Climate change is a growing concern for municipalities and utilities nationwide. Wastewater treatment facilities (WWTFs) are, by design, located near waterways and are already experiencing flood damage from increasing storm intensities. Recognizing the need for long-term planning efforts to protect these systems, the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (RIDEM) hired Woodard & Curran to evaluate the implications climate change could have on the state’s major wastewater infrastructure and identify strategies that would integrate climate change considerations into wastewater planning and operations.
Woodard & Curran assessed the state’s 19 public wastewater treatment plants and over 160 pump stations for resilience to climate change, identifying strategic adaptive strategies that would adapt their most vulnerable systems to future climate change scenarios. The assessments identified hazards through both modeling and collaboration with facility operators and included a simplified ranking tool of each facility’s systems for use in prioritizing repairs if multiple systems fail at any time. Most importantly, Woodard & Curran identified site-specific adaptive strategies, and recommendations for physical or operational system alterations and applied budgetary costs for use in planning and funding the implementation of those measures.
The firm also produced a comprehensive project report as well as user friendly briefs for each WWTF so that community leaders could easily digest and utilize the important information. The results of the project were immediately evident. When the report was issued, recommended adaptive strategies were incorporated into an ongoing WWTF upgrade. At the same time, RIDEM issued state-wide guidance to address climate change in WWTF planning and design. The project proved valuable in providing tools for communities to plan and budget for wastewater system resiliency measures and as guidance to enable good decision-making relative to implementing those measures.