Drought Preparedness: Is Your Water System Ready?
DURATION 2 min read
Every region has unique environmental conditions that public officials and their engineering teams need to be conscious of to make sure our communities have access to vital infrastructure and resources year-round. In Texas, we plan for hurricanes and floods, unusual freezing temperatures in the winter, and drought in the summer. As we enter the summer months in Texas, extreme heat and dry conditions are to be expected, and prolonged periods of drought can wreak havoc on public water systems.
In 2011, Texas endured a historic drought with nearly 88% of the state under “exceptional drought” conditions – the most severe category. The combination of Atlantic Ocean warming, Pacific Ocean cooling, and El Nino/La Nina cooling in the Pacific caused conditions that were not seen before in the history of record keeping.
The 2011 drought drained reservoirs, fueled wildfires, ruined crops, and put a strain on the state’s electric grid. As we enter the hottest months of the year, we should be looking for warning signs of severe drought and planning or preparing for extreme conditions that may lie ahead. Texas is currently well below the normal rainfall level, with about 88% of the state in some form of drought conditions from “abnormally dry” to “exceptional drought”.
While recent rain was beneficial to certain areas of the state, drought conditions in other parts of the state have intensified. Months of dry conditions already contributed to an outbreak of wildfires throughout the state, and increased levels of evaporation as temperatures rise throughout the summer will limit the availability of surface water.
With severe drought conditions across the state, we can expect additional impacts to public water systems ahead.
PUBLIC WATER SYSTEM IMPACTS INCLUDE:
- Increased Demand on Facilities – Water plants, water wells, and rotating equipment will experience increased wear and tear due to the high demand.
- Increased Water Main Repairs – Water mains may also require repair or replacement due to water main breaks from shifting soils.
- Water Usage Restrictions – Water supply available to customers may be limited with surface water sources experiencing greater levels of evaporation and aquifer levels decreasing as demand increases. Water conservation measures, both voluntary and involuntary, may need to be enacted and Drought Contingency Plans implemented.
- Increased Energy Bills & Potential Electrical Outages – Price and availability of electricity will be affected as power plants use large amounts of water for cooling and customers increase their use of air conditioning. Electricity will simultaneously be in greater demand and harder to produce.
There are several steps that water systems can take now to help prepare for severe drought.
PUBLIC WATER SYSTEM DROUGHT PREPARATION MEASURES INCLUDE:
- Review and possibly revise your Drought Contingency Plans (DCPs) – When was the last time your district updated your DCP, and have you experienced any major changes such as converting to surface water since you updated the plan? Most plans are based on well run times, but with surface water, you will need a different key metric and often the implementation of the plan is based on the water authority or regulatory agency providing water to your system. If your water provider enacts drought contingency measures, your water system may be required to do the same regardless of whether your particular water system is experiencing an issue. Check to make sure your plan is up-to-date and the drought contingency stages still make sense for your constituents. Ensure you know who will be responsible for monitoring current conditions and for enforcing the implementation of your DCP. Lastly, make sure you have a method to communicate current conditions and system changes to your customers, whether that’s via drought stage signs, text alerts, emails, website updates, or social media.
- Review your existing Emergency Water Supply Interconnect Agreements – Ensure they are up-to-date with current expectations for water supply and source, pricing, and coordination. Communicate with any interconnect partners to ensure they are going to be ready to supply water if needed, and be sure to test your physical interconnection before any emergency needs arise.
- Ensure you have recently completed water well testing – This should be done bi-annually, at a minimum, to verify that the well, pumps, and electrical equipment are functioning appropriately. If your well capacity has decreased, develop a plan to ensure you can deliver enough water for your district using your available water sources. If your well requires rework to increase its reliability and capacity, you will need to plan for this expense in your Capital Improvement Plan (CIP).
- Monitor existing water line infrastructure for leaks – Consider the current soil conditions and any possible correlation between these conditions and water line leaks. If a water main break occurs due to drought conditions, check that you will have available funding to fix it and develop a plan of action.
- Consider water reuse strategies – Wastewater can be treated for uses such as irrigation or industrial cooling; however, this is a long-term solution, and in the near-term better irrigation system management will be crucial, especially for heavy users like HOAs.
A water system’s most important responsibility is the supply and delivery of water to its constituents. In Texas, drought is one of the many conditions we should be planning and preparing for to ensure this resource is available for our communities. Take steps to prepare your water system and review and update your Drought Contingency Plan including protocols to notify customers of drought stage implementations. Water is a finite resource, but with conservation, education, innovation, and proper planning, your district can more successfully weather the impacts of a drought.
Contact our team if you would like to consult with one of our expert Water District engineers on how to better prepare your water system for drought conditions this summer.