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Environmental Research Communications

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Wastewater -- Management -- Technological innovations, Wastewater -- United States -- Law and legislation, Water quality management, Water utilities -- Law and legislation -- United States, Water-supply -- Government policy


Despite pressures to improve performance and reduce costs, innovation in the municipal wastewater sector in the United States has been notoriously slow. Previous research has suggested that wastewater utility managers may see regulation as a barrier to developing and deploying new technologies. To better understand how environmental regulation may fuel or hinder innovation in this sector, we conducted a nationwide survey of wastewater utility managers and wastewater regulators in the United States, asking both populations about their perceptions of specific aspects of regulation and innovation. Survey results revealed broad agreement between the two groups that funding and capacity, regulatory relationships, and complexities and inconsistencies within the regulatory environment present key barriers to and opportunities for enabling increased innovation in the municipal wastewater sector. While utility managers perceived almost all aspects of regulation as stronger barriers and opportunities than regulators did, both groups ranked them similarly. These results are promising evidence of common ground between wastewater regulators and municipal wastewater utility managers, and suggest shared views of key leverage points for encouraging innovation. Notably, neither regulators nor utility managers viewed reducing regulatory stringency as a productive way to encourage the deployment of new technologies. Rather, our survey results suggest that improving relationships and communication between utility managers and regulators, along with additional funding support for increased capacity of both utilities and regulators, would be more fruitful ways to encourage innovation in the municipal wastewater sector.


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