WSI 2018: Thinking about water & climate

More than 800 industry professionals attended the 11th annual WaterSmart Innovations (WSI) Conference and Exposition held October 3-5. The conference has drawn participants from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and 42 countries since it began in 2008.

In his keynote address, Jerry Yudelson, P.E. discussed how water industry professionals must adapt their planning to account for future climate conditions.

Dubbed the "Godfather of Green" by Wired Magazine, he is a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Fellow.  Yudelson is the author of 14 books on green building, green homes, green marketing, water conservation, and sustainable development. 

"How can water professionals begin to plan for climate-related risks, especially with so much uncertainty about timing, magnitude, frequency, and duration?" he said.

He noted that changing weather conditions could likely lead to extreme events, resulting in a far greater cost to water systems and people.  "Extreme weather, such as drought, flooding, heat, and wind, always have a human face. We must be resilient," Yudelson said. 

Yudelson said extreme weather events often probe a city’s weaknesses much as standing water finds cracks in the foundation of a house. “Are we considering extreme weather events, sea level rises, and how they may impact our own vulnerabilities? Think about it — 40 percent of the United States population lives in counties directly on a shoreline.”

The California Coastal Commission advised its coastal cities to prepare for 10 feet of sea level rise by 2100. However, the Port of San Diego responded that “…planning for such events without a greater degree of certainty is not appropriate.”

He noted that changing weather conditions could include more intense, longer-lasting storms with heavier rainfall. This could result in a greater cost for storm remediation.

As an example, Yudelson shared statistics provided by Kevin Trenberth with the National Center for Atmospheric Research.  “Hurricane Florence (2018) is estimated to cost $45 billion, which is 20 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of South Carolina. Hurricane Maria (2017) could cost $90 billion, or 85 percent of Puerto Rico’s GDP. Hurricane Katrina (2005) could cost $130 billion, or 65 percent of Louisiana’s GDP,” Yudelson said.

It is time for water professionals to "box outside the think."  Yudelson asked the group to imagine new possibilities by soliciting advice from unlikely sources that may see water planning in a different way.

"If you have 100 engineers working on an aerospace challenge, then the 101st engineer is not going to make that much difference. However, if you add a biologist, a nanotechnologist, or a musician, maybe you will see something fundamentally different. This will help envision and create alternative systems that could respond better to weather events," Yudelson said.

He asked conference attendees to continue their water conservation and water efficiency efforts. "Conservation oriented water rate structures, use of new technologies, new regulations, and public education efforts are all ways to stretch existing water supplies. You can’t cover all future situations—but it is important to imagine various scenarios for extreme events," he said. 

This can include new standards for land use and/or landscaping; use of stormwater, wastewater, and graywater; and developing new standards for “near net-zero” water use in new buildings and major renovations.

“Here’s a scenario for you — Imagine that you are attending the WaterSmart Conference opening session in this ballroom five to ten years from now. Suddenly, the sensors in your Apple Watch detect carbon dioxide (CO2) levels in the room to be higher than allowed standards. Real time connectivity allows us to find the problem, diagnose it, and quickly remedy it. Just imagine how that type of technology could have impacted the Flint, Michigan water crisis,” he said.

WaterSmart Innovations featured more than 100 technical sessions and 30 poster presentations. Be sure to visit https://watersmartinnovations.com/sessions.php to view or download the PowerPoint presentations.

Highlights from these talks will be included in future issues of The Cross Section.