Climate-Ready Water Utilities

Jan. 7, 2016

After preparing a climate change plan for her community’s wastewater treatment plant, Carol Murray, interim director for the Manchester Department of Public Works in Manchester-by-the-Sea, MA, says if she would have done anything differently, she would have started working on the plan seven years ago.

Doing a climate change plan with the help of EPA “is one of those reality checks that really makes you stop and think,” notes Murray.

Her advice to other water and wastewater utilities: start doing climate change plans now.

“You’re a little bit behind the curve, but it’s still in advance of things hitting you,” she says. “Find out what you are facing so you are ready to start positioning yourself.”

Murray’s is one of dozens of US water and wastewater utilities preparing plans for the potential impacts from climate change. Some work with EPA; others are acting independently.

The term “climate ready” more reflects a process than any specific end state—a process resulting in the utility’s ability to withstand, respond, and recover effectively and efficiently from climate impacts, notes EPA spokesperson Robert Daguillard.

“Water sector utility climate readiness varies due to system size, type, geographic location, climate impact, and vulnerable infrastructure,” he says. “Utilities must first understand their potential future climate projections and the vulnerability of their assets to climate change impacts.”

In 2010, EPA requested the formation of a working group under the National Drinking Water Advisory Council to define what it means to be “climate ready” from the perspective of water sector utilities, including drinking water, wastewater, and stormwater.

The group delivered its findings in a January 2011 report to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson. The findings and recommendations became the foundation of EPA’s voluntary Climate Ready Water Utilities (CRWU) initiative.

Extreme weather events, sea level rise, shifting precipitation patterns and temperature variability—all intensified by climate change—have significant water sector implications and were the driving factors for the initiative, says Daguillard.

“The EPA has the responsibility to assist water sector utilities in planning for, assessing, and adapting to climate impacts so that they can continue to fulfill their public health and environmental missions, as well as begin the process of becoming more climate-ready,” he adds.

The CRWU initiative involves a suite of tools designed to be practical and user-friendly to translate complex climate projections into accessible and actionable information for utility owners and operators. The climate science data is derived from the same climate model data and studies used for the 2014 US Global Change Research Program’s National Climate Assessment.

The agency also has reached out to thousands of water utilities through in-person training workshops and webinars.

In 2014 and 2015, EPA partnered with and assisted 23 communities in conducting a climate risk assessment using its Climate Resilience Evaluation and Awareness Tool (CREAT) and plans to assist 10 more in 2016.

“CREAT assists drinking water and wastewater utility owners and operators in understanding potential climate change impacts and in assessing the related risks at their utilities,” says Daguillard.

The tool helps utilities evaluate adaptive options to address potential climate change impacts using both traditional risk assessment and scenario-based decision making. Version 2.0 is available for free download.

West
With drought having been on the radar for a significant amount of time in the West, many utilities have begun to plan for future scenarios regarding water shortages. Case in point: Seattle Public Utilities (SPU), which provides drinking water to 1.4 million people in the Seattle region and provides wholesale water to cities and water districts in the suburbs.

SPU also is a drainage, stormwater, and wastewater utility for Seattle.

The utility’s climate change planning efforts date to the late 1990s when some of its water managers took interest in how the El Niño-Pacific Decadal Oscillation cycle affects water supply.

That led to researching the issue of climate change and water, which led to a 2002 study assessing the potential impacts of climate change under different scenarios. Since then, SPU hired a climate lead and established the Climate Resiliency Group, led by Paul Fleming.

In 2007, SPU undertook a second assessment using climate modeling output to assess impacts on water supply and is currently in the midst of a third study. In 2008, SPU extended its assessment efforts to its drainage, wastewater, and stormwater services.

“We view climate change as part of being a forward-looking utility,” says Fleming. “Looking at adaptation and mitigation is firmly embedded in our strategic plan.”

SPU has hired a meteorologist with a background in sea level rise who is helping the utility with enhanced weather forecasting and considering adaptation as it relates to sea level rise.

SPU also participates in the Water Utility Climate Alliance, a group of 10 large water utilities of which Fleming is past chair which is focused on improving the usefulness of climate science and enhancing decision-making under climate change.

Fleming coaches EPA’s Climate Ready Utility Working Group which led to the creation of CRWU. He is involved in numerous other national initiatives. Fleming says he observes an increase in water utilities endeavoring to build capacity and people who can focus exclusively on the issue.

“We’re trying to build that capacity so we can understand our risks and embed responses to managing those risks into what we do,” he says. “We’re trying to mainstream it into the utility culture and practices.”

With the conventional wisdom being that climate change is going to lead to higher temperatures, SPU—which is a mixed snowpack and rainfall system—is looking to move from being snowpack-dominant in the future, particularly at the elevations where its watersheds are located.

“A top challenge is how do we navigate the changes in the water cycle and the movement from a hydrology that’s influenced significantly by the accumulation of snowpack to one that’s moving towards a hydrology that has less of a snowpack signal,” says Fleming.

“In our region, that means we’ll likely be moving from what we call a double hump in terms of flow in the rivers where we see an increase in the late fall and early winter as the rains return to this area and flows start to climb in rivers as temperatures start to drop,” he says. “Flows also drop because precipitation starts to appear as snowpack, so it gets locked up in the mountains. They start to climb again in the late winter and early spring as we start to see runoff and snowmelt and we move toward a single hump flow.”

It will be a challenge to determine how to adjust the existing infrastructure and operating approaches to accommodate that departure on historic conditions, says Fleming.

A related challenge is determining if and when new investments are needed to ensure reliable service and at what scale such investments should be made.

Regarding treatment, a question for SPU going forward is what will be the threshold for moving into a regime where extreme rain events cause turbidity issues during the winter and, typically in the summer, increased air temperatures impact reservoirs.

“Our focus to date has been mostly on quantity and hydrology,” says Fleming. “We haven’t delved much into how algal blooms might become more frequent in the future.”

Another benefit to climate change planning is potential insurance premium reductions. SPU is self-insured, but Fleming points out that the insurance sector has been involved in climate change discussions to date.

He cites the report “Risky Business: the Economic Risks of Climate Change in the US” which can be found at www.riskybusiness.org.

“It frames climate change as a set of costs in the future and risks that taking action now can help avoid an order of magnitude greater risks and costs in the future,” says Fleming.

Fleming acknowledges some utilities may have a challenge using the phrase “climate change” to describe the assessment process. SPU has local support from citizens and elected officials, many of whom have come to expect it from a forward-thinking utility.

“It can be framed that you’re trying to save the world and there’s certainly an element of an ethical responsibility to do things that minimize global impacts,” he says. “Another element is that climate change is going to have impacts at the local level and if you are a provider of an essential service, you need to take into account how different disruptive forces can impede your ability to provide that essential service.”

The Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA) is a not-for-profit wholesale water utility comprised of seven member water and wastewater agencies that manage water resources on a regional basis, providing a unified voice on the Colorado River and helping ensure that southern Nevada’s needs are met efficiently. SNWA provides water to two million residents and 40 million annual visitors.

“The drought that has been gripping the Colorado River Basin over the last 15 years is the catalyst for us as a water manager to take stock on how climate change could potentially impact our daily operations and our ability to provide reliable quality water,” notes spokesperson Bronson Mack.

“There is no question in our minds that climate change is indeed occurring and we’re seeing the impacts of it,” he says. “We need to be prepared to adapt and continue to meet the community’s needs.”

SNWA maintains a comprehensive water conservation program including a suite of incentives and actions that can be implemented to reduce water use. Since 2002, the conservation program has resulted in a 30% water use reduction in the face of a population increase of 520,000 people.

“We’re not going to make the environment adapt to us, so how do we adapt to this environment to continue to meet water needs? For the past 15 years, as we have looked through our capital improvements program, our water resource planning efforts, our power purchases, all have been informed by the risk associated with climate change and our adaptation to it,” says Mack.

SNWA has been involved in the Water Utility Climate Alliance and EPA effort to make more informed decisions on its adaptation efforts.

Early on, SNWA identified integrating climate change data into its daily operations and anticipating different climate change regimes as one of the biggest challenges to ensuring it was sufficiently resilient.

SNWA developed an interdisciplinary climate change committee representing a cross-section of the entire organization to help educate employees.

“This committee was developed to identify some of the biggest risks associated with climate change for each individual department or individual of the organization so that we could start to get a handle on the magnitude of the impact climate change could have on our individual work groups,” says Mack.

One of the first issues SNWA targeted for action was the potential that drought and climate change has to impact the Colorado River’s flows, which in turn impacts the levels of Lake Mead and Lake Powell.

Ninety percent of the total water supply is derived from Lake Mead and as lake levels decline, the surface of the lake gets closer to the existing intake infrastructure used to draw water from the lake and to the treatment plants.

“That brings forth a host of challenges, one of which being lake levels could drop below our existing intakes, basically making our intakes inoperable,” notes Mack. “Secondly, there are water-quality challenges associated with lowering lake levels as the better quality water is deeper within the lake and the lesser quality water is closer to the surface of the lake.”

Declining lake levels bring the lesser quality water closer to the intake system, so SNWA had to account for the potential water-quality impacts coming into the water treatment plant.

“We had to account for maintaining access to our water in Lake Mead if lake levels continue to decline,” says Mack.

Considering the vast majority of climate models agree that there will be increased temperatures, power supply is another consideration in the risk assessment, says Mack.

“As the lake declines and levels drop, that means more power is required to pump that water from lower elevations up to our treatment plants and therefore it takes more power to do that,” he adds.

People are expected to use more air conditioning, placing a greater demand on the power grid.

“There may be reliability issues there for us as a water provider completely dependent upon power to move water into the valley,” he says. SNWA developed strategies to address those scenarios, such as the use of backup power supplies and generators.

South
In south and south-central Florida, the Seminole Tribe of Florida provides drinking water and wastewater services to 2,000 people on four different reservations. The Hollywood Reservation is seven miles west of the Atlantic Ocean; the other three are inland.

The Seminole Tribe was approached by EPA to participate in the agency’s CREAT program. In doing so throughout the early part of 2015, the Seminole Tribe focused risk assessment efforts on the Hollywood Reservation for increased demand on the aquifer from proposed and planned development for in the future, notes Gary Braganza, water-quality specialist.

“For the Brighton reservation, the impacts of wildfires on the water treatment plant were considered—specifically a threat to the generators that provided backup power for the treatment plant, he adds.

In partnership with EPA, Braganza began to identify potential adaptive measures the Seminole Tribe could take against potential climate change impacts.

Before engaging in the CREAT effort, “the threat of wildfires to the water treatment plant was not really considered,” says Braganza. “That brought the awareness that we do need to do something about that in case of drought. Climate change can bring on increased drought, which can increase the fire risk and if so, we’re not ready for a wildfire that close to our treatment plant.”

To mitigate the effects of possible wildfire events at the Brighton Reservation, measures considered include fire management through clearing a tree line, a fire wall to replace a fence, and relocating generators to a new pad.

At the Hollywood Reservation, measures to address water supply demands include installing meters at isolation valves, water-efficient landscape and irrigation at the Tribe’s casino properties, “healthy homes” initiatives such as proper disposal down the drain and the importance of water conservation to the environment, an improved groundwater monitoring system, and community outreach programs.

“The Hollywood aquifers are still producing enough water to supply the reservation, so it’s not an immediate threat right now, but it’s something for us to consider in the future,” says Braganza.

Austin Water serves an estimated 950,000 people in Austin and surrounding areas in central Texas, providing drinking water, reclaimed water, and wastewater services. Stormwater is managed separately and is not combined with sewers and wastewater. Austin Water relies on surface water from the Colorado River of Texas as its supply, managed by the Lower Colorado River Authority.

Austin Water began a pilot effort in October 2014 to learn the features of EPA’s CREAT while at the same time initiating a multi-year effort to craft an Integrated Water Resource Plan (IWRP), part of which will incorporate planning for climate change. AWU staff members who are working on the plan also were participants in the CREAT pilot.

“Our goal with the CREAT pilot was not to conduct a complete risk and resiliency assessment and plan, but rather to learn enough about the tool to understand how it might be used to inform—or as part of—the larger IWRP effort,” notes David Greene, an engineer in Austin’s Environmental and Regulatory Services Division.

Through the course of the pilot program, Austin Water confirmed that it can adapt the CREAT tool to include downscaled climate data and customized, facility-specific asset-threat pairings, including impacts not just related to water supply and demand but also extreme heat, adds Greene.

“A completed CREAT would also provide a useful database for scenario-planning,” he says. “One concrete product of this pilot is a preliminary list of anticipated asset-threat pairings across all divisions of the utility.”

As the IWRP proceeds through its Systems Planning division, Austin Water may return to the CREAT to conduct the next steps of characterizing the asset-threat pairs, evaluating baseline conditions, and identifying adaptive measures, says Greene.

Credit: AUSTIN WATER
Equipment tunnels at the Ullrich water treatment plant in Austin

Mid-America
In mid-America, the Hillsboro, KS, water utility decided a year ago to tackle the issue of climate change on behalf of its population of 3,000 using EPA’s CREAT tool.

“Drought is an issue in the middle of the United States and when we were nominated to get into this program, that was the key thing going on,” notes Larry Paine, city administrator.

Significant rainfall hit the area during the past summer, but it’s still the drought episodes driving the city’s climate planning efforts.

Part of the challenge for Hillsboro entering into the study was how it was presented.

“Kansas is a very conservative area, so in terms of dealing with this process, we were not looking at it as a way of saying global warming is an issue,” says Paine. “But we know that the weather patterns we’re dealing with right now are cyclical. We’ve had periods of a lot of rain and periods of no rain, so what we are looking at is when we’re in a low rainfall cycle, how do we deal with that?”

Hillsboro pumps water from a nearby Army Corps of Engineers lake. “There are two cities near that reservoir that draw water from that same source, so when we have low rain, we don’t have the usual amount of water in the reservoir and the concentration of contaminants that show up in the lake water increase because you don’t have nearly as much water flushing the reservoir,” says Paine.

“Plus we have blue green algae and zebra mussel impact that affects the way we treat water for our customers, so we have to look down the calendar about how to address that.”

Paine says the process confirmed to him that his municipality was on the right track in terms of water treatment and water planning.

From a stormwater point of view, the process shed light on what the town needs to do in terms of stormwater disposal, he says.

“When it does rain, it rains a lot, so when the water comes, it comes fast and it goes away fast,” Paine notes. “After a while, it doesn’t. We have clay-like soil type, so the water absorption has an impact depending on the length of the rain events. How we are treating that stormwater that eventually gets into the reservoir affects the way our water plant runs on a day-to-day basis and some of the things we do day in and day out change because of the change of the water quality.”

The town’s largest area of concern is the water treatment plant. “We had some plant upgrades about 10 to 15 years ago that changed the method in which we treat water because of the blue green algae,” says Paine. “When you hit it with chlorine, the blue green algae cells come apart and the algal toxins inside those cells become a health problem for our customers if we’re not doing the water treatment properly.

“Part of what we’re looking at is how we go through asset management and do plant maintenance and upgrades to meet the requirements for removing algal toxins. We’re probably doing a whole lot more in terms of the pre-treatment treatment process so we can make sure the water we give to the customers is good. In addition, we also are a provider to another small town near Hillsboro—Peabody—so we’ve got the added requirement to make sure their water quality is good, too.”

The region of Faribault, MN, has experienced a great deal of flooding throughout recent years, including a major flood in 2010, followed by a smaller one in 2014.

At that point, Travis Block, the city’s public works director, chose to work with EPA on the CREAT program to identify adaptive measures that could help his wastewater collection and treatment facility be more secure in dealing with any potential climate-related issues.

Credit: UNITED WATER
One of the four reservoirs servicing the Haworth Treatment Plant

Faribault Public Works serves a population of 23,000, treating all of the municipal and industrial wastewater flow within the city of Faribault—an average of 3.5–4 million gallons a day.

With the wastewater treatment facility being the focus of the project, Block looked at ways of developing alternatives such as streambank stabilization, a dike, or levy berm to protect the facility against flooding consequences going forward.

“Some of the other measures potentially could be infrastructure areas where we have the potential of aging systems getting infiltration from storm events,” adds Block.

Some concepts that arose from the CREAT project that Block hadn’t previously considered included broader scope, long-term issues such as watershed planning and the development of green infrastructure.

“These are things I don’t have a tangible experience with every day, so I really didn’t give them much thought, but in the long run in a 20- to 30-year plan, those things have potential down the road,” says Block. “Just like stormwater wasn’t a big issue a few years ago and now it is. It opened my eyes to things I didn’t think about before.”

As with any improvements, financing is a concern.

“What spurred out of this is a developing an analysis of looking at any potential funding from the Department of Homeland Security, Department of Natural Resources, or flood mitigation funding,” says Block. “We’re still in the exploratory stages of trying to figure out what we’re going to do going forward.”

Northeast
In the Northeast, United Water New Jersey is a water utility servicing 850,000 people through the Haworth Water Treatment Plant in New Jersey. The utility has four reservoirs in the Hackensack River Basin—three in New Jersey which serve as the primary sources and one in Rockland County, NY, with a regulated flow.

The driving factor for putting together a climate change plan—begun in November 2014 and completed in May 2015—was a “combination of general climate change and EPA providing us with the opportunity to work with the agency, particularly using their CREAT tool,” says Steve Goudsmith, director of communications for United Water in New Jersey.

“It helped us to categorize things in a more succinct way,” adds Goudsmith. “It brought some internal teams together to really think about the critical issues and brought to light questions we need answered about how we’re going to respond to certain climate situations, particularly dry conditions and drought.”

While the company operates a wastewater utility, the focus was on its water utility.

The summer of 2015 “really underscored the need to take a more critical look at water supply issues and subsequently treatment issues, but particularly water supply,” says Goudsmith.

In mid-September, Goudsmith noted that northern New Jersey had experienced one of the driest Augusts in the last 100 years. Reservoir levels were only at 45% capacity as of mid-September before the area got some rain, bringing it closer to 50%, which is significantly lower than what utility managers wanted it to be at that time of year.

“This is potentially a trend we’re going to see over time,” says Goudsmith. “It’s something that we not only need to monitor but we need to be ready for. In terms of supply, that may mean looking for additional sources and it may mean that we may have to institute voluntary and even mandatory restrictions at times.”

Almost all of the supply comes from surface water “and because of that, we are very dependent on rainfall,” says Goudsmith. “We have to fill our New Jersey reservoirs five times over every year to meet demand. So if we get continued growth in the area and we have more service connections, then that could put additional strain on our system as well as dry and drought conditions.”

The team assembled to create the utility’s climate change plan included professionals from critical aspects of United Water New Jersey operations, including water supply professionals, water-quality professionals and distribution professionals.

The time and financial resources dedicated to the effort “never really was a concern for us,” says Goudsmith. “We recognized these are conditions that probably are not single phenomenon and will continue to happen. Climate change is real. We need to respond to it. We need to have an organized team to understand it and to figure out what we need to do.”

Capital Region Water (CRW) provides services to 60,000 residential and commercial drinking water connections and 130,000 wastewater connections in Harrisburg, PA, and neighboring communities.

CRW’s primary drinking water source is the DeHart Reservoir, a “pristine” six billion gallon reservoir located 25 miles north of Harrisburg, fed by Clarks Creek, notes CRW CEO Shannon Williams.

The Susquehanna River is a secondary water source that can be used when additional water supply is needed. CRW’s water treatment plant, the Dr. Robert E. Young Water Services Center, is rated at 20 million gallons per day (MGD), but usually sees a demand of 8 MGD.

CRW also operates a wastewater system comprised of both separate sanitary and storm sewer facilities and a combined sewer system, which includes several pump stations and treats about 20 MGD of wastewater from Harrisburg and other neighboring municipalities at its advanced wastewater treatment facility (AWTF).

Capital Region Water was one of 23 utilities nationwide selected by EPA to receive technical assistance using its CREAT tool to better understand the vulnerability of its drinking water and wastewater infrastructure and operations.

“The assessment brought together individuals from various departments within CRW and EPA staff to think critically about potential climate impacts, priority assets, and possible adaptation options,” notes Williams.

Work commenced in December 2014 and the initial assessment was completed in June 2015. CRW is committed to subsequent assessments in 2016 and 2017.

Flooding from intense precipitation and rising river levels is of concern to CRW managers. Harrisburg has previously been affected by severe storm events, including Hurricane Agnes in 1972, Tropical Storm Lee in 2011, and river flooding from snowmelt compounded with increased spring precipitation.

During Hurricane Agnes, river levels reached 36 feet, causing significant inundation at the AWTF.

“During Tropical Storm Lee, water rose onto the AWTF property, and some access roads were flooded,” says Tanya Dierolf, sustainability manager. “The AWTF, wastewater pumping stations, the DeHart Reservoir dam and raw water intake, as well as the alternate raw water intake facility on the Susquehanna River, are at risk from damage due to flooding.”

Also considered in the assessment was the threat of low water levels under a drought scenario.

“CRW is concerned that such extreme events would become more frequent under a changing climate,” adds Dierolf.

CRW managers considered the potential consequences to their drinking water and wastewater utility infrastructure and operations from extreme flooding and drought events.

“To assess each of these potential threats, CRW considered how potential adaptive measures would help lower consequences,” says Dierolf.

Several adaptive measures were considered.

For the wastewater pumping stations, that includes back-up power, a flood risk management plan, elevating electrical components, replacing pumps with submersibles, backflow prevention, infiltration reduction, sewage separation, and green infrastructure.

For the AWTF, measures under consideration include increased capacity, green infrastructure at the facility and in the community, combined sewer overflow strategies, and infiltration reduction.

For the DeHart Reservoir, measures considered include an improved drought contingency plan, leakage reduction, demand management and reduced conservation release with regulatory flexibility.

In working on the climate change plan, CRW has incurred no costs to date with the exception of staff time, says Williams. A team was assembled at CRW to work on it.

“The costs will be associated with implementation of adaptation measures and how these are integrated into larger organizational planning,” she says. “It includes leadership, engineering, sustainability, and operations staff.”

In addressing climate change issues, Manchester Department of Public Works focused on its wastewater treatment plant, which services about 5,000 residents.

“We know that sea level rise is coming, we know that storm surge is coming, and the storms are getting more intense, so our most vulnerable facility was the one that sits literally on the edge of the ocean—the headworks building is about two feet below sea level,” says Murray

In going through the CREAT model in early 2015, the utility’s managers determined that when the region encounters a situation in which there is a king tide event with a storm surge and with sea level rise, “in about 20 years, we’re going to have all of our equipment at the plant under water,” says Murray.

“That made us sit up and say ‘OK, we’re going to be making continuous investments in that plant, so how do we do it and do it smart so we are protecting our facility and then in 2035, what does that mean? How do we continue to process wastewater efficiently in the town?”

That may mean using that particular plant as nothing more than a major pumping station and relocate the wastewater treatment facility somewhere else, says Murray.

“It was a sobering exercise, but an important one because as we make investments, we want to do it prudently and for the long term, not just for today,” she adds.

In going through the CREAT tool, “the one factor that hit us right between the eyes is how quickly we are facing this,” says Murray. “The year 2035 is in our planning realm so we need to be facing it. That was kind of a shocker.”

Another surprise that manifested itself in the process is the realization “how everything that is in that facility that’s critical—all of the pumps and the mechanics that make the plant work—are on the lowest floor on the lowest elevation, so they will be hit first,” says Murray. “You can live without your administrative offices, but not without your critical systems that make everything work.”

The economics of spending the time to do climate change planning is rooted in “pay now or pay lots more later,” notes Murray. “It’s one of those types of investments like if you had a loose shingle on your roof, you could fix that one shingle or you could ignore it and then all of a sudden, you’re going to be replacing the whole underlay part of the roof and potentially some rafters and you could have some leaks downstairs. Or you can do some preventative things now that will save you in the long term.”

Planning for climate change entails examining the life cycle costs and a cost-benefit analysis, says Murray, adding that “in some cases, you’re going to make these investments anyway—you’re just going to make them smarter.”

The driving factor for addressing climate change through a formal plan was a rain event in October 2014 during which the area received seven inches of rain in less than 24 hours, resulting in flooding.

“This past winter woke a lot of us up,” says Murray. “Is this our new normal? And then we had the opportunity to participate in the CREAT endeavor. Everybody can laugh about climate change, but our weather is changing so we need to get ready and make smart decisions.”

WHAT OF THOSE UTILITIES THAT DO NOT HAVE A CLIMATE-READY PROGRAM?
“EPA encourages all sized water sector utilities to become more climate-ready by assisting them to better understand their climate impacts and in assessing climate risk, resulting in the identification and implementation of climate ready adaptive measures,” says EPA’s Daguillard. “Because of the voluntary nature of EPA’s CRWU initiative, utilities can use our highly-flexible climate ready tools at their own pace and discretion.”

EPA’s CREAT provides libraries of drinking water and wastewater utility assets, such as water resources, treatment plants, and pump stations that could be impacted by climate change and potential climate change-related threats, such as flooding, drought, and water quality, andadaptive measures that can be implemented to reduce their impacts.

The tool guides users through identifying threats based on regional differences in climate change projections and designing adaptation plans based on the types of threats being considered.

Following assessment, CREAT provides a series of risk reduction and cost reports enabling the user to evaluate various adaptation options as part of long-term planning.

For utilities to understand their potential future climate projections, they can use tools such as EPA’s CRWU Adaptation Strategies Guide.

“Once there is a basic understanding of climate impacts, utility owners and operators should use EPA’s CRWU Workshop Planner and CREAT to address and assess climate impact, as well as identify and implement adaptive measures,” says Daguillard. Those measures includeaddressing such extreme weather events as flooding, drought, reduced snowpack, sea level rise, and wildfires.

EPA offers all of its climate ready tools for free on its website. The tools are designed for water utilities with varying degrees of familiarity—from novice to expert—with climate science.

The Adaptation Strategies Guide is a tool for utilities that are beginning to consider climate change. It is designed to provide easy-to-understand climate science and translate how climate change effects could potentially impact specific water utility assets and operations.

It provides basic information on climate change impacts, organized by US region; information on specific climate change-related impacts; adaptation options for each impact; and sustainability briefs on green infrastructure, energy management, and water demand management.

The Extreme Event Workshop Planner helps utilities prepare for extreme events by providing materials needed to plan, facilitate, and conduct an adaptation planning workshop in their community. Workshops create a forum to openly discuss extreme event adaptation whilebringing utility and community partners together, points out Daguillard.

The Scenario-Based Projected Changes Map is designed to provide easily accessible scenarios of projected climate changes for the location of interest. Users can get a glimpse of what their climate future may look like, including annual total precipitation, annual average temperature, precipitation intensity for the 100-year storm, number of days per year with temperatures above 100ºF, and sea-level rise for coastal locations.

Within specific grid cells on the map, users will find tables that provide changes in annual temperature and precipitation in two time periods (2035 and 2060) for three climate model projections: hotter and drier conditions, warmer and wetter conditions, and central conditions, representing the middle of the model distribution.

A third table provides two projections for 100-year storm intensity, in the same two time periods, from low (non-stormy) and high (stormy) changes in storm intensity.

Coastal grid cells display the range of potential sea-level rise by 2060.

The Storm Surge Inundation and Hurricane Strike Frequency Map illustrates current worst-case coastal storm surge scenarios, FEMA flood maps for coastal counties, and the historical hurricane strike frequency for the location of interest.

The information is derived from Sea, Lake, and Overland Surge from Hurricanes (SLOSH) models by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; 100 and 500 year flood plains from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and hurricane strike dataset from the National Hurricane Center.

The searchable Climate Ready Water Utilities Toolbox contains reports, articles, and other publications; information about grant programs that could support climate-related actions by utilities and municipalities; current activities; upcoming seminars, workshops, and training sessions; models and tools; and climate response materials focusing on mitigation and adaptive strategies.

The toolbox can be searched by geographic region, water utility type and size, water resources, climate change impact, and climate change response strategies.

EPA’s CRWU initiative has focused recent efforts on outreach to utilities through training and partnership opportunities to establish a community of utilities seeking to become “climate ready,” says Daguillard.

“These efforts facilitate adoption of EPA tools and resources and help to cultivate a peer-to-peer network by connecting utilities with similar concerns and interests,” he adds. “These connections, through time, will build a community of utilities enhancing their resilience to climate change.”

EPA’s CRWU is building tools to foster sharing of information through EPA’s GeoPlatform and encouraging those working with CREAT and other tools to share their experiences through videos on EPA’s YouTube site and webinars presented with EPA staff, says Daguillard.

Braganza says the CREAT tool “has come a long way” from its initial design.

“At first it was a little cumbersome to use,” he says. “But the new version is very user- friendly. I would encourage other utilities to start now to at least start to think about the possibilities of how climate change could affect them.

“If they are a utility that’s close to the ocean, then they need to take steps as far as sea level rise or maybe salt water intrusion into the aquifer,” he adds. “If they are in a flood-prone zone, they’re more susceptible to flooding, or if they’re in a hurricane-prone zone, they might want to take steps to lessen the effects of that. The tool is very flexible. It allows you to put in whatever scenario, whatever threat that you want to define in it.”

Fleming advises utilities that haven’t started the process to network with neighboring utilities.

“If there’s a shared interest, but nothing is happening, then jointly they could go to their local university to see if there is anybody there looking at the issue that would be interested in collaboration,” he says.

In addition to using EPA’s CREAT for self-diagnostics

and self-assessments, another resource is the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which has climate research centers nationwide.

A number of associations also have educational efforts, such as the American Water Works Association, the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies, the American Society of Civil Engineers, the Water Utility Climate Alliance, and the

US Army Corps of Engineers.

Fleming also advises designating someone to take responsibility for the initiative.

“We don’t have an adaptation plan,” he says. “We’ve embedded climate change into our water system plan. That’s another decision to be made: to what degree do you want to have something separate versus embedded.”

Block’s advice to any utility deciding to create a climate-ready plan is to start small and pick out one aspect. For his area, the focus is on wastewater.

“You can’t try to solve the whole thing in a day because these are complex situations we’re looking at,” he points out. “You’re not going to get this stuff built in a day, either. As long as you’re progressing, it’s fine. It’s been a year now and we got some options out of it. The next phase is how we’re going to implement things. You have to sequentially work your way through it.”

Goudsmith advises other utilities that no matter how small they are, they need to be prepared for extreme weather events, be they significant floods, droughts, or just changing climate conditions.

“We all need to be aware of what that impact could ­possibly be on our utilities and our number one priority is to make sure we are continuing with reliable service,” he says. “You can’t do that if you’re not prepared. We have enjoyed collaborating with the EPA. We find that the agency is a good source of information and I would further encourage other utilities to use the CREAT tool and to partner with the agency.”

Paine says his advice to other water utility managers in doing climate change plans is to understand that in order to get the best results, the process requires a time investment.

“This is the most important lesson I got out of it,” he says. “This isn’t just a matter of filling out a few blocks on the software the EPA provides. It’s going to take some time and effort in order to work through the process.”

It also takes a team effort, he says, adding that beyond the water department, the effort requires assistance from the policy makers and the administrative staff.

“It’s not simple and it’s not a cookie cutter approach where if you go through this, you know what to do because you don’t,” says Paine. ‘What we’ve learned is there’s an awful lot of brain work that has to go through this is trying to figure out if we do this, then what will be doing? If we do that, then what will we be doing? It’s not for the faint-hearted. You need to believe you’re going to get some value out of this before you go through it. It’s work with a capital W-O-R-K.”

About the Author

Carol Brzozowski

Carol Brzozowski specializes in topics related to resource management and technology.