water utilities

The power goes out, but the water flows on

by Patti Kay Wisniewski

Exercising emergency response plans at DC Water’s Fort Reno Reservoir Pumping Station

Exercising emergency response plans at DC Water’s Fort Reno Reservoir Pumping Station

Have you ever wondered how water continues flowing to your faucet even when your power goes out?  Lots of us take this fact for granted, because losing water service is so rare. That’s no accident. It’s because the water industry invests significant time and effort to keep the water flowing during all types of emergencies.

Maintaining power at water treatment plants is key to making sure the water delivered to homes and businesses is safe. They need power for dosing treatment chemicals, measuring treatment performance, and powering pumps. Many water utilities have back-up generators to keep these important components functioning, as well as close working relationships with energy providers to ensure that they are a top priority for restoring service.

EPA and state drinking water programs have worked with water utilities for decades to develop emergency response plans. But, a plan that simply sits on a shelf doesn’t do much good in an emergency. That’s why EPA, states and utilities “exercise” these plans – to practice what would happen in a crisis, and ensure that the water continues to flow in a real emergency.

For example EPA’s Mid-Atlantic drinking water program works closely with utilities in the District of Columbia to develop and exercise response plans.  Last year, we held exercises to test water sampling plans, laboratory capabilities, and communicating with the public and the media during emergencies.

The potential impacts of climate change also play a part in response plans and emergency exercises.  Water utilities understand the importance of delivering safe water to their customers, even when extreme weather causes flooding, power outages, or even losing a water source.

Paying close attention to the local weather forecasts is also critical to pre-planning efforts, as is working closely with other emergency responders, such as fire, police, and haz-mat, as well as local and state agencies.  Many utilities have joined water and wastewater agency response networks (WARNs) that let them more easily obtain support during severe weather events, and provide support to utilities in neighboring communities.

Check out EPA’s website to learn more about water utility emergency response and efforts to help water utilities be more resilient when emergencies happen.

 

About the author: Patti Kay Wisniewski has worked in the drinking water program for over 30 years covering such topics as emergency preparedness, consumer confidence reports, and the new electronic delivery option.

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Bathtub Preparedness Planning

Several links below exit EPA Exit EPA Disclaimer

By Michael Dexter

Growing up in Florida the threat of extreme weather brought a rush of last minute preparations, and I clearly remember the urgency involved with preparing for such events. We would clear portions of the house likely to flood, park the car on high ground, and ready an inflatable dinghy. Like many people, we had stocks of food and bottled water. However, we also filled up the bathtub with water in case service was out for awhile. I guess you could say the bathtub became our prime–make that our only–backup water supply plan.

If we lost water pressure, we used a gallon of water from the tub for flushing. If directed by our health department, we boiled water to drink. When we needed to wash, we scooped another cup out of the tub. While I understood the need for personal preparedness, I never thought about how the broader community prepared for water service interruptions, or what could have happened if that interruption lasted for more than a day or two.

Today, EPA works with communities and water utilities across the country to help them prepare for extreme weather events like floods, hurricanes and tornadoes. The EPA’s Community-Based Water Resiliency Tool helps communities and utilities understand and plan for the widespread impacts that often accompany extreme weather events. The tool helps critical community services like healthcare facilities, energy producers, and firefighters assess and increase their own preparedness level by providing tools and resources to gauge their current level of preparedness.

Last May, EPA worked with St. Clair County, Michigan on a roundtable exercise using the tool. The meeting promoted a better awareness of interdependencies between water and other community services, fostered a greater understanding of the county’s water infrastructure, discussed potential community impacts of a water service interruption during an extreme weather event, and identified actions and resources needed to respond to, and recover from, a water emergency. Drills like this exercise are a tremendous opportunity for entities like St. Clair County to think strategically about how to respond to an emergency situation that could affect thousands of its residents.

Like your community or water utility, you can prepare for the impacts of an extreme weather event. Just go to ready.gov

About the author: Michael Dexter is an Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education participant with EPA’s Water Security Division. He lived in Southwest Florida for over two decades and experienced Hurricanes Charley, Frances, and Mitch among others. He currently resides in Washington, DC and works on the Community-Based Water Resiliency effort to help utilities, and the communities they serve, increase all hazard water preparedness.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.