Industry 101 | Participants in the Energy Sector: Water Market

This post is part of our Industry 101 Series, an ongoing campaign to provide a foundation of knowledge about our unique industry. To learn more about this campaign, please click here.



Water is a unique utility in the cyclical lifecycle the resource goes through. This cyclical lifecycle means separate utilities handle the delivery of clean water and the disposal of waste water.

Either public entities or private companies can own, finance, operate, and maintain utilities in charge of public water supply and sanitation systems. In some cases, both a public entity and a private company will share these responsibilities in a public-private partnership. Utilities may be in charge of only water supply and/or sanitation, or they may provide additional services, usuallySimplified Urban Water Cycle electricity and gas. Utilities in the latter circumstance are called multi-utilities. Bulk water suppliers manage large aqueducts and sell treated or untreated water to users, including utilities.


The main federal regulation of the water market deals with the quality of water received and is tightly regulated through the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Not only does the EPA handle the delivery quality of water to the public through drinking water laws, but it also supports municipalities in wastewater treatment plants and pollution prevention.

The main piece of legislation the EPA enforces when it comes to drinking water quality is the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA). These standards apply differently based on the type of Public Water System (PWS) as defined by the EPA. These laws establish acceptable and safe levels of contaminants within drinking water.

Outside of quality control, regulation of water exists on the state commission level (public utilities commission) where local government ensures accessibility by helping to define acceptable rates for customer billing.

Though entities in the water market might handle both the supply and disposal aspects of the utility, both are separate processes that share some similarity. The water market is not as deregulated as the gas and electric markets are. As a result, one body tends to govern the entire process of water supply or water disposal.


Due to the more regulated nature of the water industry, market roles are not as emphasized or prevalent as for gas or electric utilities and do not fall into the traditional utility marketing model. Instead, the water market Community Water System Ownership(either separate or bundled services of water supply and wastewater disposal) tends to be distinguished through different ownership types. These types of service providers include private service providers, public water systems, and multi-utilities; each can own, finance, operate, and maintain water supply and sanitation in an independent or joint venture relationship.

  • Private Service Providers are owned by private investors and stock is not publicly traded.
  • Public Water Systems (Municipalities) are owned and operated by a municipal government.
    • Community Water Systems (CWS) supply water to the same population year-round.
    • Non-Transient Non-Community Water Systems (NTNCWS) supply water to at least 25 of the same locations at least six months per year (schools, factories, office buildings, and hospitals).
    • Transient Non-Community Water Systems (TNCWS) supply water in places people do not remain for long periods of time (gas stations or campgrounds)
  • Multi-utilities are ownerships that bundle water utilities with more profitable utility markets like electric or gas.

Recent trends have shown a decrease in interest for privatization of water in favor of re-municipalized services.

In addition, most distribution networks are city-owned and maintained with the exception of enterprise privatized networks. Privatized networks generally pay for the privilege to use publically-owned and maintained networks.


Water supply can be broken down into three main aspects:  delivery of water from a source, treatment of source water, and/or the delivery of portable water to consumers. SOURCE WATEREstimated Uses of Water 2010

Source water for human consumption and use is primarily classified as either surface water or ground water. Surface water includes streams, rivers, and lakes. Ground water includes water derived from aquifers or wells. Identified source water areas are protected by federal government regulations through the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and state regulations. WATER PURIFICATION

Water withdrawn from sources must be purified before human consumption. Below are the generalized steps for water purification:

Step Process


Chemical process of mixing coagulants to the water to change anions to neutrally charged bodies
Flocculation Neutral particles clump together to form floc
Sedimentation Mixing stops to allow floc to settle and clear water is collected from the top
Filtration Water is moved through a deep filtration bed to remove small particles
Disinfection, Primary


Treatment with ozone or chlorine dioxide in order to remove viruses, bacteria, and other pathogenic organisms
Disinfection, Secondary Chloramines are added as a preventive measure to inhibit contamination during distribution
Corrosion Control pH adjustment is preformed to prevent corrosion of distribution pipes

Once purified, water must meet the standards for contaminant levels required by the National Primary Drinking Water Regulations (NPDWRs)


Wastewater generated after consumption requires treatment before it can be introduced back to the environment. Water treatment is tightly regulated through the EPA and is handled through more than 16,000 publicly-owned wastewater treatment plants. WASTEWATER CLASSIFICATION

Wastewater created can be classified according to the degree of impurity and amount of processing the water must undergo in order to be considered safely converted. Depending on the state of the wastewater prior to treatment and the final quality of the wastewater, the treated water may be eligible for being returned to the water cycle or reused.

Domestic (Sanitary) Sewage is wastewater from residencies or institutes disposing of body waste.

Gray Water is domestic or industrial wastewater from sinks, bathtubs, and washing machines.

Industrial Sewage is wastewater produced form the manufacturing of goods.

Surface Runoff is wastewater from precipitation creating storm overflows. WASTEWATER TREATMENT

Wastewater collected undergoes treatment in wastewater treatment plants. Below are the generalized steps for wastewater treatment:

Step Process
Phase Separation


Sedimentation Removal of solids and non-polar liquids
Filtration Removal of colloidal suspensions of fine solids
Oxidation Biochemical Oxidation Removal of organic compounds
Chemical Oxidation Removal of persistent organic compounds and kills bacterial and pathogens
Polishing Chemical reduction or pH adjustments and removal of contaminants with activated carbon

Once treated, some water qualifies for return to the water cycle through rivers or to the ocean and some qualifies for water reclamation, which involves reuse in agriculture or industry.


If you enjoyed this article, click here to start from the beginning of our Industry 101 Series.

Or to continue your journey, click here to access the next installment of our Industry 101 guide.



Here is a list of relevant reading material our expert identified as sources for additional information: