Study Assesses Climate Impacts on R.I. Wastewater Facilities

By ecoRI News staff

The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) recently released findings of a new study that examined 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 Rhode Island Wastewater Collection & Treatment 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.

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

DEM, in cooperation with the state’s Executive Climate Change Coordinating Council and municipalities, commissioned the study to help the state and local communities better understand the threats posed by climate change and take action to protect wastewater infrastructure. Based on an analysis of recent storm events and new and existing flood mapping, the 246-page 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.

“We are already confronting rising seas, warmer weather, and more intense rainstorms,” DEM director Janet Coit said. “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.”

The $222,900 study was prepared by the Providence office of Woodard & Curran. It was funded largely through a grant received from the Rhode Island Office of Housing & Community Development, via proceeds from a U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development Community Development Block Grant received in the wake of the 2010 floods.