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Denver, Colorado waterfront

Member spotlight

Denver Water logoDenver Water

Denver Water is responsible for the collection, storage, quality control and distribution of drinking and recycled water, serving 25 percent of the state's population and using less than 2 percent of all water consumed in Colorado.

Location: Denver, Colorado

Customers served: 1.4 million

Year joined: 2007

Top climate concern(s): The amount and longevity of Rocky Mountain annual snowpack and accompanying impacts to streamflow; less productive wet years and enhanced, extended, and more frequent multi-year droughts; watershed and water quality impacts due to forest fires, pest infestation, warming-induced vegetation changes and warmer water temperatures.

How the utility is addressing climate change: Denver Water's approach to climate adaptation embraces the complexities of Colorado's climate, while applying practical strategies to sustain climate resilience. The state is situated mid-continent and mid-latitude, in a complex orographic setting. Highly variable historic weather patterns make trends difficult to identify and climate change projections challenging to navigate. Colorado is warming, the natural system is changing, and preparing for a hotter climate is fundamental for a sustainable future.

In 2008, Denver Water launched its climate adaptation program. Critical features of the multi-faceted program include:

  • staying smart and up-to-speed on climate science and adaptation practices,
  • building institutional capacity and stakeholder knowledge,
  • maintaining and utilizing collaborative networks,
  • understanding vulnerabilities across the water system,
  • incorporating warming and challenging stationary thinking utility-wide,
  • adopting long-range planning techniques to plan for multiple futures, and
  • co-producing new science, practices and decision-making approaches to better prepare practitioners for an uncertain future.

Recognizing that climate science is informative but not predictive, Denver Water was one of the first utilities to change the its long-range planning process by adopting Scenario Planning to prepare for multiple futures. Moving forward, the plan will be enhanced by testing and hedging it against dozens of potential uncertainties using a Robust Decision-making process.

Austin Texas skylineAustin Water logoAustin Water

Austin Water provides services for drinking water, wastewater, reclaimed water, wildlands protection, and water for firefighting.

Location: Austin, TX

Customers served: >1 million

Year joined: 2017

Top climate concern(s):

  1. Drought: The City's water supply comes from surface water reservoirs on the Colorado River, known as the Highland Lakes (Lakes Travis and Buchanan). During the recent drought (2008-2015) the combined storage in the reservoirs reached 32 percent, the second lowest level ever. Regional climate models indicate that although annual average precipitation amounts may not change significantly in the future, there may be longer dry periods and more intense precipitation events.
  2. Heat: Regional climate models also indicate more days of excessive heat in the summer months. During 2011, the worst year of the recent drought, Austin experienced more than 90 days of temperatures above 100 degrees. Increased heat means increased evaporation of the lakes, and in 2011 the city saw an approximate 25 percent increase in recent average evaporation. Heat may affect water quality, can result in power grid outages that impact operations and can also impact machinery and personnel.
  3. Flooding: Austin has experienced several severe flooding events in recent years. Extreme rainfall events can cause damage to critical facilities, including overwhelming wastewater treatments plants, resulting in partially treated effluent being released. Flooding can also result in increased inflow and infiltration into sanitary sewer systems, resulting in overflows. The drought and flood cycle has occurred throughout much of Central Texas history, including the 2008-2015 drought, which was broken by heavy rains and flooding. This pattern could intensify with climate change.

How the utility is addressing climate change:

Austin Water (AW) takes on climate change through planning, conservation and greenhouse gas reduction. AW began tracking greenhouse gas emissions after the 2007 adoption of the Austin Climate Protection Plan. Operational changes and capital improvements – including the installation of an onsite 850 KW biogas-fueled generation unit – improve energy efficiency. The unit provides enough electricity to power AW’s Hornsby Bend Biosolids Management Facility. AW also installed a solar roof on one of its large service centers.

In 2007, Austin Water began strengthening its conservation programs, deploying an array of strategies including mandatory year-round watering restrictions, best-practice water conservation programs and the expansion of reclaimed water infrastructure. Its subsequent Drought Contingency Plan put in place even stronger measures, including a one-day-per-week limit on outdoor watering for automatic irrigation systems, the least efficient type of irrigation.

The City Council created a task force in 2014 to support development of an Integrated Water Resource Plan for Austin. This effort grew into Water Forward, a multi-year, collaborative planning process led by Austin Water to address the city's water requirements 100 years into the future. This effort includes evaluation of potential climate change impacts on Austin’s water supply and water demand.

Photo of central ArizonaCentral Arizone Project logoCentral Arizona Project

The Central Arizona Project (CAP) provides renewable water supply to central and southern Arizona, from the state's allocation of Colorado River water. CAP's service area is comprised of three counties – Maricopa, Pinal and Pima. This 24,000 square mile area (approximately 20 percent of the state), includes 5.3 million people, which is approximately 80 percent of the state's population. The CAP system serves a variety of water users within the service area, including 55 municipal subcontractors, 10 Native American tribes, and a number of agricultural and excess water customers every year.

Location: Phoenix, AZ

Customers served: 5.3 million

Year joined: 2010

Top climate concern(s): Drought in the Colorado River Basin reducing CAP water supply, increased warming impacting CAP infrastructure, operations, and personnel, and extreme weather events posing risks and hazards for CAP infrastructure and personnel

How the utility is addressing climate change:

  • Funding research projects that help Central Arizona Project understand the impacts of climate change to better prepare for them (e.g. long-range scenario modeling in the Colorado River Basin)
  • Water storage and water banking to offset future water reductions due to drought
  • Water conservation programs that create protection volumes in Lake Mead to delay the onset and mitigate the magnitude of a Colorado River shortage
  • Water augmentation activities such as weather modification and desalination feasibility studies that look to enhance water supply in the system
  • Implementing a climate adaptation plan that comprehensively assessed future vulnerability due to climate change and identified adaptation strategies to address them
Landscape of the downtown Denver skyline in the fallDenver Water logoDenver Water

Denver Water is responsible for the collection, storage, quality control and distribution of drinking and recycled water, serving 25 percent of the state's population and using less than 2 percent of all water consumed in Colorado.

Location: Denver, Colorado

Customers served: 1.4 million

Year joined: 2007

Top climate concern(s): The amount and longevity of Rocky Mountain annual snowpack and accompanying impacts to streamflow; less productive wet years and enhanced, extended, and more frequent multi-year droughts; watershed and water quality impacts due to forest fires, pest infestation, warming-induced vegetation changes and warmer water temperatures.

How the utility is addressing climate change: Denver Water's approach to climate adaptation embraces the complexities of Colorado's climate, while applying practical strategies to sustain climate resilience. The state is situated mid-continent and mid-latitude, in a complex orographic setting. Highly variable historic weather patterns make trends difficult to identify and climate change projections challenging to navigate. Colorado is warming, the natural system is changing, and preparing for a hotter climate is fundamental for a sustainable future.

In 2008, Denver Water launched its climate adaptation program. Critical features of the multi-faceted program include:

  • staying smart and up-to-speed on climate science and adaptation practices,
  • building institutional capacity and stakeholder knowledge,
  • maintaining and utilizing collaborative networks,
  • understanding vulnerabilities across the water system,
  • incorporating warming and challenging stationary thinking utility-wide,
  • adopting long-range planning techniques to plan for multiple futures, and
  • co-producing new science, practices and decision-making approaches to better prepare practitioners for an uncertain future.

Recognizing that climate science is informative but not predictive, Denver Water was one of the first utilities to change the its long-range planning process by adopting Scenario Planning to prepare for multiple futures. Moving forward, the plan will be enhanced by testing and hedging it against dozens of potential uncertainties using a Robust Decision-making process.

Photo of Metropolitan Water District officesMetropolitan Water District of Southern California logoMetropolitan Water District of Southern California

The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California is a wholesaler of treated and untreated drinking water. Metropolitan also is responsible for distribution, and helps member agencies develop water recycling, storage and other local resource programs to provide additional supplies and conservation programs to reduce regional demands.

Location: Southern California (headquarters in downtown Los Angeles)

Customers served: 19 million

Year joined: 2007

Top climate concern(s): Loss of Sierra Nevada snowpack; reduction in runoff and river flow in the Colorado River Basin; rising sea levels.

How the utility is addressing climate change: After more than two decades of integrating climate change science into its planning efforts, Metropolitan now monitors the direction of ever-changing impacts from improved global climate models that show the region's vulnerability to longer-term risks. Since 2004, Metropolitan's integrated water resource plans (IRPs) have moved the region towards comprehensive planning and adaptation for climate change impacts. The 2010 and 2015 IRP updates, however, moved to a new level, utilizing a robust decision making approach, which is a comprehensive, technical process that identifies key vulnerabilities associated with climate change and other sources of risk and uncertainty.

In addition to its research and planning initiatives, Metropolitan is a leader in efforts to boost regional water use efficiency, from increasing the availability of incentives for local conservation and recycling projects to supporting conservation best management practices for industry and commercial businesses.

Metropolitan recognizes the importance of greenhouse gas emissions on climate change and has made substantial efforts to implement greenhouse gas mitigation programs and policies for its facilities and operations. These include

  • exploring water supply/energy relationships and opportunities to increase efficiencies;
  • participating in the California Climate Action Registry;
  • acquiring "green" fleet vehicles and supporting an employee rideshare program;
  • developing solar power in its treatment plants; and
  • pursuing development of "green" renewable water and energy programs.
New York City skylineNew York City Department of Environmental Protection logoNew York City Department of Environmental Protection

The New York City Department of Environmental Protection provides services for drinking water, wastewater, and stormwater.

Location: New York City, NY

Customers served: 8.5 million

Year joined: 2007

Top climate concern(s): Heavy rain, drought, sea level rise

How the utility is addressing climate change: DEP has been preparing for the impacts of climate change for many years, working to incorporate resiliency in one of the most complex urban environments in the world. In 2008, DEP issued its first Climate Change Assessment and Action Plan, and it has continued to assess risk to infrastructure and operations while developing cost-effective and proactive responses to prepare for climate impacts.

After Superstorm Sandy and Tropical Storms Irene and Lee, it became evident that some impacts not expected to manifest for decades are in fact possible today. Accordingly, DEP is implementing 'no regret' or cost-effective solutions based on what is known to work today while continuing to assess risks and develop tailored solutions for more complex and uncertain issues. Water supply efficiency, operational intelligence and infrastructure optimization are being employed to ensure that water supply systems continue to function without interruption from storms and droughts. Strategic flood protection measures are being implemented at wastewater treatment facilities that are at risk from storm surge and sea level rise. And, DEP is considering the city's risks from extreme rain events, seeking solutions to these events through integration of grey and green infrastructure solutions.

Philadelphia waterfrontPhiladelphia Water Department logoPhiladelphia Water Department

The Philadelphia Water Department provides services for drinking water, wastewater and stormwater.

Location: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Customers served:
1.3 million (drinking water service)
2.2 million (wastewater and stormwater services)

Year joined: 2018

Top climate concern(s):

  1. Precipitation increases and extreme storms create more stormwater runoff which can negatively affect source water quality, stress the drainage system, increase flooding, and lead to more combined sewer overflows.
  2. Sea level rise coupled with extreme storms could increase coastal flooding, inundate critical PWD infrastructure and potentially impact drinking water quality.
  3. Increases in air temperature, which in turn raise the temperature of Philadelphia's source waters, can create challenges for the drinking water treatment process and impact aquatic life.

How the utility is addressing climate change: PWD is committed to assessing risk and planning for the future to ensure high levels of service continue for current customers and future generations. In 2014 PWD created the Climate Change Adaptation Program (CCAP) to better understand the impacts that climate change will have on Philadelphia's drinking water, wastewater and stormwater systems and to develop cost-effective adaptation strategies to minimize those impacts.

A main goal of the CCAP is to make climate change science and risk assessment results actionable in the context of PWD applications. CCAP is developing and implementing Climate-Resilient Planning and Design Guidance for the Department in order to mainstream climate information into existing programs, long-term plans, and planning and design processes. The information in this guidance is supported by extensive climate science research and an in-depth understanding of the Department's climate-related vulnerabilities. Publishing this guidance is an important step in CCAP's goal to make climate change science actionable and to develop cost-effective adaptation strategies.

The CCAP also prioritizes staying up-to-date on the latest climate science and collaborating with stakeholders across the city, region and nation to address the challenge of a changing climate. In 2020, the City of Philadelphia renewed its commitment to climate change mitigation and adaptation and is working to uphold emissions reductions outlined in the Paris Agreement. PWD is a key partner in these efforts and coordinates regularly with the Office of Sustainability, the Chief Resilience Officer and other city departments to leverage resources and ensure that the city is preparing for a warmer, wetter future. In addition to the CCAP, which focuses on climate adaptation, PWD also has an Energy Program focused on reducing the Department's greenhouse gas emissions and increasing energy independence through strategies that improve efficiency, reduce costs and recover resources.

Tom McCall Waterfront Park in Portland, OregonPortland Water Bureau logoPortland Water Bureau

The Portland Water Bureau provides drinking water (retail and wholesale); primary unfiltered surface water supply and secondary groundwater supply; water efficiency support for residential and business customers; and low-income customer programs.

Location: Portland, Oregon

Customers served: ~970,000

Year joined: 2007

Top climate concern(s): Earlier or longer seasonal reservoir drawdown due to warmer temperature and longer dry seasons; higher risk of turbidity events due to more intense rain storms; increasing water temperature impacts to endangered fish and drinking water quality; extreme heat impacts to outdoor personnel and critical water system infrastructure; and equity implications for marginalized and vulnerable communities in the drinking water service area.

How the utility is addressing climate change: Collaborating with leading regional climate scientists and other WUCA members, the Portland Water Bureau (PWB) has been assessing climate impacts to Portland's drinking water system for more than 20 years. PWB has developed customized modeling and analytical tools for long-term planning purposes, and has developed in-house capacity to conduct climate impact assessments. PWB takes an adaptive planning approach to inform long-term water supply planning and climate resilience strategies, largely informed by WUCA's leadership on these approaches. PWB's climate work benefits greatly from idea sharing and technical feedback from other WUCA utilities.

A recognized leader in local and regional climate planning efforts, PWB has developed strategies to prepare for and mitigate climate change as part of the City of Portland and Multnomah County's Climate Action Plan goals. PWB is committed to reducing emissions that contribute to climate change by calculating and reporting on carbon emissions, sourcing electricity for renewable energy sources, improving the energy efficiency of pumps and buildings, and reducing the fossil-fuel emissions of its vehicle fleet.

Photo of Lake HodgesSan Diego County Water Authority logoSan Diego County Water Authority

The San Diego County Water Authority is a wholesale drinking water provider.

Location: San Diego County, CA

Customers served: 3.3 million

Year joined: 2007

Top climate concern(s): Drought

How the utility is addressing climate change: The San Diego County Water Authority recognizes the challenges that climate change poses to the San Diego region and it is committed to pursuing adaptation and mitigation strategies to address these risks. The Water Authority's Business Plan contains climate change management strategies within the Sustainability Program Focus Area. The identified climate change management strategies include:

  • Implement cost-effective opportunities that mitigate greenhouse-gas emissions in compliance with emission targets contained in the Climate Action Plan
  • Pursue partnerships on leading-edge climate science projects and evaluate opportunities to incorporate climate research into planning processes

In 2019, the Water Authority updated its Climate Action Plan (CAP). The CAP provides a comprehensive look at the Water Authority's practices and operations and includes measures to reduce greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions. The CAP tracks the Water Authority's carbon footprint, estimates future GHG emissions, documents progress on GHG reduction measures, and highlights monitoring and reporting protocols on GHGs. The CAP also identifies opportunities to reduce future GHG emissions, including those related to planned Capital Improvement Program projects and energy conservation opportunities identified in a 2012 energy audit. Through continued regional water use efficiency, implementation of GHG-reduction measures, and investment in projects that ensure a reliable water supply and generate renewable energy, the Water Authority is on track to meet its CAP reduction targets. 

In addition to work related to its CAP, in 2020, the Water Authority became a founding member of the Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes (CW3E) Water Affiliates Group (WAG). The WAG provides water leaders with information on advances in atmospheric river and drought research that can be used to improve water management, mitigate flood risk, and increase water supply reliability. The WAG also connects like-minded water managers to share best practices in forecast-informed water operations and provides practical tools to support core water management services.

Photo of the San Francisco BaySan Francisco Public Utilities Commission logoSan Francisco Public Utilities Commission

The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission provides drinking water, combined wastewater/stormwater collection and treatment, as well as hydropower generation.

Location: San Francisco, CA and various watersheds

Customers served: 2.6 million

Year joined: 2007

Top climate concern(s): Drought; sea level rise; snowpack

How the utility is addressing climate change: The SFPUC has a long history of engagement in local, regional and national forums that develop and promote best practices in assessing and addressing the potential impacts of climate change on water utilities. Within the utility, initiatives have included a sensitivity analysis of the effect of temperature and precipitation scenarios on water supply using a calibrated hydrologic model. As sea level rise is a source of significant vulnerability, the SFPUC led development of a city-wide "Guidance for Incorporating Climate Change into Capital Planning" in 2014. The utility also helps oversee vulnerability planning for city departments and participates in other SLR initiatives.

2017 will see the launch of a multi-year "Long Term Vulnerability Assessment and Adaptation Plan for the SFPUC Water Enterprise," which is designed to:

  • use a "decision scaling" approach to identify multiple sources of vulnerability, including climate change, regulatory changes, population growth, natural hazards and others;
  • assess the associated risks, singly and in combination; and
  • examine climate change information from all sources to determine the likelihood of one or more climate futures.
Aerial photo of downtown SeattleSeattle Public Utilities Commission logoSeattle Public Utilities

Seattle Public Utilities provides drinking water, drainage, sewer and solid waste services.

Location: Seattle, WA

Customers served:
Drinking water: 1.4 million
Stormwater and Wastewater: More than 720,000

Year joined: 2007

Top climate concern(s): Decreased snowpack and associated changes in hydrology reducing drinking water supply, changing the frequency and intensity of precipitation patterns, and the combined impacts of increased precipitation and sea level rise on urban flooding.

How the utility is addressing climate change: SPU is committed to understanding and preparing for the impacts that climate change will have on the infrastructure we manage and the essential services we deliver, to reducing our contribution to green house gas emissions and to addressing public and environmental health inequities created by climate change. We do this by:

  • Assessing potential impacts to our water supply, drainage and wastewater systems, and tidally influenced infrastructure and integrating this information into our decision-making;
  • Collaborating with the science community and water utilities locally, nationally and internationally to enhance our knowledge of potential climate change impacts and improve our ability to prepare;
  • Engaging in regional, state and federal initiatives, including the National Climate Assessment, and other water sector and climate research collaborative efforts to advance climate science and responses;
  • Calculating and reducing the amount of carbon pollution emitted by utility operations;
  • Transitioning our fleet from high carbon sources and increasing the number of vehicles powered by clean electric energy;
  • Addressing disproportionate effects on historically disadvantaged communities through community centered efforts; and,
  • Where appropriate, using nature-based solutions.
Photo of the Las Vegas Wash in NevadaSouthern Nevada Water Authority logoSouthern Nevada Water Authority

The Southern Nevada Water Authority is a not-for-profit wholesale drinking water provider.

Location: Clark County, NV

Customers served: 2 million residents and 40 million visitors annually

Year joined: 2007

Top climate concern(s): Drought

How the utility is addressing climate change: SNWA recognizes water supply and infrastructure challenges associated with drought in the Colorado River Basin could become a long-term reality with climate change. Consequently, SNWA has significantly invested in adaptation, implementing 'low regret' solutions to address today's challenges while increasing long-term climate resilience through water conservation, new facilities, long-term planning and climate change research.

Between 2002 and 2016, SNWA's aggressive water conservation program reduced Colorado River consumptive use by 38 percent, despite the addition of more than 600,000 new residents. Current and planned development of new facilities – including a new water intake and low lake level pumping station – help safeguard water quality and ensure the community's access to its primary water supply in Lake Mead. SNWA also participates in the Colorado River System Conservation Pilot Program, which is bolstering reservoir levels and delaying federal shortage declarations.

Long-term planning and continued research is a priority. SNWA's 50-year water resource plan considers a continuum of potential supply and demand conditions, including anticipated influences of climate change. The resource plan demonstrates how SNWA is able to meet a range of climate and demand scenarios. Finally, SNWA collaborates with climate scientists and other agencies to assess impacts to water supplies and facilities, and to adapt.

Waterfront in downtown Tampa Bay, FloridaTampa Bay Water logoTampa Bay Water

Tampa Bay Water is a wholesaler of treated and untreated drinking water. Tampa Bay Water is also responsible for distribution, and works with member agencies to implement conservation programs to reduce regional demands.

Location: Clearwater, FL (Main Office)

Customers served: Tampa Bay Water and its members together supply water for 2.6 million people

Year joined: 2009

Top climate concern(s): Change in pattern and reduction of river flows; impact of rising temperatures; and rising sea levels/storm flooding

How the utility is addressing climate change: Applied research has been a hallmark of Tampa Bay Water's climate change engagement for over a decade. Working with local, state and national partners, the agency conducts assessments of the risk of climate change on its ability to provide drinking water for its members. In 2010, Tampa Bay Water joined the University of Florida's Water Institute to co-found the Florida Water and Climate Alliance, following the WUCA model. By leveraging staff expertise, along with hydrologic and systems models developed in-house, the agency conducts climate change impact assessments and develops adaptation strategies.

Tampa Bay Water recognizes the importance of conducting impact assessments holistically by engaging local and statewide partners. Current efforts include understanding changes in precipitation amount and patterns on source water availability and timing. It also involves understanding the impact of rising temperature on evapotranspiration and resulting wetland and lake levels that are tied to groundwater use permits.

The agency actively participates in the Florida Water Climate Alliance and the regional Climate Science Advisory Panel, which is working to build a resilient community and plan for sea level rise impacts on the Tampa Bay region's infrastructure. In addition, Tampa Bay Water is leading an effort to increase regional water use efficiency by promoting programs such as Florida-friendly landscaping and by disseminating applied research on efficient outdoor water use.