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Assessing the Vulnerability of Coastal Wastewater Infrastructure to Climate Change

Principal Investigator: Daniele Spirandelli

Graduate Student: Theresa Dean

Clean water is vital for stable economic growth, as well as human and environmental health. Water, wastewater services, and other critical infrastructures enable communities to prosper while protecting sensitive habitats and species. However, our increasing understanding of climate change threats to our wastewater services suggests that our infrastructure is vulnerable to disruptions and failures. Failures can lead to major societal costs, such as adverse impacts to the natural environment and public health when extreme weather events cause sewage to contaminate coastal waters. A recent report for the U.S. National Climate Assessment (2013) found infrastructures in coastal areas are especially vulnerable to climate change. Developing and implementing appropriate adaptation strategies can, however, substantially reduce disruptive risks of climate change to infrastructures and urban systems.

The goals of this research project are to identify and map critical assets and factors that contribute to the vulnerability of wastewater infrastructures to a changing climate and to develop a replicable process of building adaptive capacities to accommodate changes. This project takes an integrated approach involving community and agency stakeholders to assess the vulnerabilities of wastewater infrastructures and incorporates a range of disposal technologies, from decentralized onsite systems to centralized wastewater systems across a range of urbanized communities as central to adaptation.