News Feature | January 21, 2014

DC Water Preps For Global Warming

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome


A major water utility in the capital area is not wasting its time when it comes to preparing for global warming. 

"Two major, multimillion-dollar construction projects underway at the District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority's Blue Plains facility will demonstrate to other utilities that the time to prepare is now," E&E News reported. "Doing nothing in the face of global warming could flood a city and its water source with raw sewage.”

The preparation efforts are costly and complicated, but some believe it will be well worth the effort. "Experts in the field say DC Water is an innovator among U.S. water utilities, especially with its work toward emissions reduction and energy independence," the report said.

The utility has planned some complex projects.  

"The projects, a sea wall designed to protect the plant from an unprecedented 500-year storm surge and an on-site combined heat and power plant set for completion this summer, are among a handful of measures the utility is taking to cut carbon and prepare for extreme weather events," the report said. 

Experts say global warming is expected to have a substantial impact on water utilities. 

"The most important climate change issues for utilities are sea level rise, saltwater intrusion and salinization of the aquifers, and changing patterns of precipitation. It is expected that there will be both substantial drought periods and more intense rainfall periods," the Water Research Foundation said in a report focused on Florida. 

The Water Utility Climate Alliance formed in 2007 to help the industry prepare for weather change. 

"From heavy rainfall events and flooding to prolonged drought, watersheds throughout the world are experiencing greater variability in weather patterns. These extreme events also are impacting water infrastructure systems. Solely relying on historical data to predict future precipitation, snowpack, runoff and stream flow is no longer is practical," the group explained. 

Meanwhile, the EPA's Climate Ready Water Utilities initiative also aims to support utilities in their preparations. 

"Through the development of practical and easy-to-use tools, EPA promotes a clear understanding of climate science and adaptation options by translating complex climate projections into accessible formats," the agency says.