whapping $51 M in bushfire relief funds.

Novel Coronavirus News: News broke that a Novel Coronavirus was rapidly spreading through Wuhan, China.

AquaLAB New Hire: K joined the AquaLAB team as Marketing and Experience lead and plans were well underway to launch the new AquaLAB Connect community in March.


Coronavirus spread internationally and conferences were canceled

Coronavirus Spreads: The novel Coronavirus spread overseas as Wuhan and China faced strict lockdowns, and other countries started reporting cases.

Conferences Canceled: The AquaLAB team was busily making plans to attend Water Innovation Week 2020 in San Francisco in March so we could launch the new AquaLAB Connect community with maximum impact. The by March, the conference, along with virtually every other conference in the world, was canceled.


In March, our world changed dramatically as countries went into lockdown

AquaLAB New Hire: Cara started at AquaLAB as the Copywriter and Community Manager.

Remote Working: By the end of March, the AquaLAB team was working from home. For utilities around the world, staff and customer safety became the top priority. Skeleton crews kept essential operations running, while businesses were planning for an uncertain future.

Coronavirus Goes global: Outbreaks intensified across the globe, the worst being in China, Iran, Italy and Spain.

Stock Market Crashes: The stock market crashed, unemployment skyrocketed over night with cessation of overseas travel and then domestic travel and the San Francisco conference was canceled.

Covid-19 Wastewater Detection: Utilities and researchers were working hard on technology to detect Covid-19 in wastewater as a first line of defense against outbreaks.

Remote Monitoring Accelerated: Remote monitoring tech accelerated for water utilities who had to innovate to protect worker safety in the face of the pandemic.

AquaLAB Takes Stock of Industry Impact: Given everything that was changing and unfolding for our utility clients, the AquaLAB team pushed the AquaLAB Connect launch date to April. We started designing a survey to gauge how different organisations were coping with change.


High unemployment and business closure thanks to Coronavirus lead to water utilities offering bill amnesty to customers.

Water Bill Amnesty: Most utilities gave customers amnesty for a few months due to high and sudden unemployment and business closure but the lack of funding was a growing industry concern, particularly in the US.

Supply Chain Disruption: All of a sudden, the ability to acquire parts and products from China and other overseas locations was dramatically disrupted.

Cyber Terrorism on Water Utility: And as if that wasn’t enough, a cyber terrorism attack targeted an Israeli water utility leading to increased concerns over state-based cyber threats to utilities everywhere.

AquaLAB Connect Launches: Our first AquaLAB Connect members joined from utilities in Australia, New Zealand, the US and UK.

AquaLAB’s First Customer Survey: How are you doing? At the start of the Pandemic it seemed fitting to gauge the temperature in the room and find out what the water industry was dealing with. Using the Kübler-Ross change scale, we learned how water organisations were adjusting to the “new normal’ at the beginning of the pandemic lockdowns.


We launched a podcast and Black Lives Matters protests lead to more focus on inclusion and diversity globally

AquaLAB Launches the Future Water Podcast: We recorded and published GHD’s very first podcast episode on remote access technology and IoT featuring GHD’s Rohan Koenig. That episode was recorded in a home office with minimal recording technology, but it was the first of many to come.

Diversity Matters Come to the Fore: In the wake of Black Lives Matters protests, the water industry was starting to consider how we might further embed diversity in our businesses and cultures.

Water Equity Issues: One thing that was painfully clear during the pandemic was the lack of equity when it came to water access across the world, even in countries like the US. Cara started researching water equity and connected with US organisation Dig Deep on LinkedIn. That led to further connections and conversations with the World Bank 2030 Water Resources Group, the US Rural Development Agency, the US Water Alliance, the National Rural Water Association and EJ Water Coop.

Most Popular Topic in May: On AquaLAB Connect, our post “What’s holding back IoT disruption in the water industry was May’s biggest discussion point.

CX the Focus of our First AquaLAB Webinar: We launched our first webinar featuring Yarra Valley Water’s Customer Experience expert Dr Anna Lorenzetto.


We highlighted the supply chain disruption impacts on the water industry and asked “how might we innovate to mitigate the impact?”

Coronavirus Global Milestone: By the end of June there were 500,000 confirmed Coronavirus deaths and 10 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 globally.

Supply Chain Disruption Impact Highlighted: In the water industry, there were concerns over critical worker safety supplies. AquaLAB led the way by featuring the industry’s supply chain issues on our blog and podcast.

Green Hydrogen a Hot Topic in June: The community discussed wastewater to energy innovation in the wake of our article on green hydrogen innovation in the water industry.

The AquaLAB Community Grows: Our utility members started to use the community to ask questions and post announcements. Selwyn Rose announced the launch of United Utilities’ 2020 Innovation Lab and a member asked for advice about record management systems.


We showcased cross-sector innovation in our “Stretching your innovation dollar” podcast series

US Declared Withdrawal from WHO: The United States officially declared its intent to withdraw from the World Health Organization in 2021, prompting concerns about the state of Us Politics and their handling of the pandemic.

AquaLAB Launched ‘Stretching Your Innovation Dollar’ Podcast Series: AquaLAB began a podcast series featuring cross-sector innovation acceleration ideas.

Cyber Terrorism Threat Concerns Water Utilities: GHD’s resident cyber security expert Sunil Sharma’s post on cyber terrorism was the most talked about post in AquaLAB Connect in July. In August, Sunil hosted a Cyber Security Roundtable to give security experts an opportunity to discuss the issues and problem-solve together.


Sewerage surveillance becomes a first line of defense in fight against Covid-19

Beirut Explosion Rocks World: The port of Beirut explodes causing widespread damage and leaving thousands injured and dead, and all this amidst a global pandemic.

California Wildfires: California, already struggling to contain the Coronavirus, gets hit by massive and devastating wildfires reminding us that climate change is ever present.

Sewerage Surveillance System Launches: CDC launches new sewerage surveillance system to detect Covid-19 more accurately in wastewater.

World Water Week goes Virtual in WWWeek at Home. Many events in the water industry that were postponed from March had found a digital home. Hosts, speakers and attendees quickly adjusted to staying connected virtually.

AquaLAB Sponsors Innovate 4 Water: AquaLAB joined Innovate 4 Water’s first hybrid virtual marketplace with 127 global participants pitching water industry challenges and solutions.

Xylem’s End of Football Film Hot Topic in AquaLAB Connect: The community discussed consumer engagement. What will it take to change behaviour? How do we go beyond the usual water rationing imagery to capture the public’s attention on water sustainability?


You told us what your top 5 water industry challenges were

British Waterways Under Fire: The BBC called attention to widespread pollution in Britain’s waterways.

AquaLAB asks the community “what are your top five challenges? We surveyed our water utility clients on what their top industry challenges are. data-driven decisions, strategic planning, customer experience, workforce of the future and efficiency came out on top.

Knowledge Sharing in AquaLAB Connect: Members dived in to share knowledge around technology for sewerage pump stations.


We highlighted the challenges around Urban Water Security on the Future Water Podcast.

Urban Water Security highlighted: AquaLAB publishes our Urban Water Security in the Face of Climate Change Podcast episodes featuring Watercare’s Tim Barry (Auckland, New Zealand) and the World Bank 2030 Water Resources Group’s Stella Goldenstein (São Paulo, Brazil).

Water Utility Innovation Program: In the podcast ‘Stretching your innovation dollar’ series we featured United Utilities’ Innovation Lab.

Digital Twins of Engineers Poll a Hot Topic: Our AquaLAB Connect community poll on digital twins of engineers was the biggest talking point for October. What if we could make digital twins of retiree engineers, and what impact could that have on the next generation?

STEM or STEAM? A member of AquaLAB Connect argued that we should be promoting STEAM and not STEM and the community weighed in.

Netflix Summer Slump: After picking up a record 28 million subscribers throughout the year, sign ups finally slowed for streaming giant Netflix — A sign that people were starting to escape their living rooms as restrictions eased in some parts of the world.


We launched the AquaLAB Connect Brainstrust to facilitate global knowledge sharing in our community

US Election Results: Joe Biden becomes US President Elect

“We Have More Data than Water”: In the inaugural AquaLAB brainstrust on data science our members discussed the complexities of applying data science to water utilities.

Drought Resilience Initiatives Must be Diverse: In the second AquaLAB Brainstrust Meetup members from Australia and US discussed different drought resilience strategies to help a member in a drought-stricken region make a case for action at his Utility.

Innovation Challenges: One of our members who works in utility innovation for a large utility asked what other utilities’ biggest challenges were around innovation implementation.


Across the globe we continue to deal with Covid-19 and hope for a brighter 2021 with the first vaccines being rolled out in the US and UK.

Water: a Commodity or a Service? Water starts being traded on the Futures Market in California.

No Respite from Coronavirus Globally: “Globally, as of 5:34pm CET, 20 December 2020, there have been 75,110,651 confirmed cases of COVID-19, including 1,680,395 deaths, reported to WHO.” Meanwhile NZ announces planned travel bubble with Australia for 2021. This was before the Sydney outbreak.

Digital Metering Innovation: AquaLAB features Yarra Valley Water’s Digital Metering Program Director Raghu Bharadwaj on the Future Water podcast.

What we’re looking forward to in 2021

Next year, we look forward to doing more of what makes a difference to our community of water utility mover s and shakers — cross-sector insights, disrupting at the edge, sparking authentic conversations and imagining the “how might we’s” together.

Here’s to making even more waves in the world of water innovation in 2021!

Happy Holiday Season!

The team at AquaLAB.

AquaLAB is shaping the digital future of water.