Oct 29, 2009

Report Estimates Climate Change Adaptation Costs, Impacts to Utilities

NACWA and AMWA urge government officials to recognize climate change’s influence on water

The National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA) and the Association of the Metropolitan Water Agencies (AMWA) released a report detailing the impacts climate change can have on wastewater and drinking water utilities, and estimating the adaptation costs for these facilities to be between $448 billion and $944 billion through 2050.

The associations, which represent the nation’s public wastewater and drinking water agencies, urged Congress and the Obama Administration to recognize that climate change is fundamentally about water and to implement policies that will help utilities take timely actions to adapt.

"Now is the time to establish policies, invest in research and provide support so that water and wastewater utilities can begin to plan the necessary adaptation strategies needed to confront the inevitable impacts of climate change,” the report said. “Timely action is critical--water and wastewater infrastructure planning and implementation operates within a 20 to 40 year timeline. Failure to provide a timely response to needed climate change adaptation will have serious consequences for the nation.”

According to the report, climate change impacts to wastewater and drinking water utilities include sea level rise and extreme flooding that can inundate and incapacitate treatment facilities; water quality degradation and increased treatment requirements; water scarcity and the need to develop new drinking water supplies; and lower flows in drought conditions that can affect the operation of treatment facilities.

Adaptation strategies involve integrating aspects of the constructed and natural water cycle through water portfolio management that provides utilities the flexibility to craft sustainable approaches to suit their specific needs, the report said. Water conservation, new water conveyance and storage, desalination and wastewater reuse are options to help utilities adapt. In addition, green infrastructure solutions that mimic the natural environment can be used to address storm water flows at a lower cost while providing the ancillary benefits of providing habitat, recharging aquifers and enhancing water quality.

“This report should motivate policymakers to think broadly about how climate change will affect the management of our vital water resources,” said Ken Kirk, NACWA executive director. “If we wait too long, the cost of adapting will only go up, both in terms of the money we will need to spend on physical changes to our facilities and in terms of the impacts to our economy, public health and the environment.”

The report, “Confronting Climate Change: An Early Analysis of Water and Wastewater Adaptation Costs,” was prepared by CH2M Hill, and is available to download from the NACWA and AMWA websites at www.nacwa.org or www.amwa.net.