Yesterday, President Obama released a climate action plan (CAP), which includes proposals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, better prepare the country for the impacts of climate change, and lead global efforts to address the challenge. Climate change is increasingly becoming a central focus for many NACWA members who are either located in coastal regions that are being ravaged by extreme storm events and sea level rise, or who are in States that are taking aggressive action to reduce their carbon footprint. Clean water agencies can help reduce our carbon footprint by moving away from fossil fuels and toward energy generation, and they are leading local resiliency efforts to help their communities adapt to climate-related impacts such as rising sea levels, increased droughts and floods, and extreme storm events.
Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Promoting Energy Efficiency and Achieving Energy Independence
The Administration’s CAP calls for targeted investments in renewable energy sources to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve energy efficiency – and clean water agencies can be partners in the effort. Motivated by hefty energy costs and a desire to become more resilient, many of NACWA’s clean water agency members are generating their own renewable energy from biogas and biosolids produced during the municipal wastewater treatment process. This is indicative of a shift we are seeing among utilities as they transform from basic providers of wastewater services to full blown resource recovery agents, generating renewable energy from biosolids and liquids, capturing waste heat and energy, and reclaiming and reusing water.
Adapting to the Effects of Climate Change and Improving Utility Resilience
The Administration’s CAP also recognizes that while it is important to curb the greenhouse gas pollution driving climate change, we must also prepare for the impacts climate change is already having on our communities. A 2009 report issued by NACWA and the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies indicated that our water and wastewater utilities confront nearly $1 trillion in costs related to adaptation needs to meet the climate change challenge. The costs for wastewater treatment may include raising pumping stations, developing alternative treatment systems, building additional storage capacity, and potentially relocating treatment facilities above floodplains. In regions where extreme drought conditions persist, wastewater reuse and recycling operations will need to be expanded and improved. NACWA looks forward to working with the Administration to ensure that as it implements the CAP the wastewater sector’s needs are fully considered.
Climate change is the new reality and wastewater agencies the new first responders. It’s a challenge that we all must confront and the Administration’s CAP is an important pathway in that process.
This post was authored by Hannah Mellman, who at the time, was NACWA's Manager of Legislation Affairs and Claire Moser who was NACWA’s Manager of Government & Public Affairs. Both have since left NACWA for other opportunities.