CALLING THE COPS ON WATER VOLATILITY
By the year 2050, nearly 70 percent of world’s population is expected to be living in an urban environment. These cities are also responsible for over 70 percent of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. It is clear that the increased intensification of our climate systems is landing squarely on the shoulders of our cities, and by extension, our water utilities.
In Paris this month, world leaders are meeting in an effort to formulate a global response to the changes that are driving increasing volatility in the Earth’s climate systems. The 21st Session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change1—COP21—has brought together over 190 countries to develop a new worldwide agreement on how to keep global warming below 2°C.2
While the discussions at COP21 revolve around temperature and GHG emissions, water is the medium through which climate change will be first and most keenly felt.
WATER IS CLIMATE
Globally, changes in atmospheric temperature are driving an increase in the volatility of the water cycle, which is represented by intensification of weather events:
“The faster water cycles, the more abundant and more violent… storms might be. And wet places getting wetter can lead to more severe and more frequent flooding. Dry places getting drier would mean longer and more intense droughts.”3
Recent research suggests that a 2° to 3°C increase in atmospheric temperatures will result in a 16 to 24 percent amplification of the global water cycle.4 Our cities are already dealing with the impacts of this increased volatility. Many eastern cities in the United States are struggling with intense storm water events requiring significant investment in management systems and infrastructure, driven by consent decrees with the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) under the Clean Water Act. Western cities are gripped in a cycle of increasing drought requiring consideration of desalination plants and direct-to-potable reuse schemes.
IT’S STILL GETTING HOTTER… AND DRIER
Unfortunately, this is nothing new. The localized impacts of this warming trend in climate have been building for years, with most states seeing significant changes in precipitation and temperature patterns over the past 50 years.
And it is certainly not a condition that is going away. Even if the COPs can hammer out a GHG reduction accord, the die is cast—at least for the short term. Recent data has indicated that the first 10 months of 2015 were the warmest on record. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration noted:
“The combined average temperature over global land and ocean surfaces for October 2015 was the highest for October in the 136-year period of record, at 0.98°C (1.76°F) above the 20th century average of 14.0°C (57.1°F). This marked the sixth consecutive month a monthly global temperature record has been broken and was also the greatest departure from average for any month in the 1630 months of recordkeeping, surpassing the previous record high departure set just last month by 0.13°F (0.07°C). The October temperature is currently increasing at an average rate of 0.06°C (0.11°F) per decade.”6
THE FLIP SIDE
Water utilities are in a unique position with respect to climate volatility. Not only are our water utilities on the front line of the impact of an increasingly warming world—water scarcity, reductions in snowpack, changes in the timing and velocity of natural water delivery systems, increased flooding and storm activity—they are also significant contributors to the production of GHG as a function of the amount of energy required to move water around.
The California Energy Commission estimated in its 2005 Integrated Energy Policy Report that approximately 19 percent of California’s electricity is used for water related purposes including delivery, end-uses, and wastewater treatment,7 with the concomitant generation of GHGs. As we consider degraded, less favorable and farther afield sources of water to turn into potable supply, that imbedded energy will increase.
Based on this fact, the Urban Climate Change Research Network (UCCRN) at Columbia University published guidelines for cities to help mitigate climate change impacts, which include the elimination of high-energy intensity options for water—that is, reducing reliance on inter-basin water transfers, desalination, and elimination of non-revenue water, leakage and developing efficient conservation schemes to reduce water demand.9 The results can be dramatic. With a nearly one-to-one relationship between demand and power consumption, reducing or controlling customer demand is one of the most cost effective means of realizing a reduction in GHG emissions.
BREAKING OUT WITH DEMAND-SIDE MANAGEMENT
To survive in this increasingly volatile climate, we must adopt platforms that allow us to meet our water requirements most efficiently. With FATHOM, utilities can both incentivize reduction in customer demand, find and eliminate non-revenue water, operate their systems at lower power and capital cost, and defer or even eliminate capital investments in new water sources.
FATHOM allows utilities to make better use of their existing water supplies and avoid moving to sources that require significantly more power to acquire, treat and distribute. The result is increased resilience, reliability and sustainability. And allows utilities to discharge their responsibility as vanguards of protection in an increasingly warming world.
3R. Kerr, “The Greenhouse Is Making the Water-Poor Even Poorer,” Science 336 (April 27, 2012)
4P. J. Durack et al., “Ocean Salinities Reveal Strong Global Water Cycle Intensification during 1950 to 2000,” Science 336 (2012): 455
5K. LaFond, “Infographic: The Drier, Wetter, Warming U.S.”, Circle of Blue, January 28, 2015 http://www.circleofblue.org/waternews/2015/world/infographic-the-drier-wetter-warming-u-s/
7California Energy Commission, 2005. Integrated Energy Policy Report, November 2005, CEC-100-2005-007-CMF.
8R.C. Wilkinson, F. Karajeh, J. Mottlin, “Water Sources Powering Southern California: Imported Water, Recycled Water, Ground Water, and Desalinated Water”. April, 2005