Climate change and other stresses exacerbate existing underlying water conditions and can present new water security issues. These challenges are particularly evident in the western U.S. where some water supplies are being stressed by reduced snowfall, droughts, wildfires and rapid population growth.
As these and other risks increase, the need for a more systemic approach to watershed management has become increasingly apparent. A trusted and tested framework is essential to help water utilities and their key function leads understand how to incorporate future climate-related risks and opportunities into long-range water planning and mainstream climate risks, adaptation and resilience through critical business functions.
To that end, WSP collaborated with Denver Water and San Francisco Public Utilities Commission — organizations in two of the most critical watersheds in the U.S. — to test, update, and refine the existing Business Function Mapping Framework for this use.
Between 2018 –2020, WSP worked with seven U.S.-based water utilities to create a comprehensive, enterprise-level water utility climate-related risks and opportunities framework, which was published in early 2020. Once published, it was pilot tested and further refined and detailed through a series of tabletop exercises (TTX) with Denver Water and SFPUC throughout 2020.
WSP engaged with key sponsors within the utilities for the TTX that took place over three days. The interdisciplinary team included leaders across the organizations’ critical functions: natural systems, built systems and business systems. The team brought diverse perspectives to multiple potential climate scenarios and worked together with WSP to co-author an expanded and updated framework that is becoming a new standard in the field.
The adaptive, flexible and tailorable framework is designed to help water utilities define their focus for a risk and opportunity assessment, ask key climate questions, map climate impacts relative to mission-critical business functions, and pinpoint risks and opportunities across business functions.
As a result of this process, the utilities came away with tangible solutions that they are currently implementing, including:
- Finance: rate structures, reserve management, outside funding
- Infrastructure: sediment management, system flexibility and interconnections
- Planning: pre-fire and post-fire planning, TTX planning/gaming
- Research & Development: forecasting, equity, customer values, modeling
- Partnerships: funding, continued essential services during emergencies
- Communications: enhanced cross-divisional information and knowledge transfer
- Supply chain: inventory options, backups, climate in contracts
- Technology: customer behavior, heat-maps, real-time quality monitoring, advanced treatment techniques
- Training and cross-training: redundant skills and backup staff
Next steps for the project include identifying opportunities to accelerate the mainstreaming of climate considerations and resilience into utility management.
Though this framework was designed with drinking water utilities, its approach has broader applicability. It was designed to be replicable for use by a range of utility types, sizes, impacts and functions, as well as for other organizations who wish to better understand the ways climate change may exacerbate existing underlying conditions and stressors, which may combine to impact business continuity and employee health and safety.
For more information about WSP’s developing and testing of climate risk assessment and adaptation frameworks, read more and download our whitepaper, Water in a Changing Climate: Reducing Risks, Leveraging Opportunities and Enhancing Resilience.