Supporting Resilient Water Resources and Utilities
Water resources in the United States are affected by a number of climate stressors—including increasing temperatures, changing precipitation patterns, and extreme events like storms and droughts—and these changing conditions have implications for drinking water and stormwater utilities. Federal agencies are working with one another and with state and local partners to build preparedness and sustainability in this essential sector. For instance, the Federal Support Toolbox—grown out of an initiative led by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE)—serves as a one-stop online portal to databases, tools, best practices, and other resources supporting effective and efficient water management. Information is available from all 50 states, a number of Federal agencies, tribes, NGOs, academia, private industry, and international sources. In addition to USACE, Toolbox partner organizations include state governments, river basin commissions, the Tennessee Valley Authority, EPA, and agencies within DOT, DOI, and USDA.
In another example, NASA, NOAA, and the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research recently supported research to develop and test a new statistical indicator of drought. The research, conducted by the University of Texas at Austin in coordination with the Texas Water Development Board, demonstrated that the new drought indicator could outperform the official forecast in predicting summer precipitation. In addition, the research showed that the indicator could have predicted the summer 2011 drought in Texas as early as January of that year—providing critical lead time for the state’s water providers to prepare (see also Highlight 36).
Lastly, EPA and NOAA recently held a series of workshops with stormwater managers in cities and counties across the Chesapeake Bay and Great Lakes regions. These events initiated conversations about how projected changes in land use and climate might impact local water conditions, and about how planning for resiliency can fit into decision making and help meet existing regulatory requirements. Several takeaway messages emerged from these workshops that can inform future approaches: for example, issues of scale and uncertainty in climate change projections present challenges to local decision makers, but leveraging scenarios and existing historical data can help. In addition, enhanced local-level capacity to plan, design, and implement green infrastructure projects and other strategies for sustainability—plus better information about the long-term costs and (co)benefits—is necessary to effectively integrate such solutions into local stormwater management. Finally, the enactment of resilient management strategies can be spurred by changes in economic conditions, heightened awareness among residents, new regulations, and coordination between agencies and jurisdictions.