Wastewater Treatment Plants: Climate Change, Severe Weather & Emergencies
Climate change is no longer breaking news, but has now become common fodder for media stories. That alone should signal the need to take it seriously, especially on the part of those tasked with building and maintaining our nation’s critical infrastructure. Fortunately, the wastewater collection, management and treatment industry embraced this imperative years ago and saw the need to begin planning for the results of a warmer planet.
Despite an initial surge of resistance to the idea of global warming by parties with a vested interest in maintaining the status quo, the vast majority of serious climatologists now concur on the reality of our warming planet. And those whose job descriptions include long-range planning have stepped up to create and execute plans that address this very real, very important change.
Resilient Lands and Waters Initiative
In late April, Washington D.C. announced that The Department of the Interior (DOI), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) recognized four collaborative landscape partnerships across the country as partners in a new Resilient Lands and Waters initiative.
In this program, the federal agencies will focus efforts with these state and regional partners to conserve and restore important lands and waters, to make them more resilient to a changing climate.
Building on existing collaborations, these Resilient Lands and Waters partnerships – located in southwest Florida, Hawaii, Washington and the Great Lakes region – will help build resilience in regions particularly vulnerable to climate change and related challenges. They will also showcase the benefits of landscape-scale management approaches, while helping enhance the carbon storage capacity of these natural areas.
The selected lands and waters face a wide range of climate impacts and other ecological stressors related to climate change, including sea level rise, drought, wildfire, and invasive species. At each location, Federal agencies will work closely with state, tribal, and local partners to prepare for and prevent these and other threats, and ensure that long-term conservation efforts take climate change into account.
Additionally, the initiative will focus on conserving coastal wetlands and marine conservation areas, protecting drinking water for urban areas, and providing habitat for wildlife. These collaborative efforts will include the use of existing tools to benefit the entire landscape as well as the development of new tools.
Efforts in each region are relying on an approach that addresses the needs of the entire landscape. Over the program’s 18-month duration, federal, state, local, and tribal partners will work together in these landscapes to develop more explicit strategies and maps in their programs of work. Developing these strategies will benefit wildfire management, mitigation investments, restoration efforts, water and air quality, carbon storage, and the communities that depend upon natural systems for their own resilience.
Climate Change: Impacts and Responses
The New Jersey Climate Adaptation Alliance, based at Rutgers University’s Climate Institute, has produced an incisive video providing a comprehensive overview of the impacts of a changing climate on people, places and valuable assets.
Though the video focuses on the Garden State, much of the material covers concepts—including the siting and vulnerability of municipal wastewater treatment plants—applicable to nearly any of the United States. The concepts are addressed in an authoritative yet accessible approach that would benefit the comprehension of the average citizen and of plant and collections system managers across the board.
Water Tanks and Severe Weather
One of the most visible results of climate change is, of course, a seeming increase in severe weather events. Tornadoes now occur with regularity from the Rockies to the East Coast. The southern Pacific coast continues to experience extreme drought, many areas in Texas and the southern Great Plains are still reeling from extreme rainfall events, and it seems barely a week goes by that we’re not hearing of another earthquake.
Severe weather and other destructive natural phenomena do not discriminate, and can damage or destroy everything in an affected area, including water tanks. Necessary water supply for consumption, fire protection, and emergency needs, along with isolation and treatment of wastewater streams, are crucial to the everyday well-being of any populace, and even more so when a severe weather event occurs. Therefore, water tanks should be designed, constructed, maintained, and inspected to withstand severe weather.
Tanks that have experienced winter storms and freezing should obviously be inspected for damage, but seismic activity, high winds, lightning, droughts, and flooding also occur in the warmer months, and tanks are susceptible to damage from these stressors, as well. Here’s an informative article about what to look for during inspections to properly maintain the safety and sustainability of these critical parts of your plant’s operation.
Mobile EPA Website
Perhaps one of the most helpful things about being in the midst of a severe weather or other emergency is knowing you’re not alone. No one—especially managers of mission-critical public utility facilities—wants to feel like they’re out there swinging in the wind on their own when everything seems to be crashing down around them. Though it’s of primary importance to have, practice and execute an emergency operations plan, sometimes what really makes the difference is feeling the presence of a supportive ally in returning plant operations to normal as soon as possible.
Enter the newly launched, field-accessible mobile website of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). This mobile-responsive site consolidates information and tools that water utility operators and their response partners may need during an emergency.
The Water Utility Response On-The-Go mobile website allows users to:
- Identify and contact emergency response partners;
- Monitor local and national severe weather;
- Review and complete incident-specific checklists;
- Populate, save and email both generic damage assessment forms and FEMA incident command system forms.
We hope these article links and website tool will help our municipal WWTP managers be better informed in their emergency planning, and to operate more effectively should such an emergency arise.