Preparing ahead for risk is one aspect of creating resilient water utilities
The Carbon Disclosure Project is an international nonprofit that helps companies and governments disclose their environmental impact. A recent CDP report quantified the cost of inaction in the face of water risk, finding it was five times the cost of preparation. It’s no wonder, then, that resilience — the ability to bounce back from shocks — seems to be a focus in the water sector today. What does a resilient water utility look like?
One valuable tool is the Environmental Protection Agency’s Climate Resilience Evaluation and Awareness Tool. The tool takes water decision-makers through priorities, assets, strategies, and funding steps to arrive at a resilience plan.
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) also has made a number of resilience recommendations, including prioritizing planning for climate change in the development, design, and construction of infrastructure. The group suggested retrofitting or changing the management of existing infrastructure, as well as adding engineered and natural infrastructure.
Implementing OECD Goals
What are some of the suggestions from these organizations?
If a service area faces physical impacts like flooding and drought, hard defenses like levees, waterways, and water bodies can divert, capture, and store damaging floodwater for later treatment and reuse in dry times, addressing both flood and drought risk.
Treatment of wastewater to nonpotable reuse standards can add resilience by virtually increasing the amount of water for applications that do not require drinking water.
A water utility near the ocean or above a brackish aquifer can increase drought resilience with desalination. In Alice, Texas, for instance, a Seven Seas Water Group desalination plant is using the city’s brackish-water aquifer to address water scarcity.
Managing Water Infrastructure Differently
The Alice project also touches on the OECD recommendation to manage infrastructure differently. Rather than go it alone, Alice chose to rely on Seven Seas.
Through Water-as-a-Service®, the city engaged in a public-private partnership agreement that eliminated the need for a large capital investment, simultaneously lowering water costs. The city was able to unburden itself of long-term operations and maintenance requirements. Many states and countries have recognized the value of these arrangements and are now promulgating legal frameworks to standardize and encourage them.
Another way to add resilience by managing water differently is through decentralization, or siting smaller treatment plants directly where they are needed rather than relying on a distant central plant. If a large plant is damaged by a natural disaster, it often takes years to recommission, and the area affected by the outage can be large.
When an array of decentralized plants loses one facility, a smaller service area experiences outage, and these lower capacity plants generally can be recommissioned quickly. In addition, a decentralized distributed system with a number of plants dotted around a service area can be managed remotely from a central control center.
Responding to Emergencies
Despite best preparations, emergencies can strike, leaving acute water crises that must be addressed quickly to save lives. For instance, when a power plant in the U.S. Virgin Islands experienced equipment failure, the area’s 5,500 permanent residents, local businesses, and several hundred thousand visiting tourists were left to survive on only 320,000 GPD (1,208 m3/d) of drinking water provided by eight desalination units supplied by the local National Guard, far below the required 1.8 MGD (6,813m3/d).
Seven Seas was called in to provide an emergency supply of 2 MGD (7,570m3/d) in the shortest time frame possible to avoid the economic and social impacts that would be caused by a water shortage during peak tourist season.
A total of eight SWRO containerized units were shipped to St. Thomas in two phases. All the units were installed and operating, providing a total capacity of 2 MGD (7,570m3/d) within 46 days from contract signing, and WAPA’s water storage tanks, which were virtually empty, began to fill.
The scenarios for resilience planning are as diverse as the water risks that water systems face. Seven Seas has the experience, expertise, and vast supplier network to deliver emergency water, wastewater treatment and reuse, desalination, and combined full water cycle solutions. Contact Seven Seas. Our experts are here to help you plan for the unique resilience needs of your service area before water risk becomes water crisis.