Creating Resilient Water Utilities Program

Created: 12/17/2010 - Updated: 10/28/2021

Summary

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Creating Resilient Water Utilities Program provides water utilities with technical assistance to prepare for the effects of global climate change. In addition, the program provides water utility owners and operators with tools and resources to support climate mitigation and adaptation approaches.

Background

Climate change is projected to result in increased temperatures, altered precipitation patterns, sea level rise, and changes in water quality and quantity. The water utilities sector—including wastewater, stormwater, and drinking water—needs to adjust to these potential impacts while protecting the services they provide. The Creating Resilient Water Utilities Program (CRWU)—formerly known as Climate Ready Water Utilities—provides the water utilities sector with tools to support the development and implementation of climate change adaptation plans.

Implementation

A CRWU Working Group was created in 2009 by the National Drinking Water Advisory Council. The Working Group consisted of 20 members, representing water utilities, state and local governments, and academic and environmental organizations, with support from representatives from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Water utility members included the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago, Orange Water and Sewer Authority, Seattle Public Utilities, Sewage and Water Board of New Orleans, East Bay Municipal Utility District, Spartanburg Water, Southern Nevada Water Authority, Miami-Dade Water and Sewer Department, and Navajo Tribal Utility Authority, among others. The Working Group was charged with:

  • Defining characteristics of “climate-ready” utilities;
  • Identifying climate change-related tools and resources to assist water utilities’ planning efforts; and
  • Determining methods to facilitate adaptation and mitigation by the water sector throughout the United States.

The Working Group provided recommendations to the National Drinking Water Advisory Council on the potential effectiveness of the CRWU Program in December 2010. Since 2010, CRWU has developed a series of tools to support utility decision-making on climate change and extreme weather events.

Outcomes and Conclusions

CRWU offers seven primary tools for water utility owners and operators, including the Climate Resilience Evaluation and Assessment Tool, Resilient Strategies Guide for Water Utilities, Workshop Planner for Water Utilities Adapting to Extreme Weather Events, the Case Study and Information Exchange, a series of videos sharing resilience efforts by local water utilities, and maps of storm surge and streamflow projections.

Climate Resilience Evaluation and Assessment Tool
The U.S. EPA developed the Climate Resilience Evaluation and Assessment Tool (CREAT) to assist utilities in understanding and assessing risks from climate change and extreme weather impacts. Users are guided through an assessment of regional climate change threats and associated impacts on critical assets and the development of associated adaptation strategies. CREAT provides risk reduction benefits and costs reports to support the evaluation of strategies and integrates with the Resilient Strategies Guide and the Vulnerability Self-Assessment Tool (VSAT). 

Resilient Strategies Guide for Water Utilities
CRWU created the Resilient Strategies Guide for Water Utilities—formerly known as the CRWU Toolbox (taken offline in September 2015) - which provides resources ranging from climate science to mitigation and adaptation strategies. Users are led through a series of prompts to filter potential options and generate a report of priority strategies; the effectiveness of these priorities can then be evaluated using CREAT. Users can filter strategy options by:

  • Water Utility Type (e.g., drinking water, stormwater/wastewater, combined)
  • State/Territory
  • Water Utility Size (e.g., small [less than 10,000], medium [10,000–99,999], large [100,000 and above])
  • Priorities (e.g., Flooding, wildfires, saltwater intrusion; flood protection, water conservation, green infrastructure)
  • Assets (e.g., aquifers, buildings, wells)
  • Mitigation and Adaptation Response Strategies and Costs (e.g. Build infrastructure for aquifer storage and recovery [$$$], Build capacity [$])
  • Funding Sources and Project Type (e.g., foundation, a federal agency; capital projects, planning, operations)

Workshop Planner for Water Utilities Adapting to Extreme Weather Events
The Workshop Planner was designed to help utility staff and other stakeholders conduct adaptation workshops in response to climate change and extreme weather impacts. The materials can be used to create customized workshops around five scenarios: floods, droughts, wildfires, sea level rise, and reduced snowpack.

CRWU Case Study and Information Exchange
The Case Study and Information Exchange presents over 50 user-submitted stories of adaptation planning efforts to address drought, flood, ecosystem changes, water quality, and service reliability.

Videos of Utilities' Adaptation Planning
CRWU creates and shares water utilities’ resilience stories on YouTube. Featured stories include those focused on Camden, NJ; Faribault, MN; Fredericktown, MO; Harrisburg, PA; Manchester-by-the-Sea, MA; and Waynesboro, TN.

Mapping Tools
The Storm Surge Inundation Map allows users to explore the potential effects of flooding caused by hurricanes. Data used in the tool include the National Hurricane Center’s hurricane strike dataset, NOAA’s Sea, Lake, and Overland Surge from Hurricanes (SLOSH) model results, and FEMA’s 100- and 500-year flood zone maps. The Streamflow Projections Map allows users to explore low, average, and high streamflow projection rates.

Resources:
Climate Resilience Evaluation and Awareness Tool (CREAT) Risk Assessment Application for Water Utilities
Conduct a Drinking Water or Wastewater Utility Risk Assessment
Resilient Strategies Guide for Water Utilities
Preparing for Extreme Weather Events: Workshop Planner for the Water Sector
CRWU Case Study and Information Exchange
Videos of Adaptation Planning by Water Utilities
Storm Surge Inundation Map
Streamflow Projections Map

Status

Information collected through online resources. Last updated 5/21.

Project File (s)

Climate Ready Water Utilities

Citation

Gregg, R. M. (2021). Creating Resilient Water Utilities Program [Case study on a project of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Water]. Version 2.0. Product of EcoAdapt’s State of Adaptation Program. (Last updated May 2021)

Project Contact(s)

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is one of the primary governmental organizations responsible for protecting human health and natural ecosystems. As such EPA plays a major role in the regulation, protection and improvement of water resources and supplies of the United States.

Keywords

Scale of Project
Community / Local
Sector Addressed
Water Resources
Target Climate Changes and Impacts
Flooding
Flow patterns
Precipitation
Public health risks
Public safety threats
Salinization / Saltwater intrusion
Water supply
Water temperature
Climate Type
Temperate
Subtropical
Subpolar
Timeframe
Ongoing
Type of Adaptation Action/Strategy
Capacity Building
Design or reform institutions
Create new institutions
Increase organizational capacity
Coordinate planning and management
Invest in / Enhance emergency services planning and training
Conduct / Gather additional research, data, and products
Infrastructure, Planning, and Development
Infrastructure retrofitting and improvements
Make infrastructure resistant or resilient to climate change
Community Planning (developing climate-smart communities)
Habitat/Biome Type
Freshwater
Effort Stage
In progress

Related Resources

Adaptation Phase
Awareness
Assessment
Planning
Implementation
Integration/Mainstream
Evaluation
Sharing Lessons
Sector Addressed
Biodiversity
Climate Justice
Conservation / Restoration
Culture/communities
Disaster Risk Management
Education / Outreach
Fisheries
Land Use Planning
Policy
Research
Rural / Indigenous Livelihoods
Transportation / Infrastructure
Water Resources
Wildlife
Read more