Working Within a Watershed: Six Water Utilities' Experiences in Planning, Responding, Coping and Adapting to Extreme Weather/Climate Events

- Indicates paper has been withdrawn from meeting
- Indicates an Award Winner
Tuesday, 6 January 2015: 3:45 PM
121BC (Phoenix Convention Center - West and North Buildings)
Nancy Beller-Simms, NOAA, Silver Spring, MD; and K. Metchis, L. Fillmore, K. Lackey, K. Ozekin, E. M. Brown, and C. Ternieden

Water utility staffs, consisting of drinking water, stormwater and wastewater practitioners, have had to respond to increasing numbers and severity of extreme events within their districts that have resulted in disrupted service. Several years ago, at a national meeting, a number of these water utilities called for an industry-wide understanding of how to plan for and cope with future events. A recent joint case study research effort by staff from NOAA, EPA, and several water foundations and non-profit groups documented experiences and lessons learned in response to events at six water utility locations. These geographically diverse study sites, which extended from the Russian River in California to the ACF Basin in Georgia, witnessed a variety of extreme events such as droughts, floods, coastal storms, atmospheric river events, and frosts.

At each location, a principal investigator, in coordination with a local water utility representative, planned local workshops that were used for the case studies.. The utility representative arranged speakers that included locally involved citizens from NGOs; representatives of larger employment blocks (e.g., agriculture, fisheries, and landscaping); staff experienced with extreme events from neighboring water and energy utilities; employees of local, regional, and federal governments and centers; and other meaningful users and suppliers of weather/climate and hydrologic al information in their district. One- to two-day meetings provided information on how these utilities planned for and responded to one or more events, the lessons they learned, the weather/climate-related data and tools they used or wished they had, and their views of planning for, adapting to, and coping with future such events.

It became evident by the investigators during the first case study that the water utility could not be studied in isolation but need to be understood within a watershed. As a result, one of the major study findings is that water utilities cannot work within a vacuum and require coordination across water service areas and jurisdictional boundaries. Another finding was the importance of taking a multi-disciplinary approach to planning and communicating. The researchers and locals repeatedly saw how scientists and citizens working together could produce and provide access for more actionable information for science based decision making.