Mayors Water Summit Features Climate Change, Water Impacts, Water Conservation Issues
By Rich Anderson
October 8, 2007
The Mayors Water Summit was held in San Francisco September 26-27. The Mayors Water Council (MWC) co-chairs, Albuquerque (NM) Mayor Martin J. Chávez and Fayetteville (AR) Mayor Dan Coody, led the mayors in discussions about climate change impacts on water resources, water systems asset management, water conservation, combined sewer overflows (CSOs) and sanitary sewer overflows (SSOs), and infrastructure financing.
San Francisco Facing Big Water Challenges
Susan Leal, General Manager of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, commented on the challenges the city faces in providing water for a large population. Climate change impacts on snow pack have led the city to plan for a diversity of water sources. Leal stated that 65 percent of the current water supply is in the form of snow pack in the mountain ranges. That source is decreasing as temperatures rise and rain replaces snow. The city is engaged in major coordination efforts with surrounding communities to ensure that an adequate water supply is available for the growing city population and surrounding area.
Leal also commented on the city’s concerns about the energy requirements of providing clean water. The city is investing in clean alternative energy to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions. The clean energy sources include renewable fuels such as solar and geothermal.
Leal also mentioned that the city is very concerned about rising sea levels. The city and the state have conducted a series of studies to delineate the potential for land inundation under different scenarios of rising sea levels. She stated, “The city’s water managers may really be the ‘first responders’ to climate change impacts.”
Climate Change Impacts on Water Resources: NOAA Coastal Service Center Provides Assessment Tools
Margaret Davidson, Director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Coastal Services Center, spoke about the unnamed 1938 hurricane that caused serious devastation on Long Island (NY). She said that NOAA now has high resolution mapping capabilities (LIDAR) that can be used by local government to assess natural disasters. NOAA applied the mapping technique to the same Long Island area and found that a similar hurricane disaster today would have a $150 billion impact on the ‘uninsured’ assets in the same impact area.
Davidson commented that the LIDAR tool can be used for hazard assessment and can effectively guide public infrastructure siting decisions. For example, NOAA can anticipate the impacts of a one-meter rise in sea levels on New York City; or be used to predict impact areas from river flow and flooding information. NOAA is continuing to refine the hazard assessment tools through a program known as Sectoral Applications Research Program (SARP), (see www.NOAA.gov). She also mentioned other tools currently available to communities, such as the Heat Health Warning System.
Climate Change Impact Questions Every Mayor Should Ask
David Balmforth, Ph.D., an international expert on climate change impacts, mitigation and adaptation strategies with Montgomery Watson Harza, articulated a critical check-list of questions mayors should be asking to anticipate impacts and take appropriate actions. For example, Balmforth asked if mayors understood the vulnerability of their communities to climate change impacts. He noted the recent decrease in rainfall accompanied by less frequent but more intense storms. This leads to “non-linearity” in flood impact, where increased precipitation during the intense storm leads to flooding conditions far above what was previously the situation. Indeed, a number of mayors participating in the discussion mentioned that they are experiencing the 100-year flood every year. This would only be a statistical anomaly under normal conditions. As the concept of normal conditions change, public infrastructure does not adequately protect against the non-linear impacts and it is very costly to modify to mitigate the impacts.
astructure does not adequately protect against the non-linear impacts and it is very costly to modify to mitigate the impacts.
Another question on Balmforth’s check-list is: Do we understand the proper balance between adaptation and mitigation? He stated that some of the impacts of climate change will be so massive that governments will have to make dire choices between abandoning, improving resilience, and defending at all costs the built environment of population centers, big and small. Each of these strategies has accompanying implications. For example, efforts to defend at all costs the existing urban environment will require new construction that will necessarily result in more greenhouse gas emissions from new construction of public infrastructure – the very thing we try to minimize to alleviate climate change impacts. What is the right balance for short-term adaptation strategies and long-term mitigation strategies?
Water Conservation at National, Local Level
US EPA: Michael Deane, Senior Policy Advisor to the US EPA Office of Water, discussed how water loss from distribution systems incur multiple resource losses and is not confined to water. Deane outlined the energy consumption involved with water supply. It takes an enormous amount of energy (electricity) to pump water from a source to the treatment plant. Electrical energy is consumed in treating the water to purity levels that satisfy the Safe Drinking Water Act and the standards expected at the local level. Next, electricity is used to distribute the water to users unless they are fortunate enough to be able to rely on gravity distribution systems.
Deane commented that when water is lost in transmission to users, they essentially loose the water and the energy used to get, treat it and distribute it. Thus the real loss includes the water, the energy involved, the revenues lost to the utility and the impact on global warming from the greenhouse gas emissions associated with the energy used. This, according to Deane, is a national problem because water loss in systems across the country may range from ten to as much as 40 percent. Investment in the underground infrastructure is one way to address the problem. EPA’s Water Sense Program promotes local efforts to reduce water loss.
Irvington (NJ): Mayor Wayne Smith joined Itron Water Systems Vice President Pamela Malone in presenting how the city is using emerging technologies for comprehensive water conservation and preservation planning. Irvington is situated on the Elizabeth River and was founded in 1692. The city reached the limits of its historical economic development around 1930. Since then there has been a major shift in the socio-economic status of the city’s residents. The city covers three square miles and is among the most densely populated cities in a state that has the distinction of being the most densely populated state in the nation.
Smith elaborated on Irvington’s Master Plan and the 6 Guiding Principles intended to: turn it into a “gateway” vista; encourage widespread reinvestment and employment; establish amenities to attract regional activity; and become a showpiece of urban redevelopment. The water infrastructure dates back to the earliest city development. American Water operates the water treatment and distribution system. The aging pipes led to water losses, and the city addressed the problem by teaming with Itron and American Water to install new technology known as Automated Metering Infrastructure (AMI) coupled with acoustic monitoring devices.
AMI involves deployment of the latest meter reading technology associated with remote meter reading. It provides timely and accurate information to the water utility and customer. It reduces utility operating costs by making meter reading more efficient. When AMI is linked with acoustic monitoring devices it is capable of sensing vibrations in the water distribution pipes and predict leakage points. Pipe repair and replacement efforts can be better targeted to prevent water loss. This, in turn, improves the utility’s revenue stream while conserving water. This effort has brought Irvington’s water infrastructure in line with its 6 Guiding Principles to support urban redevelopment, but also put it in the forefront of water conservation in the nation.
McKinney (TX): is the second fastest growing city in the nation with 100,000 people in 2005, and projected to be 350,000 over the next few decades. McKinney has been plagued with a seven-year drought that has triggered irrigation restrictions and tiered rates to discourage volume water consumption. Mayor Bill Whitfield has created a water conservation partnership between the city and the Urban Solutions Center in Dallas that is affiliated with Texas A&M University. Frank Gilstrap, Resident Director of Research and Clint Wolf, Grant and Program Coordinator joined Brian Loughmiller, city councilman, to describe the partnership.
Loughmiller stated that McKinney created the partnership because they wanted scientifically-proven solutions that could be shared with residential and commercial property owners to help conserve water as the city continues to grow. Wolfe elaborated that Urban Solutions can help McKinney integrate the types of drought-resistant plants and grasses that can reduce water consumption for outdoor uses – a major consumption sector. Together, the partnership has outlined a six-year plan that includes science based options for conserving local water, educational programs to help citizens save water quantity and quality. During the program’s first 12 to 18 months, participants will customize and transfer “how-to” educational programs about water conservation and landscape management targeting adults and homeowners through television, radio spots, web sites and distribution of CDs.