Decision Support Planning Methods: Incorporating Climate Change Uncertainties into Water Planning

Climate change is challenging the way water utilities plan for the future. Observed warming and climate model projections now call into question the stability of future water quantity and quality. As water utilities grapple with preparing for the large range of possible climate change impacts, many are searching for new planning techniques to help them better prepare for a different, more uncertain, future. There are several promising new methods being tested in water utilities planning. This white paper will help water utilities learn about and evaluate these new planning techniques, called Decision Support Planning Methods (DSPMs), for use in their own climate adaptation efforts.

Incorporating Climate Change into the San Lorenzo Watershed Management Plan


United States
37° 40' 51.7512" N, 122° 7' 27.8724" W

In 2008, the Board of the San Lorenzo Water District approved a climate change resolution that commits the District to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and considering the impacts of climate change in all planning documents. The 2009 Master Water Supply and Management Plans discuss how climate change will impact local water resources. Climate change is expected to cause drier and shorter wet seasons regionally, making both water conservation and efficiency priority issues for water managers.

City of Punta Gorda Adaptation Plan

Southwest Florida is one of the most vulnerable areas in the world to the consequences of climate change, especially sea level rise and increased hurricane activity and severity. Regardless of the underlying causes of climate change, global glacial melting and expansion of warming oceans are causing sea level rise, although its extent or rate cannot as yet be predicted with certainty.

The City of Punta Gorda is currently experiencing climate change. The natural setting of the City coupled with extensive infrastructure investment in the areas closest to the coast have placed the City at the forefront of geographic areas that will be among the first to suffer the negative effects of a changing climate. Severe tropical storms and hurricanes with increased wind speeds and storm surges have already severely damaged the community. Significant losses of mature mangrove forest, water quality degradation, and barrier island geomorphic changes have already occurred in the adjacent Charlotte Harbor. Longer, more severe dry season droughts coupled with shorter duration wet seasons consisting of higher volume precipitation will generate a pattern of drought and flood impacting both natural and man-made ecosystems. Even in the lowest impact future climate change scenario predictions, the future for the City will include increased climate instability; wetter wet seasons; drier dry seasons; more extreme hot and cold events; increased coastal erosion; continuous sea-level rise; shifts in fauna and flora with reductions in temperate species and expansions of tropical invasive exotics; increasing occurrence of tropical diseases in plants, wildlife and humans; destabilization of aquatic food webs including increased harmful algae blooms; increasing strains upon and costs in infrastructure; and increased uncertainty concerning variable risk assessment with uncertain actuarial futures. In the course of the project we identified 246 climate change management adaptations that could be utilized to address the various vulnerabilities identified for the City.

Currently the City of Punta Gorda is among the most progressive municipalities in the United States with regard to planning for climate change. It has already adopted comprehensive plan language to address the impacts of sea level rise, and seek strategies to combat its effects on the shoreline of the City.

This report identifies the alternative adaptations that could be undertaken to address the identified climate change vulnerabilities for the City of Punta Gorda. These adaptations are presented in the order of prioritized agreement from the public meetings. Only the highest agreement adaptation in each vulnerability area is fully developed for potential implementation. One of the utilities of this approach is that it provides a variety of adaptation options, which the City could select for implementation, adaptive management, and subsequent monitoring.

Confronting Climate Change: An Early Analysis of Water and Wastewater Adaptation Costs

The effects of climate change are already impacting our water and wastewater utilities- those entities entrusted with supplying our communities, our industries, and our natural environment with essential water management services. 

Water is the most important natural resource necessary for stable economic growth, as well as for human and environmental health.  Our nation's water and wastewater infrastructure enables our prosperity by delivering clean water to our homes and industires and by transporting wastewater for treatment.  Our increasing undestanding of climate change impacts on water and wastewater suggest that significant adaptation measures will be required for our infrastructure to continue protecting public health and the environment.

This assessment has three objectives:

  • to characterize the impacts of climate change on drinking water and wastewater services in the United States through 2050, based on GHG scenarios and regional projections of climate change effects;
  • to help policy makers and the water and wastewater sector begin to understand the challenges of ensuring that reliable water and wastewater services continue to be available in the face of a changing climate; and
  • to provide early cost estimates so that policies can be developed that address these challenges and planning by utulities can begin.

The time period was selected because it represents the timeframe within which we best understand climate change effects and their impacts on drinking water and wastewater utilities, and it is consistent with the typical planning horizon of many utilities.  This assessment indicates that the cost to utilities could range from $448 billion to $944 billion.

Solutions to the Rising Costs of Fighting Fires in the Wildland-Urban Interface

A principal reason for the escalating cost of wildland firefighting is the growing number of homes being built in the wildland-urban interface (WUI). This fact has been quantified and demonstrated repeatedly, yet most proposed solutions to hold down or reduce fire suppression costs fail to address it. Suggested fixes—such as increased coordination among agencies and educating homeowners how to live more appropriately near fire-prone lands—are focused on increasing the safety of existing residences in the WUI, but lack the means to control future costs and may unintentionally have the effect of increasing residential growth and subsequent fire suppression costs near fire-prone lands. This paper offers ten ideas for controlling the rising cost of protecting homes from wildland fires. They are:

  1. Publish maps identifying areas with high probability of wildland fires.
  2. Increase awareness of the financial consequences of home building in fire-prone areas.
  3. Redirect federal aid towards land use planning on private lands.
  4. Add incentives for counties to sign firefighting cost share agreements.
  5. Purchase or obtain easements on fire-prone lands.
  6. Create a national fire insurance and mortgage program to apply lessons from efforts to prevent development in floodplains.
  7. Allow insurance companies to charge higher premiums in fire-prone areas.
  8. Limit development in the wildland-urban interface with local zoning ordinances.
  9. Eliminate home interest mortgage deductions for new homes in the wildland-urban interface.
  10. Induce federal land managers to shift more of the cost of wildland firefighting to local governments by reducing their firefighting budgets.

The pros and cons of each idea are explored, along with a discussion of the likelihood that each idea will succeed in controlling future firefighting costs.

To succeed, several ideas will have to be applied concurrently, and they will require government support and direction. The tremendous scale of the problem (in terms of acres, ownership complexity and cost) means that federal government will have to play a role. The involvement from Congress and the federal agencies is also important because the current system of incentives is part of the problem. By spending large sums every year to protect homes from wildfires, the federal government is subsidizing the true cost of development. Without financial disincentives to building homes on dangerous, fire-prone lands, the problem will get worse.

 At the least, the proposed solutions presented here should begin a public dialogue on the need for policies that will decrease the future cost of protecting homes from wildfires. At the best, the ideas offer an array of options for the Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, and Congress to explore and adopt.

Climate Change and Extreme Weather: Designing Adaptation Policy

From the Introduction:

In December 2006, British Columbia’s Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island were struck by a series of storms more powerful than any experienced in the province’s history. Hurricane-force winds felled thousands of trees, blocking transportation routes and bringing down power transmission lines, interrupting electricity to nearly 200,000 households.An early damage assessment suggested insured losses associated with the storm could reach $80 million, and the City of Vancouver faced the roughly $2 million task of cleaning up thousands of broken trees in Stanley Park. The extensive damage raised questions about the region’s capacity to cope with extreme weather, and prompted journalists and affected residents to offer recommendations about how vulnerability to future storms could be reduced.

Extreme weather events like the 2006 B.C. windstorms periodically illustrate the susceptibility of Canadian communities to climate-related stress. All regions of Canada experience extreme weather events of one type or another, and it is likely that they will increase in frequency and intensity as a result of climate change. The risk these hazards pose demands a purposive course of action to reduce the vulnerability of communities and to strengthen their capacity to cope with weather-related impacts. Public policies designed to achieve these goals can be aggregated under the rubric of climate adaptation. In this report, we seek to contribute to the development of Canadian climate adaptation policies targeted at extreme weather events. Our specific objective is to map out a course of action to address climate change and extreme weather at the community level, and to assess how the federal and provincial governments can facilitate and support these local actions. The report begins by examining climate change and its relationship with extreme weather in Canada. It then develops a policy framework, which identifies goals, principles and instruments associated with effective climate adaptation policy. Finally, the report analyzes two sectors that are particularly sensitive to extreme weather events—emergency management and infrastructure—and identifies specific adaptation actions in these areas. Throughout the report, recommendations are offered to support the design and implementation of climate adaptation policy.

Buildings and Climate Change: A Summary for Decision-Makers

A Summary for Decision Makers, the latest UNEP-SBCI report, highlights the potential of more efficient buildings in addressing climate change. The report argues that a failure to encourage more energy-efficient and low-carbon buildings will lock countries into the disadvantages of poor performing buildings for decades, and states that governments will fail to meet emission reduction targets if they exclude the building sector. This sector has the highest potential of all to deliver greenhouse gas emissions cuts, at the least cost, using available and mature technologies!

Berkeley Climate Action Plan

Mayor Tom Bates embraced Berkeley citizens’ call to action and provided leadership in engaging the community in a local climate protection campaign. This plan is the result of the campaign that Measure G set in motion. It is rooted in the vision for a sustainable Berkeley that emerged from the climate action planning process. The plan’s purpose is to serve as a guide for setting the community on a path to achieve that vision.

Vision for the year 2050:

  • New and existing Berkeley buildings achieve zero net energy consumption through increased energy efficiency and a shift to renewable energy sources such as solar and wind.
  • Public transit, walking, cycling, and other sustainable mobility modes are the primary means of transportation for Berkeley residents and visitors.
  • Personal vehicles run on electricity produced from renewable sources or other low-carbon fuels.
  • Zero waste is sent to landfills.
  • The majority of food consumed in Berkeley is produced locally, i.e., within a few hundred miles.
  • Our community is resilient and prepared for the impacts of global warming.
  • The social and economic benefits of the climate protection effort are shared across the community.

Emerging Climate Change Impacts on Freshwater Resources A Perspective on Transformed Watersheds

This review focuses first on types of socioeconomic and biotic adaptations. Many individuals, public agencies, and nongovernmental organizations are discovering ways to protect biodiversity and sustain natural ecological processes. Five case studies are highlighted to illustrate some of these alternative adaptive responses to climatic changes at local and regional scales. These approaches could be modified for use in other locations. However, most studies have evaluated uncertainties in the quantities of water supplies over relatively short periods during or immediately after a specific drought event, with limited analyses of water quality. These studies have usually focused at the scale of a single watershed or at a hierarchy of locally nested watersheds. More long‐term, spatially integrated research at regional, trans‐regional, or continental scales is needed to address the impacts of extreme climate variability on ecosystems and water supplies.

Navigating the Waters of Change: Strengthening the Capacity of NWT Communities to Respond to the Impacts of Climate Change on Municipal Water and Wastewater Systems

The Western Canadian Arctic has experienced some of the most rapid and intense climate changes on Earth, with global climate models predicting that average surface temperatures may increase by 4-7°C by the 2080s. Global Climate Models project a 15-30% increase in precipitation in the Western Arctic by the 2080s; however, projected precipitation changes are quite variable across regions. Changes in precipitation and temperature, and their impacts on ecosystem processes, will affect many facets of life in the NWT, including how communities manage water and wastewater.

The purpose of this paper is to provide a preliminary assessment of the potential impacts of climate change on water and wastewater systems in the NWT, and recommend actions to increase the capacity of communities to respond and adapt to changes. Information in this paper was collected through interviews with individuals working in water and wastewater management in the NWT, and through review of scientific studies on this subject.