An Opportunity Awaits

This is a First Look at an article to appear in the May issue of Water Well Journal

Data from small water system survey yields business opportunities.

By Chuck Job

Have you considered business development opportunities at small public water systems? Did you do so, but didn’t think data were available to assess its potential?

The National Ground Water Association obtained national survey data of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency providing results to consider this market. The data provide the basis for preparing a business plan for this market segment.

EPA Survey of Small Water Systems

In 2007, the EPA’s Infrastructure Branch conducted a survey of public community water systems serving 3300 or fewer people. Nationally, approximately 41,000 small community water systems are in this category. The EPA randomly selected 600 small water systems nationally to identify and estimate national small water system infrastructure needs.

Table 1 lists the major categories of infrastructure needs surveyed. The 20-year timeframe for which the need was identified was 2007-2026.

The survey reliability is high, as it was done by trained water system engineers experienced both in working with small systems and in the survey method. The survey engineers conducted interviews onsite with the owner/operator of each small water system selected regarding its needs and visually determined need at each site for consistency in recording observations across the survey.

The 600 small water systems were selected with stratification to be nationally representative. Stratification was by water source—groundwater or surface water—and by system service population ranges (system size): 25-100 people served, 101-500 people served, 501-3300 people served.

The survey results were scaled up to national estimates of small system infrastructure need by weighting systems surveyed in each size source and strata by the number of systems they represented nationally (that is, weighted by the number of systems that were similar to the systems selected for the survey).

A survey statistician determined the number of systems in each strata and the weights of the systems—so the results would be representative estimates of the national need. Since 85% of small water systems are groundwater-supplied, the survey is largely a small groundwater system survey.

Survey Results

The national small system survey estimates are reported in Table 2. The results show the number of infrastructure units needed by need category, source (groundwater), and system size. Note for wells, this table also breaks out the need by condition: New, if a unit is required for the first time; Replacement, if an existing unit is expected to complete its useful life and needs to be changed; Rehabilitation, if the existing unit can be repaired or restored. National estimates of this characterization of need by condition are available for all infrastructure categories.

A summary of Table 2 shows the new/replacement/rehabilitation need nationally for totals of:

29,591 wells
34,405 well pumps
34,310 treatment systems
34,118 storage units, ground and elevated
267 million feet of pipe
10,573 pump stations
16,206 water pumps
Other equipment

The survey results by “condition” are provided for all the infrastructure categories at the national level and are available under the “Web-Only” section. To be most useful, the national results can be developed by state. State proportions of each strata are also available here.
An example follows for calculating state estimates of small groundwater system infrastructure need.

Example of Estimating State Small Groundwater System Need

To estimate the number of infrastructure units in an infrastructure category by state, we select the “Infrastructure Category” from the national estimates for the survey period 2007-2026.

In this example, we will use “Wells.” Next select the “Condition.” Here we selected “Rehabilitation.” Then select the “Small Groundwater System Service Population Range” (also referred to as “system size”). In this example, we chose “501-3300” people served, which indicates that 9095 wells need (estimated) to be rehabilitated nationally for this system size.

See Figure 1 for the national estimate of the number of wells needing rehabilitation over the 2007-2026 timeframe.This number will then be used to estimate the number of wells needing rehabilitation at a state level.

We need to now estimate the state proportion of the national need for the infrastructure category, system size, and condition selected. We selected Arkansas for the example state. Already calculated is the state portion of the national estimate by source and system size. These state proportion calculations are available under the “Web-Only” section.

Figure 2. Selecting the state proportion by system size for estimating state infrastructure need.

The state estimate for the particular category, system size, and condition selected is determined by multiplying the respective national estimate by its state portion for each infrastructure category of interest. Figure 2 shows the proportion for small groundwater systems serving 501 to 3300 people for Arkansas.

Since historical data were not available for 2007, the proportion is assumed to be approximately the same in 2007 as it was in 2016, which is the basis for the proportions provided on the website. Since we are developing “estimates” and not absolute counts of infrastructure need, small differences are assumed not to be significant for these purposes. The reader should determine for his or her circumstances whether more precise historical proportions are useful.

In the example for Arkansas, the following calculation can be made:
National estimate      × State portion                  = State estimate
9095 wells ×             .0199 =                                     181 wells to be rehabilitated
(wells needing          (decimal %                             (state need by category and strata)
rehabilitation)          of selected national strata)

Usefulness of the Calculation of State Small Groundwater System Infrastructure Need Estimates

Based on the significant range and amount of infrastructure need at small water systems, well services companies can use estimates of this need to help them target business areas for diversification and expansion. As noted previously, the estimates are reliable because water system engineers went onsite to determine the needs of the water system physical plant.

The timeframe of the estimate may seem problematic since we are halfway through the survey period, but these systems typically defer maintenance and investment. As a result, most of these needs are likely still required.1

The systems to which the state estimates apply can be determined with some additional effort by using information on drinking water websites of the EPA and each state.

For example, if you wanted to know how many water systems in Arkansas serve 501-3300 people, a count of systems in this size range for Arkansas can be obtained by going to EPA’s Drinking Water GPRA website.

On this website the user interested in Arkansas’ water system inventory could select “Arkansas”, “Community Water Systems”, “Groundwater”, and “501-3300” to get a count ofthe systems with those characteristics for the most current year (and recent past years) of data availability.

In this case, 195 water systems have these characteristics in Arkansas. However, not all of them will necessarily have the infrastructure needs described in Table 2, since only a sample of systems were surveyed nationwide and not all of the representative sampled systems had all of these needs.

Contact information for specific water systems in a state is also available. You can go to the Arkansas Department of Health website to
get information on water system name, contact, address, and telephone number for the systems in the size category of interest. Other states have similar information on their websites. In reasonably short order, you can prepare the data you would need to initiate business plan preparation for this market segment of small groundwater systems with potential infrastructure needs.

Initiating a Business Plan for the Small Groundwater System Market

A business plan for this or any market segment is based on data and key knowledge of the market. Using the information covered in this overview of the small groundwater system market, we have the capability to:

  • Develop a statement of market opportunity
  • Establish a goal for the potential number of systems we could address (contact)
  • Identify specific water system contacts in our service area
  • Develop an estimate of the percentage of the market in the state we operate within
  • Prepare an estimate of the percentage of the market we could expand into (growth potential)
  • Specify the likely types and number of projects we could potentially pursue.

An example of a starting outline for a business plan for this market segment is provided in Figure 3.

Learn More About Small Water System Business Opportunities
The author of this article will expand more on this subject in an upcoming NGWA webinar, “Small Water Systems Business Opportunities,” from 12-1 p.m. ET on May 10. Register here.


A significant business opportunity exists in the small groundwater systems market. Data are available to estimate the size of the market nationally and by state for a range of infrastructure needs at these water systems. These data and key market knowledge of well services companies’ operations can enable the preparation of business plans to address this market segment.


1 Personal communication. 2017. Linda Hills, Cadmus Group.
2 Abstracted from: Dave Lavinsky. 2013. Business plan template: What to include. Forbes, July 13, 2013.


Chuck Job is the manager of regulatory affairs for the National Ground Water Association, a position he has held since December 2015. Prior to that, he worked at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for more than 29 years, having served since 2000 as its Infrastructure Branch chief. During part of his agency tenure, Job worked in EPA Region V in groundwater protection and water quality standards planning. He can be reached at

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