Climate Change and Our Nation’s
Preparing Utilities for the Unpredictable
Rising sea levels. Early snowmelt. Drought.
The world is getting warmer, foreshadowing
a paradigm change for water suppliers.
To keep bringing clean, fresh water to 300
million Americans, water suppliers will
need to build storage reservoirs, safeguard
against floods, and adopt new treatment
technologies. The estimated 40-year price tag
for drinking water utilities to adapt to climate
change is between $325 billion and $692
billion, according to a recent report by the
Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies.
The Water Research Foundation is leading
the way in helping the nation’s drinking
water suppliers prepare for climate
change. We are researching new treatment
technologies, risk management models,
and adaptation strategies. Our goal is to
prepare utilities for threats they never
before thought were realistic.
Foundation board member Patricia Mulroy,
general manager of Las Vegas Valley Water
District, recently told a reporter. “It’s very
much going to require a change in what
we think is realistic.”
In January 2009, 30,000 residents of
Snoqualmie, Washington, about 25 miles
east of Seattle, were told to leave their
homes as flood waters surged through
the town. News photos showed kayakers
paddling through the town’s main street.
Throughout the state, flooding and
mudslides caused 60 highways to close.
The culprit: warmer temperatures and
heavy rains melted high mountain snow
at a faster rate than normal, flooding
towns and overwhelming water
“I don’t think anybody would have
considered it realistic that we are about
to lose the world’s glaciers, or lose
significant portions of our coast,”
On the other side of the country, the
changes were far less dramatic, but just as
significant. Slowly rising seas are eating
away at Florida’s coastline, replacing inland
marshes with saltwater ponds.
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Key Foundation Projects
“Vulnerability Assessment and Risk Management Tools for Climate Change: Assessing
Potential Impacts and Identifying Adaptation Options” (project #4262)
“Identifying and Developing Climate Change Resources for Water Utilities: Content for a
Central Knowledge Repository Web site:” www.TheClimateChangeClearinghouse.org
“Incorporating Climate Change Information in Water Utility Planning: A Collaborative,
Decision Analytic Approach” (project #3132)