This Hurricane Season, Water Utilities’ Resilience is Critical


The U.S Global Change Research Program recently released its Third National Climate Assessment, confirming that climate change is “affecting every region of the country and key sectors of the U.S. economy and society.” Across the country, clean water agencies are increasingly facing daily challenges related to climate change and are focusing resources on improving infrastructure resilience. 

With those challenges in mind, more than 50 wastewater utility, drinking water utility, private sector, and federal officials came together in April during Water Week 2014 for a day-and-a-half facilitated dialogue on climate and resilience issues. The Water Resilience Summit (Summit), presented by NACWA and the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies (AMWA), focused on federal-municipal cooperation to build water sector resilience and featured representatives from an array of federal agencies, including EPA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Department of Interior (DOI), the Department of Energy (DOE), the White House's Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.  

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy provided a keynote address at the Summit stating that "…we are spending time on resilience because the 100 year storm is now more like the 100 week storm. Municipalities are developing different strategies to deal with these issues." McCarthy also touted the great work utilities are doing to embrace the NACWA/WEF/WERF Water Resources Utility of the Future (UOTF) initiative and how this too is helping our cities become more resilient.  Since the Summit we have seen important federal actions in the resilience space that have come about largely due to municipal advocacy.  The recently passed Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA) bill changes the clean water state revolving loan fund (CWSRF) program to include resilience planning and projects as well as water reuse projects as eligible activities. These types of projects are also eligible for additional subsidization (meaning low-interest loans or grant equivalents).  This underscores that existing funding programs across the federal family can be tailored to incorporate resilience as discussed at the Summit.  Similarly, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) recently announced that they are creating a Resilience Star program (similar to Energy Star or Water Star) that will certify certain products or approaches as best in class to ensure resilience. DHS has mentioned interest as this program progresses in conducting Resilience Star pilots with water and wastewater treatment agencies.  These are just a couple of examples of the types of resilience-based programs that could offer real value to the clean water community. 

With the six-month hurricane season upon us, we are reminded of the potential devastation that extreme weather poses to our communities and are reminded of Hurricanes Sandy, Irene and Katrina. These events should serve as reminders of the need to act now and improve the pre-disaster resilience of our communities.  This makes the collaboration with federal agencies and the municipal water community illustrated at the Summit, all the more vital. NACWA anticipates an early July release of the white paper summarizing the Summit's discussions and to making sure that collaborative actions on resilience, not just words, endure.

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