Sustainability and Resiliency of Wastewater and Drinking Water Treatment Plants

Ayla Pavelka


Climate change is a complex and multifaceted issue with many considerations to be taken into account when devising strategies to effectively mitigate impacts and promote resilience. Future climate projections from recent studies predict Indiana’s climate to warm significantly in the coming decades, increasing the frequency of extremely hot days and extreme precipitation events.  

Water supply systems and wastewater treatment facilities throughout the state will face increased drought risk, changing water demand due to extreme heat and changes in storm interarrival time, increased flooding and sediment loads, and potential changes to source water quality.  Without guidance from historical perspectives in a rapidly changing environment, the response to these changes will be based heavily on recent events and changing statistics in historical records, future projections of climate change impacts from models.

Examination of case studies of facilities throughout the United States that attempted to adapt to changing conditions is also an important approach. To boost resiliency, wastewater and drinking water treatment facilities should incorporate changing flood risk into long-term planning and provide robust mechanisms for dealing with power emergencies.  In high-risk cases, wastewater treatment plants may need to be relocated to adapt to changing conditions.

While climate change mitigation strategies are more difficult to generalize, as they tend to be unique to smaller regions and specific water basins, possible methods such as increased green infrastructure, installation of water reclamation systems, and relocation of sensitive equipment to high elevation can all be achieved with relative ease while having a significant impact on the ability of a facility to manage extreme weather events and changes in climate. Greenhouse gas reduction strategies are also typically local in scale, but control of methane releases is one avenue for reducing greenhouse gas emissions that has widespread applicability. Lastly, the threats posed by climate change must be addressed with urgency, as they continue to grow in magnitude and have the potential to impose catastrophic damage on existing infrastructure.