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 views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

A WARN-ing for Water Utilities

By John Whitler

For me, severe weather really hits home, particularly this week, which is Severe Weather Preparedness Week.  Growing up in the Midwest, I was always aware of the threat of severe weather. Tornado drills at school and emergency alerts on my home television instilled in me a profound respect for the power of severe weather.  Just as my school and parents took preparedness measures to help us be ready should something occur, I now work with drinking water and wastewater utilities to help them prepare and respond to severe weather.

When a severe weather event like a hurricane or flood happens, your water utility may not be able to provide you with clean and safe water—or any water at all—which is why it’s important that everyone be prepared for a disaster before it strikes. But today, water utilities are better able to help one another restore service to the public after a severe weather event through water and wastewater agency response networks, or WARNs. EPA helps support the establishment of WARNs, which are developed and implemented at the local level with the concept of utilities helping utilities.

WARNs enable a faster response and restoration of service than can otherwise be obtained through state or federal emergency response mechanisms.  This reduces the time that a system may be out of service and minimizes disruptions in providing clean and safe potable water to customers.

WARNs have responded to over 25 major incidents at water systems since 2005.  In 2011, the WARN in Alabama provided generators to a water utility in order to restore power and system operations following devastating tornados in Tuscaloosa.  Last year, the WARN in Minnesota provided critical staff and equipment to restore normal operations at several utilities impacted by the epic flooding in Duluth.

Severe weather events can inhibit your utility’s ability to deliver clean water, but a response network allows water utilities across the country to help one another restore service after an event like a hurricane or a flood. Photo credit: Eric Vance, U.S. EPA

Climate change impacts, such as increasing intensity and frequency of extreme weather events, have become a source of growing concern across the U.S.  EPA’s Climate Ready Water Utilities initiative provides utilities with practical and easy-to-use tools to promote a clear understanding of climate science and adaptation options.  These adaption measures will help to reduce impacts to utility operations and ensure that customers will see fewer disruptions to their service.

Severe weather is a potential threat no matter where you live, so being prepared at home is very important. Through WARNs and our Climate Ready Water Utility initiative, we’re making sure water utilities are prepared, too.

About the author: John has been an environmental protection specialist in EPA’s Office of Water since 2004.  John has participated in EPA’s response to severe weather events including Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.