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CoreLogic Briefing on Wastewater Infrastructure

An Opportunity and a Risk

Stuart Quinn    |    Housing Policy

 

Nationwide Wastewater Treatment Facility Risk Scores

Intrusions of water volume caused by natural events adversely affect the critical infrastructure responsible for treatment, quality and delivery of water in the United States. On March 16, 2016 CoreLogic participated in a Congressional briefing on the vulnerability of critical water infrastructure on Capitol Hill. Introductory comments were made by John Duncan Jr. (R-TN-2), Daniel Lipinski (D-IL-3) and Richard Hanna (D-NY-22) about scale and challenges posed by natural events on our Nation’s clean water supply. The hearing highlighted select counties experiencing recent disruptions and CoreLogic, chief scientist, Howard Botts illuminated the scope of risk posed to treatment facilities nationwide.

The Environmental Protection Agency tracks 1.2 million unique wastewater treatment facilities in the United States. These facilities and the piping infrastructure that serves as the underground highway to treatment facilities have a tendency to be taken for granted until heavy storms or flood overbear capacity; resulting in potential damage to the environment, surrounding structures or even the health of residents serviced.

Wastewater treatment facilities have a tendency to be constructed on lower land elevations that would benefit from natural flows of gravity. Unfortunately, this predisposes facilities to greater flood-risk. An analysis conducted by Dr. Wei Du and Dr. Botts of the 1.2 million tracked EPA facilities evaluated by CoreLogic Flood Risk and Flash Flood models demonstrates just how pervasive this issue is across the nation. Each model takes a variety of public and proprietary inputs to establish rankings associated with flood risk at the parcel level [1]. The output indicates that over half of the wastewater treatment facilities in the U.S. are in areas assigned a level of high risk, very high risk or extreme ratings. One policy recommendation put forth by multiple panelists was to identify and create a national prioritization of high risk waste water treatment infrastructure in order to maximize the available funds. This ranking could include things such as the risk score, age or vulnerability levels of facilities, potential collateral damage of surrounding structures or business interruption.

Each of the counties of St. Louis, Miami-Dade and the city of Los Angeles readily admit that insufficient funding is a major barrier to the desired resiliency for facilities operated within their jurisdictions. Beyond establishing a more robust preemptive financing framework for wastewater infrastructure, the majority of the panelists opined that more organized and integrated planning would also assist in mitigating against future risk. For instance, highways engineered in certain designs have the potential to not only navigate traffic, but can double as flood barriers. Additionally, the more communication across all political boundaries and jurisdictions can drive effective preventive and post-disaster response procedures based on measured outcomes.

The appeal for near-term funding for resilience and repairs can seem slight when compared to the urgency of post-disaster allocations made when emergency is already underway. Ongoing analysis being conducted by the National Infrastructure Advisory Council will include recommendations on this particular topic and be delivered to the President in the coming months, which may elevate the dialogue. Cost-benefit analysis of public or private-public partnership projects are subject to a number of assumptions, but the increased accessibility to environmental and financial data can and should result in reevaluating the way we address the needs of infrastructure such as wastewater treatment facilities. Willingness to look past today or tomorrow could lead to the realization that these investments hold huge potential opportunity in the future for our nation’s water, something we should all care a great deal about.

Panelists

Adel Hagekhalil, assistant director, City of Los Angeles Sanitation (moderator)

Brian Helscher, executive director, Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District

Bertha Goldber, PE, assistant director, Miami-Dade Water & Sewer Department

Carly Foster, CFM, AICP, senior planner, ARCADIS

Dr. Howard Botts, chief data scientist, CoreLogic Insurance and Spatial Solutions

Presentation

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