Resilience in Practice:
The scope and the unpredictability of climate change-rated impacts in water supply, waterborne sanitation and urban drainage were beginning to be recognized and specifically understood in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s through the work of the UN-Led IPCC. Today, these expectations are already taking their toll worldwide, with water leading the process as predicted.This presentation is divided into two parts. In the presentation, each part is built around real cases studies from around the world.
Part One, is concerned with on-the-ground case studies of how communities are being impacted by climate change in terms of water supply, waterborne sanitation and urban drainage. In emergent economies making up 80% of population, these changes will lay on top of dramatic growth in needed water supplies for industry and people, pollution and flooding related incidents. Two conferences hosted by AWWA, IWA and WRF, focused on this subject (one in 2005 and the follow-up in 2015), revealed that by 2015, the challenges many water facing every day were linked directly to climate change (as opposed to predictable historical variations in climate).
These experiences included:
1. A one-time and apparently irreversible change in rainfall patterns resulting in permanent drought conditions (Perth, Australia)
2. Episodic game-changing decadal droughts (Australia, US SW, )
3. Never before seen or recorded “Paluvial” rainstorms, in particular those affecting urban areas (Copenhagen Denmark, New York City USA, Brisbane Australia and others)
4. Periodic massive flooding and droughts that fell well outside of the normal probability distributions, in many environments (wet, dry, north, south) throughout the world (UK, Northern Europe, US South East)
5. Substantially and statistically increased cyclonic storm events, and their magnitudes and related water impacts, with far ranging impacts, particularly in the Pacific Ocean and impacting developing urban coastal areas in East Asia/China. (Taiwan, Philippines, SE China coastal cities)
To those of us classically trained in the notion of hydrological long term predictability, with a bounded range uncertainty in the short run, (called stationarity in statistical terms), the prospect of a new world in which truly unpredictable things happen can be a little or even a lot, terrifying. This new world was chronicled in a pivotal academic article based on the notion that “Stationarity is Dead”.
Once this concept sunk in, at least to the most thoughtful academics and practitioners, a rapid change in thinking occurred – from sustainability to one of resilience in coping with the shocks to come. In another words, we are no long trying to restore our previous world order, but instead trying to find a way to graciously or in-graciously survive in the new world order of repeated and unpredictable shocks to come. The term resilience”, came to popularly express the latter state…the state that is already upon us.
Part Two of the presentation is framed by the question: How can we plan for something that we cannot predict?
Again, drawing on the ever-growing number of cases studies, in addition to those cited above, a growing recognition is emerging that doing nothing in this conundrum, is like playing Russian Roulette with a community’s most vital asset – water supply. wastewater services and risk minimizing techniques for managing stormwater.
The international case studies are telling us that for communities that increased their resiliency were left for the time being, in a considerably better place compared with inaction. Perth, Australia not only survived overwhelming odds, but has flourished through adapting to the new and still unpredictable future.
Although the fact that developing a good strategy for strengthening resilience and long-term adaptability is highly specific to a local (city, region, etc.), there do seem to be some underlying themes and commitments in effective strategies seen thus far:
1. Whatever the strategy, it must be based on the following commitment: Ensure the long run viability of your ability to provide water, treat it and manage it, including flooding — full stop. Curtailing service to parts of cities, as happened in many cities akin to “sporadic curtailments” in electrical systems, is an abysmal failure to deliver what should never be viewed a “strategy”. The idea of water starvation or all-out failure even in the most impoverished countries is unacceptable by international standard!!
2. In line with Point One, the development of water resources in this new era of uncertainty must involve multiple sources to ensure the reliability of supply. Perth’s guiding principle was “water security through diversity”. This security is typically coming in affected communities by combining traditional sources of supply like surface water, with ground water augmentation. In addition, adding non-traditional sources like highly treated wastewater for direct “fit for purpose” uses such as a power plant cooling (e.g. in China) or for groundwater recharge purposes are but two examples of what is becoming a common strategy (around the world). Finally, adding more storage and conveyance is an essential part of most strategies with the caveat being that if there’s no water falling, there is nothing to divert to more or larger reservoirs (seen in Australia cases).
3. Linked to the necessary structural elements of an effective and localized strategy are many non-structural elements. For example, the established and practiced linkages with the meteorological communities of practice, understanding the importance of soil sampling, the establishment of trigger points for “shifting gears” and operator training to recognize precursors to events to come and their associated triggers.
4. Providing “space for water” to mitigate flooding (an old idea but recently reinvigorated by the Dutch who came to believe that higher dikes can’t solve all problems). There are multiple strategies for accomplish this mitigation in both urbanized and rural settings around the world – examples of which would be graciously supplied by the presenter
5. Finally, systematic water conservation programs linked to incentivized rate structures and national rewards for customers contributing to the achievement of “more for less” can make a big difference in the long term.
Experts on the subject of resilience (e.g.,my colleague, Steve Moddemeyer) cite eight aspects of resilience. That and more of Steve’s work in the context of water and climate change will be covered in the presentation.The final element of the presentation is a set of thoughts/recommendations related to what Malaysia could do to ensure a reliable water supply and protection from flooding and preservation of environmental water quality in the unpredictable times to come. All in the context of major growth, climate change influences of the kind described about and a lot of uncertainty related to each.