By Rich Anderson, Senior Advisor, Mayors Water Council
Mayors are elevating stormwater management to priority investment status alongside public water supply and sewer/wastewater to implement a resiliency makeover. This was the clear message from New York City and New Orleans who, along with members of the private sector, presented to the Mayors Water Council Meeting on June 23 in Miami Beach. The two cities — both with prime-value real estate and public infrastructure – one on an island, and one on a delta — are making place-based decisions about priorities involving major capital investments. Both cities are challenged by coastal high-hazard conditions, and high rates of precipitation. Their resilience strategies involve a risk evaluation that assesses damage from catastrophic storms, hurricanes and floods, and when applied to the city’s water infrastructure, helps local leaders make decisions to prioritize investments moving forward (an urgent local need that is not well served by one-size-fits-all remedies).
Bob Bailey, Executive Vice President of CH2M, one of the premiere engineering and resiliency consultants, provided a framework for how major U.S. cities conduct resiliency planning by rationalizing a risk-to-decision process. Bailey stated that if local leaders would, “embrace decision and risk management tools and processes…that involve an integrated, solutions-based approach,” it could be the key to solving the problem and gaining a competitive advantage.
Local leaders should continue to pursue traditional funding sources (e.g., revenue collection; municipal bonds; state/federal grants; state/federal loans), according to Bailey, but also explore alternative funding sources (e.g., emergency relief funds; economic development funds; public-private partnerships; private equity investment; incentivized developer investments; targeted grants).
Brian Gackstatter, Vice President, CH2M, talked about his experience advising cities on resilience, especially in New York City. His message was that cities have a broad range of tools to call upon to address the needs and scheduling of strategic investments to target infrastructure asset resiliency, not just those in tropical storm territory. Communities with low precipitation and prone to drought can also benefit from resiliency planning to maintain the flow of clean water all year round.
New York City Resiliency Planning (NYC)
Storm and flood damage in New York City and local efforts to combat them have a long history. Vincent Sapienza, Commissioner of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), described current planning strategies and implementation of resilience measures, many of which involve large capital investments.
Repeated annual storms and hurricanes have challenged conventional coastal high hazard delineations. The Commissioner stated that “Hurricanes Irene (2011) and Sandy (2012), and the Long Island Storm (2014), are reminders of how vulnerable New York and Long Island are to rising sea levels combined with cloudbursts of high-volume precipitation, storms and hurricanes.” Hurricane Sandy may have been the worst storm event in 2012, with an estimated $75 billion of assessed damage, 233 people killed in eight countries in its path.
Sapienza portrayed the coastal inundation point emphatically when he displayed the FEMA Flood Maps for the 100-year and 500-year flood zones, and then overlaid the reach of Sandy, which went beyond the 500-year flood event. He exhibited stark photos of a subway station and the Owls Head Waste Water Treatment Plant inundated with flooding. Meanwhile, a blue-ribbon panel, assembled to advise the city, reported in 2015 that, by 2050, changing meteorological conditions are estimated to increase ambient air temperature in NYC by 4 to 5.7ºF; increase precipitation by as much as 11 percent and produce sea level rises of 21 inches.
The DEP is responsible for providing water, sewer and stormwater management services via a sizable and geographically disperse inventory of water, sewer, wastewater and stormwater control assets. The Commissioner talked about how the changing sea level and higher flood potential from increasing precipitation require resilience planning to protect and provide service delivery that reflects these new challenges.
The city delivers one billion gallons of water supply to nine million New Yorkers every day. This involves maintaining 7,000 miles of water mains and protecting a 2,000-square-mile watershed, including 19 reservoirs and three controlled lakes. The Commissioner stated, “Major capital investments are in progress to ensure supply by increasing conveyance, storage and treatment capacity.”
Current NYC Water Supply Capital Projects
- Croton Filtration Plant $3.3 bill
- Kensico-Eastview Tunnel $1.24 bill
- Delaware Aqueduct Bypass Tunnel $1 bill
- Shaft 4 Interconnection Facility $41 mill
The city is responsible for treating 1.3 billion gallons of wastewater each day. This service involves the following physical assets: operate and maintain 14 plants, 96 pumping stations and 7,500 miles of sewers.
DEP adopted a wastewater resiliency plan in 2013. It identifies an adaptive management strategy to assess risk of failure or interruption of service, and what measures can be taken to anticipate and intervene (prevent or mitigate). The key adaptive measures involve: elevating equipment; flood-proof equipment; install static barriers; seal building; install backup power; repair/replace conduit wire; etc.
City of New Orleans Resiliency Planning (NOLA)
Ryan Berni, Deputy Mayor of the City of New Orleans, discussed ongoing resiliency efforts the city is pursuing. New Orleans’ geography is one of its greatest assets, but being located on a delta is also one of its greatest challenges. The city is vulnerable to four pressing problems: sea level rise, coastal erosion, flooding and land subsidence.
Deputy Mayor Berni was joined by Patrick Schultz, Principal & General Manager, Resource Optimization, for Veolia North America.
New Orleans must drain an enormous amount of water every day (29 billion gallons per day) — “enough to empty a 10-sq. mi., 13.5ft. deep lake every 24 hours,” stated Deputy Mayor Berni. This requires a complex drainage system consisting of: 150 miles of covered canals; 100 miles of open canals; 200 miles of pipes of 36-inch diameter or greater; 24 pumping stations; 119 pumps; and management capacity of 51,000 cubic feet/second (CFS).
Berni stated that a strategic plan was prepared in 2013 in concert with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) entitled “Greater New Orleans Hurricane & Storm Risk Reduction System,” and this plan is a blueprint for initiatives intended to support daily drainage. New Orleans has invested more than $14.6 billion to establish or build 133 miles of levees, floodwalls, floodgates and pump stations to maximize drainage capacity.
The city released the New Orleans City Resilience Strategy in August 2015. This document sets forth key principles to guide the city’s efforts and investments in making the water, sewer and drainage systems resilient. In this regard, New Orleans is truly differentiating itself. For example, the city is embracing change not just by solving problems, but turning those problems into solutions that give the city a competitive advantage and room for growth.
The ‘Adapt to Thrive’ strategy relies on five approaches. The first approach involves advancing efforts aimed at stemming coastal erosion and restoration. Investments are chosen based on how comprehensive and innovative their projects are. The city seeks to incentivize property owners to make household investments in risk reduction. The final two approaches are: creating a life awareness of environmental issues for citizens, and committing to mitigate the effects of climate change.
Berni presented graphics depicting examples of projects (big and small) that, when pieced together, have a considerable mitigative impact on flooding. For example, he presented projects involving green spaces and permeable areas to stem flood flows. Projects, however, are also ranked for priority investment if they yield multiple benefits (e.g., green space for enhanced infiltration of rainwater, but also serve as outdoor recreation areas for public health promotion.
Veolia’s Patrick Schultz described the role Veolia played in the New Orleans resiliency plan along with strategic partner Swiss Re. The two companies (one a giant in water delivery, the other in insurance, risk assessment and infrastructure risk transfer) combined capabilities to “conduct a risk evaluation of Sewerage and Water Board of New Orleans’ (SWBNO) critical infrastructure and identify opportunities to protect assets by pre-funding catastrophic losses,” stated Schultz. SWBNO has completed study in collaboration with Veolia and Swiss Re, and is looking to implement recommendations. The City of New Orleans is interested in performing similar analyses for city-owned critical infrastructure.
Schultz stated that “meaningful resilience planning needs to be at the asset level.” He said SWBNO has 200 key assets, and the risk assessment analysis applied resulted in identifying: $160M of must-have surge hardening investments to reduce expected loss by 60 percent; identification of a series of operational excellence recommendations focused on asset reliability and workforce development; and $6.5M of quick-win surge hardening investments to reduce expected loss by 72 percent. The results of the risk assessment are now part of the SWBNO’s strategic resiliency investments.