Warmer water and rising oceans equal more intense and more frequent storms, and the rise in frequency and destruction we’ve seen from storms out of the gulf and across the country are just one of the symptoms of climate change.
Hurricane Ian recently demonstrated the damage these super-sized storms can do to our infrastructure, damaging roads and bridges, shutting down airports and ports and breaking water mains. Lee County was without water in the wake of the storm and most of the county was impacted by a boil order for two weeks.
Meanwhile, Tampa was a third of the way through a $39 million project to improve stormwater resiliency, improve drainage and reduce flooding. The project was designed after Irma left pumping stations offline for a week in 2017, but officials predicted that, work to increase drainage capacity, the city’s current stormwater infrastructure wouldn’t be able to handle Ian’s heavy rains.
The state itself has committed $1 billion toward making itself more climate resilient, including improving drainage, renovating wastewater pump stations, protecting wetlands and replacing septic systems with sewer system tie-ins. In the past, efforts to address climate resiliency, specifically hurricanes, focused on wind damage, but Ian’s biggest punch came from flooding and storm surge.
As municipal officials rebuild, they will have to consider balancing gray and green infrastructure. Green infrastructure offers a living buffer, absorbing and slowing flood waters, while putting into place gray infrastructure, such as sea walls and flood gates or elevating important infrastructure, can divert water – possibly toward green infrastructure.
When storms hit the east coast, power outages prevent pumps from working and drinking water and sewage from being treated and stormwater flows damage water mains. Storm surges and flooding can overwhelm sewer systems, causing overflows and water quality concerns.
Another concern is financial – as storms increase in size and frequency, many homeowners are unable to afford climbing insurance premiums, and others have blanket insurance, but do not have flood insurance – it is estimated that less than 20 percent of homes hit by Ian had flood insurance. Some insurance providers are no longer renewing policies in hard-hit areas, and when there is extensive property damage, some homeowners are simply walking away, leading to higher property tax delinquencies.
Hurricanes are not the only climate change-related crisis facing water and wastewater systems – increased extreme weather events means more rain and snow in some parts of the country and droughts and wildfire in others, while extreme heat and cold are more common everywhere, and the symptoms of climate change can adversely impact infrastructure, operations and water quality.
Meanwhile, utility customers are dealing with spiraling costs as inflation rises to a 40-year high, with the core consumer price increased over forecasts in September. Shelter, food and medical care indexes saw the largest increases. High inflation has eaten into Americans’ savings and force them to break out the credit cards as they struggle with price growth, leaving an even smaller cushion if they should have an unexpected financial shock.
These two concerns overlap when it comes to home plumbing systems – water and sewer service lines serving utility customers’ homes face the same challenges that utilities’ delivery systems, including the impacts from climate change. However, at the same time, inflation is shrinking the average homeowner’s budget, so if there is an issue, they are less prepared financially to handle it.
How can utilities help soften the blow if a customer’s service line fails because of age or wear-and-tear? A partnership with the NLC Service Lines Warranty Program can both educate your customers about their service line responsibilities at no cost to your municipality or utility and offer a warranty that will shield them from the financial shock of an unexpected repair.
For more information on how you can educate and protect your customers, contact us.