Puget Sound Water Resiliency

A Bright Idea: Innovating a Proactive Plan to Improve Water System Resiliency

April 25, 2017

We’ve had the pleasure to be a part of an ongoing regional resiliency project in Washington with our client, the Central Puget Sound Water Supply Forum (Forum). The Forum is comprised of multiple water utilities which serve 2.3 million people living in an area of about 1,200 square miles. HDR was hired by the Forum to help manage and support utility-led risk assessments. Though not the typical applied research project that our Water Institute can test in a lab or at the bench, this study still used innovative analysis and prediction.

While this project revealed important findings about the region’s water supply vulnerabilities, we think that one of the most innovative aspects of the project was our client’s proactive and collaborative approach to evaluate water supply risks. This utility-driven effort was undertaken, without crisis or mandate, to determine how utilities could continue providing essential water service during a crisis.

Commonly, community resiliency planning is conducted by individual utilities to respond to a disruptive event or mandate. By comparison, the Forum’s efforts here were completely voluntary and emphasized collaborating across jurisdictions. As a result of this unprecedented approach, the Forum was recognized by the Harvard Innovations Program as one of the “2017 Bright Ideas in Government.”

The central Puget Sound region is susceptible to a variety of natural threats, such as earthquakes, volcanoes, wildfires, severe storms, and drought. These threats have the real potential to disrupt the delivery of safe and reliable water. Events, such as the 2001 Nisqually earthquake and the 1980 Mt. St. Helens eruption, demonstrate that natural threats often have regional implications and require multiple jurisdictions to coordinate their efforts. Although the region’s water utilities currently manage their own systems for a variety of risks, the Forum recognized how important it is to leverage regional resources to better prepare for potential and possibly major disruptions in water supply across the region.

To plan for these types of threats, member utilities came together–without crisis or mandate–to help the region better prepare for the impacts of significant system stressors and to enhance the resiliency of the region’s water supply systems. In an unparalleled effort, the Forum set out with the objective to help member water utilities across a three-county area take proactive steps to evaluate and enhance this region’s water system resiliency across individual utility boundaries and county lines.

Focused on evaluating the risks to water supply and system infrastructure, the project also identified what the region’s utilities can do to mitigate these risks. Utility-led teams of technical staff with expertise in engineering, planning and the sciences, augmented by risk-area consultants (including our HDR-led teams) analyzed extreme risk scenarios and identified critical water supply vulnerabilities. We evaluated risks that included earthquakes, water-quality threats, droughts, and climate change. The teams analyzed the consequences of these water supply risks to the region’s residents and businesses. After 18 months of evaluating and collaborating, we issued initial conclusions and recommendations. The results demonstrated the implications and the opportunities to cooperate regionally to address these types of risks. The details and findings are available on the Forum’s Resiliency Project website: http://www.watersupplyforum.org/home/resiliency.html.

The Forum is moving forward with the next phase of its resiliency project. Plans include further evaluating these risks and advancing potential mitigation measures that can minimize damage to water systems and help to ensure continued supply of high quality water following a disruptive event. HDR will continue to play an important role in the risk evaluations and resiliency planning efforts. By proactively taking steps to better understand the threats and prepare for them, the Forum is helping to pave the way for a safer and more resilient region.

Water Supply Forum. 2016. Resiliency; Preparing for Water Supply Disruption brochure. Prepared by HDR Inc. for the Central Puget Sound Water Supply Forum. August 2016.  http://www.watersupplyforum.org/home/resiliency.html.

Water Supply Forum. 2016. Regional Water Supply Resiliency Project Summary Report. Prepared by HDR Inc. for the Central Puget Sound Water Supply Forum. August 2016.  http://www.watersupplyforum.org/home/resiliency.html.

Image courtesy of HDR's Water Group.