Hurricane Sandy Turns Spotlight on Water Infrastructure

The impacts of large-scale disasters such as major hurricanes like Sandy can be quite apparent after the event, but the effects on buried infrastructure are less apparent at the time of the disaster and can have long-term effects on the buried systems. Stormwater and combined sewer overflows sometimes occur during torrential and historic storms but the environmental impact of these incidents can be minimized by repairing and replacing leaking pipes, building large tunnels, and using strategic green infrastructure. Sandy hit the East Coast on October 29 and overwhelmed combined sewer systems and sanitary sewer systems in the mid-Atlantic states up to New England, eastern Canada, and the Great Lakes.

In the case of Hurricane Sandy, for example, both types of systems were overwhelmed in the Washington, DC area.  DC Water estimated that 240 million gallons of untreated, but diluted, wastewater were discharged into the Potomac and Anacostia Rivers as the sewer system and treatment plants were inundated. The Little Patuxent River Water Reclamation Plant in Howard County, Maryland suffered a power outage that led to 20 to 25 million gallons of untreated wastewater diluted with stormwater finding its way into the Patuxent River.

It is hard to say why a 100 year storm event happens or why 10 year storms seem to occur more frequently. The facts indicate a gradual warming over the past decades is resulting in both water and surface temperatures increasing with warmer summers and milder winters, and this warming is linked to extreme weather.  Public Policy and technical innovation are key to finding effective solutions.

Follow links below to several recent stories from various news sources highlighting the importance of water infrastructure investment and growing need to address the impact of climate change as a result of Hurricane Sandy:

Thank You First Responders! Water’s Worth It!

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, WEF Executive Director, Jeff Eger, issued a video commending the efforts of all the heroes working to save lives and property and restore the infrastructure system, including power, transportation, and water and wastewater service. To view the video, click here.

Hurricane Sandy Shows We Need To Prepare For Climate Change, Cuomo And Bloomberg Say Huffington Post (103012)

A day after New York City experienced its worst storm surges in recorded history, Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the city may need to respond to climate change with solutions like storm barriers. Such protections would be extremely costly, but climate change experts said Hurricane Sandy provided a first glimpse of the challenges all coastal areas will face as sea levels rise and extreme weather events become more frequent. Cuomo said on Tuesday that he told President Barack Obama it seemed like “we have a 100-year flood every two years now.”  Full Story

New York’s Neglected Infrastructure Fails – CNN.com (110212)

It should come as no surprise to anyone that New York’s infrastructure wasn’t up to Hurricane Sandy.  What happened in New York was not all that different than what’s happened in other places hit by freakish weather events — the infrastructure wasn’t robust enough to withstand nature. The problems in New York stem from many factors. For a start, infrastructure investment here is no more a priority than it is in other places across the country: It’s simply not something that voters want badly. When given a choice between investing in schools, health and housing or investing in sewers, tunnels or roads, the latter will always lose out. Consider the case of London, a city whose infrastructure is — in almost every respect — even older than New York’s. Yet over the last 25 years, London has grabbed one opportunity after another to bring its core infrastructure — power, transport and water — into the 21st century. In almost every aspect, the city’s infrastructure is today more resilient than ours.  Full Story

Silver Linings and Stronger Infrastructure – Water Efficiency (103012)

While final damage estimates are not available, it’s clear that Hurricane Sandy will leave a costly aftermath—power lines, substations, roads, bridges, coastlines: they will all have to be repaired, restored, and rehabilitated. Water utilities will not be dodging any bullet. If Hurricane Irene is any indication, there will be pipes a plenty that will need mending and replacing. As reported in a study, “Impact of Hurricanes and Flooding on Buried Infrastructure,” the impacts of large-scale disasters such as major hurricanes can be quite apparent after the event, but the effects on buried infrastructure are less apparent at the time of the disaster and can have long-term effects on the buried systems. Full Story

Superstorm Sandy Exposes Need for Innovative Water Infrastructure Solutions – National Geographic.com (110112)

Big storms and hurricanes are becoming more frequent and more severe. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo commented in a press conference October 30 that “we have a 100-year flood every two years now.” These mega-storms not only cause death and destruction in coastal communities, they cause a ripple effect of public safety, health, and economic consequences including flooding, power outages, sewage spillsdrinking water advisories, crippled transportation systems, and…rats. A report by American Rivers, “Natural Defenses: Safeguarding Communities from Floods” offers solutions that help protect public safety by working with nature. The report calls for renewed investment in protecting the nation’s natural defenses – our wetlands, rivers and floodplains – because it’s the most reliable, cost-effective, and flexible path toward helping communities stay safe.

Another report, “Banking on Green: How Green Infrastructure Can Save Municipalities Money and Provide Economic Benefits Community-wide,” published by American Rivers, the Water Environment Federation, the American Society of Landscape Architects, and ECONorthwest, examines how green infrastructure can lower flood damage and costs. While these “green infrastructure” approaches won’t altogether replace traditional engineering and “gray infrastructure” like flood walls, levees and dams, they should be part of the backbone of our water management strategy and integrated with those traditional approaches. Full Story

Sandy Points the Way to Shovel Ready Projects – Infrastructure Spending Can Lead  U.S. Out of Recession – Politico.com (103112)

In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, spending by governments on public infrastructure repairs might actually provide a welcome boost to the economy, but we shouldn’t need a damaging storm to make that happen. There is already plenty of pressing infrastructure projects that governments could fund which would improve the economic situation. A quick mobilization of resources to complete necessary repairs could temporarily boost employment and improve business for companies producing and selling construction materials. There would also be additional multiplier effects of this spending on the economy, as workers and business owners spend their increased wages and profits. Speeding up other infrastructure repair projects would also put people back to work. For example, many cities have aging water systems that experience regular costly water main breaks. These projects don’t need costly studies or lengthy environmental impact reports and could be implemented almost immediately. Buy materials, dig up the streets, replace the pipes, repair the streets and pay your workers. They are truly shovel ready projects in need of funding. Full Story

Post-Sandy New York Aims To Rethink Infrastructure Not Just Rebuild It – Scientific American (103112)

As New York, New Jersey and the rest of the Northeast U.S. come to grips with Hurricane Sandy’s impact, some leaders are realizing that two debilitating hurricanes in as many years there are a sign that infrastructure needs rethought, not just rebuilt. Postmortem assessments of Sandy’s effects should include a “fundamental rethinking of our built environment,” New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday during a press conference.  “The challenge is not just to build back but to build back better than before.” Full Story

Water Resource Infrastructure Not Adequately Funded, Report SaysArmy Corps of Engineers News (103112)

As the East Coast slowly begins to dry out after Hurricane Sandy, some academics are warning that floods may become the norm.  The National Research Council has published a report calling on the Army Corps of Engineers to change the way it manages 14,000 miles of levees, 700 dams, and many more water structures. It calls on Congress and the White House to act, too. Full Story

Sandy – A reminder to strengthen U.S. infrastructureSan Francisco Chronicle (110112)

Superstorm Sandy was a stark reminder of how vulnerable U.S. cities are and how infrastructure is being taken for granted, according to this piece. Sandy “illustrate[s] just how critical infrastructure is to a metropolitan area’s economy,” said Robert Puentes, director of infrastructure policy program at the Brookings Institution. “Hopefully, it will spur some action, not necessarily just in terms of huge federal outlays, but in deciding what the infrastructure needs are for a 21st century economy, and what is needed to withstand the kinds of storms we’re seeing.”  Full Story

Hurricane Sandy Updates: Water/Wastewater Agency Response Network Situation Reports for EPA Regions I – V American Water Works Association

A Water and Wastewater Agency Response Network (WARN) is a network of utilities helping other utilities to respond to and recover from emergencies. The purpose of a WARN is to provide a method whereby water/wastewater utilities that have sustained or anticipate damages from natural or human-caused incidents can provide and receive emergency aid and assistance in the form of personnel, equipment, materials, and other associated services as necessary from other water/wastewater utilities.

2012 NOV 01- Sandy Update 4
2012 OCT 31 – Sandy Update 3
2012 OCT 30 – Sandy Update 2
2012 OCT 29 – Sandy Update 1

In the Wake of Sandy, House Commerce Committee Democrats Call for Hearing on Climate Change

Energy and Commerce Committee Ranking Member Henry A. Waxman (D-CA) and Energy and Power Subcommittee Ranking Member Bobby L. Rush (D-IL) sent a letter to Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton and Energy and Power Subcommittee Chairman Ed Whitfield requesting a hearing during the lame duck session on Hurricane Sandy, extreme weather events, and climate change. The letter states: “Hurricane Sandy is the type of extreme weather event that climate scientists have said will become more common if we fail to reduce our carbon pollution. That is why we are writing to request that you hold a hearing on the storm and its relation to climate change in the lame duck session.”

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