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New Study Assesses Climate Impacts on Rhode Island's Major Wastewater Facilities, Offers Guidance to Mitigate Risk

Release Marks 7th Anniversary of the State's Great Flood of 2010

PROVIDENCE The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) today released findings of a new study that examines the impacts of climate change on the state's wastewater infrastructure. As part of broader State efforts to build climate resilience, the Implications of Climate Change for R.I. Wastewater Collection and Treatment Infrastructure Study also includes recommendations to help mitigate risk of flooding, storm surge and other severe weather impacts across Rhode Island's 19 major wastewater treatment facilities.

"As a coastal state, Rhode Island is uniquely vulnerable to climate change, but we are also poised to lead," said Governor Gina M. Raimondo. "We continue to push toward a more resilient Rhode Island: we've constructed the nation's first offshore wind farm, dramatically expanded our clean energy sector, taken action at the state and regional level to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and continue to invest in our infrastructure. The 2010 floods taught us a profound lesson about our vulnerabilities but also about the spirit and ingenuity of Rhode Islanders. As we work to implement this Study's recommendations, we have an opportunity to harness the creativity and expertise of local contractors, engineers and others to build more resilient facilities and support our economy. I applaud all partners involved in this effort; it is a great example of how we can work together to move Rhode Island forward."

In Rhode Island, as elsewhere, increasingly intense rainstorms have damaged wastewater treatment plants and pump stations, which are typically located in low-lying areas. It is expected that continued climate change will accelerate this risk. Of the state's 19 major treatment facilities, seven are predicted to become predominantly inundated in a catastrophic event, according to the Study.

"Clean, healthy waterways are critical to our economy and public health. We know that sea level rise and extreme weather are already impacting wastewater treatment plants, and the federal government must play a constructive role in helping states upgrade their water infrastructure. I have worked in my capacity as a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee to secure federal funds that can be used to upgrade the equipment at wastewater treatment facilities and existing remote pump stations to ensure that the system continues to operate efficiently, protect the community from harmful pollutants, and preserve the surrounding wetlands, coastal ponds, and water resources," said U.S. Senator Jack Reed.

DEM, in cooperation with the State's Executive Climate Change Coordinating Council and local communities, commissioned the Study to help the State and local communities better understand the threats posed by climate change and take action to protect critical wastewater infrastructure. Based on an analysis of recent storm events and new and existing flood mapping, the Study includes individual risk assessments for each plant with a series of suggested improvements to help protect the facility from future flooding events. Combined, these facilities treat nearly 120 million gallons of wastewater daily.

"In Rhode Island, we saw firsthand in the spring of 2010 the harm that a flooded wastewater treatment plant can cause for a community," said Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, author of the National Oceans and Coastal Security Act, which created a dedicated fund to restore, research, and reinforce coastal areas in the face of sea level rise, flooding, and increased storm surge. "I applaud Governor Raimondo and the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management for taking the lead in preparing the state's wastewater treatment plants for rising sea levels and major storms. I'm going to keep fighting in Congress to make sure the critical infrastructure along Rhode Island's coast is protected."

"I am grateful to Governor Raimondo and Director Coit for conducting this study following the devastating floods of 2010," said Congressman Jim Langevin. "This is an excellent example of federal funding being put to good use to mitigate future severe weather events. Climate change is a reality to us in the Ocean State, which is why I strongly oppose recent budget cuts and policy changes by the Trump Administration that would both worsen the effects of global warming and reduce our ability to respond to them."

"We are already confronting rising seas, warmer weather, and more intense rainstorms," said DEM Director Janet Coit. "The vibrancy of our economy and health of our communities depend on us taking practical actions now to prepare for climate change. That means identifying and addressing areas where our infrastructure is at risk. This study provides critical information needed to make smart decisions that protect public health and strengthen our state's resilience. We are thrilled to see some communities already putting it to use."

A copy of the Implications of Climate Change for R.I. Wastewater Collection & Treatment Infrastructure Study is available at http://dem.ri.gov/programs/water/wwtf/wwtf-climate.php; this site also includes links to coastal and inland flood mapping tools used in the report and a special report, entitled The Flood Crews of 2010, which documents the experiences of several wastewater treatment plant operators during the Great Flood of 2010.

The $222,900 Study was prepared by the Providence office of Woodard and Curran Engineering. It was funded largely through a grant received from the Rhode Island Office of Housing and Community Development, via proceeds from a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Community Development Block Grant received in the wake of the 2010 floods. These funds were intended to be used to help Rhode Island recover from the floods and to reduce exposure to similar impacts in the future. The Department continues to provide guidance to communities on system design and flood protection as part of its ongoing efforts to integrate climate change considerations into wastewater system planning.

For more information on DEM programs and initiatives, visit www.dem.ri.gov. Follow us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/RhodeIslandDEM or on Twitter (@RhodeIslandDEM) for timely updates.

Related links

  • Department or agency: Department of Environmental Management
  • Online: http://www.dem.ri.gov/
  • Release date: 03-30-2017

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