Gauging the Vulnerability of Local Water Systems to Extreme Events
Water utilities that rely on surface water may be vulnerable to future droughts and floods, a vulnerability that may be magnified by climate perturbations as well as shorter-term and, in some cases, ongoing changes in the political and regulatory environment in which utilities operate. Unfortunately, day-to-day responsibilities currently occupy most utility operators, leaving little time to plan for inherently uncertain effects. The record of actual responses to past droughts and floods can be illuminating, however, particularly when placed in the context of plausible hydrologic disruption and pressures such as population growth, floodplain development and new regulatory demands. This paper draws on interviews with water utility operators in the northwestern USA to highlight opportunities and constraints that water utilities may face vis-à-vis such disruptions. Key considerations affecting vulnerabilities include water rights, institutional barriers to efficient utility operations, hazard management policy and the fiscal status of utilities.
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