J1.3 Climate science and water utility adaptation: Neither necessary nor sufficient?

Tuesday, 19 July 2011: 4:00 PM
Salon C (Asheville Renaissance)
Jason M. Vogel, Stratus Consulting, Inc, Boulder, CO

Within the United States, water utilities have taken a leading role in examining the implications of climate change for their operations, management, and planning. They are, in effect, at the leading edge of adaptation theory and practice. The purpose of this paper is to examine, in a general sense, where water utilities currently stand relative to integrating climate change considerations into their management, operations, and planning decisions. By describing this frontier between theory and practice, we hope to harvest empirical experience on adapting to climate change, integrating climate science into decision making, and other topics that can inform climate change adaptation theory and practice in this and other sectors. Given the forward-leaning history and reasonably long record of activity on climate change adaptation among water utilities, this context provides us with perhaps the best opportunity to examine the evolving role of climate change issues and climate change information in the decision making process of any sector managing natural resources. This study takes a problem-oriented, case study approach to examine the role that climate change considerations play in water utility management, operations, and planning decisions. This paper will explore empirical case studies of water utility adaptation along two parallel paths: 1) generating information about climate change, and 2) taking actions that increase system resilience. The core questions are: How is climate information being used and produced? Is such information necessary and/or sufficient for taking action to improve system resilience? What investments in climate science hold the most promise for changing actual decisions made by water utilities? What can be done now? What investments in water system operations, planning, and management have value now and can/will that value change under non-stationarity? We intend to illustrate the two paths of climate change adaptation through at least two case studies of adaptation action, probably the Phoenix Water Services Department and Seattle Public Utilities. We will also draw from a large reservoir of recent work on climate change vulnerability assessments in the water sector published in a number of recent reports by the Water Utility Climate Alliance, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and several reports and papers in progress or in review.
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