ALEXANDRIA, Virginia — The Water Research Foundation (WRF) has selected WSP USA, a leading engineering, environment and professional services consultancy, to lead a new study aimed at addressing the current challenges that global water utilities of all sizes are facing.
The project team brings together experts from across WSP’s global footprint and includes Deltares, a not-for-profit Dutch and U.S.-based water and subsurface knowledge institute. The project aims to answer several questions, including how utilities can expand or upgrade their infrastructure to adapt to future risks and challenges to their operations.
“We are honored to lead this WRF project team that is developing guidance for the water sector to help water utilities around the world navigate many uncertainties that have emerged in recent years and are further complicated by climate change and other stressors,” said Maya Buchanan, PhD, principal investigator for WSP on this study and newly elected director of the board for the American Society of Adaptation Professionals—the leading association for climate change professionals. “Water resource managers recognize the importance of adaptive planning for multiple scenarios in the face of highly uncertain futures, which has led to the development of several academic frameworks. For some utilities, these frameworks have been incredibly useful. But others have faced significant challenges implementing and communicating them — we aim to help address this gap.”
WSP will conduct a series of validation steps to better understand the barriers these utilities face on the ground, as well as any opportunities for them to use some methods of scenario and adaptive planning to think through how they can better anticipate, prepare for, and respond to unexpected events.
The project also aims to address other challenges, like helping water utilities inform long-term plans and investment decisions, and address critical questions, such as: How can water infrastructure be expanded and upgraded to meet future needs and adapt to uncertain future risks, like changes in climate, supply and demand, regulations, economics and aging infrastructure?
This project will have three phases:
- Explore: Phase 1 will gather data and information from water utility partners and technical experts in applied scenario and adaptive planning to identify key trends, leading practices and approaches and case studies for adaptive and scenario planning;
- Design: Phase 2 will design a Water Utility Scenario and Adaptive Planning Framework and testing it with a set of international water utilities (in the U.S., Canada, the Netherlands and New Zealand) to evaluate effectiveness and applicability; and
- Guide: Phase 3 will develop supplemental guidance for water utilities to use and share these approaches with their internal and external stakeholders.
“Another critical aspect of this project is that we’re working directly with several utilities to identify and share the lessons that they’ve learned from their own experiences,” Buchanan said. “That information will be categorized by the size and context of each utility, so that we can eventually share it more broadly as a resource, which can hopefully get other utilities further along in their planning processes, regardless of their starting point. Our aim is to distill guidance that is useful for water utilities (and more broadly for other service utilities and owners of large infrastructure), particularly for those in underserved and resource-constrained communities.”
Partners involved with WRF are looking forward to this next stage of their involvement with the foundation.
“Adaptive and scenario planning is enabling our organization to plan for multiple future stressors and respond to changing water system conditions as they happen,” said Kavita Heyn, a representative for the Portland Water Bureau and the Water Utility Climate Alliance. “The adaptive planning paradigm and the guidance that will result from WRF 5184 will help water utilities become more nimble, flexible and adaptive, and will support resilient and reliable water supply investments in the water sector.”
“American Society of Adaptation Professionals (ASAP) is excited to participate in the WRF 5184 study on scenario planning,” added John Phillips, a representative of ASAP. “Scenario planning is an excellent tool for communities to plan for vitally important needs, such as water supply, in an uncertain future and fosters the ability to put adaptive behaviors into practice.”
The funder of this project, WRF, is the leading research organization advancing the science of all water to meet the evolving needs of its subscribers and the water sector. WRF is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, educational organization that funds, manages and publishes research on the technology, operation and management of drinking water, wastewater, reuse and stormwater systems — all in pursuit of ensuring water quality and improving water services to the public.
About WSP USA
WSP USA is the U.S. operating company of WSP, one of the world’s leading engineering, environment and professional services firms. Recognized on Fast Company’s Brands that Matter List for 2022 as a top Community-Minded Business, WSP USA brings together engineers, planners, technical experts, strategic advisors and construction management professionals who are dedicated to collaborate in the best interests of serving local communities. WSP USA designs lasting solutions in the buildings, transportation, energy, water and environment markets. With more than 15,500 employees in 300 offices across the U.S., WSP partners with its clients to help communities prosper. wsp.com
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