Climate Vulnerability of Water Sector Infrastructure

Monday, May 12, 2014 - 07:00
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Critical infrastructure is the backbone of our nation's economy, security and health. These systems are vulnerable to extreme weather events associated with climate change that can disrupt infrastructure services, often cascading across infrastructures because of extensive interdependencies. Disruptions involve not only the costs associated with the clean-up, repair, and/or replacement of affected infrastructures but also the economic, social, and environmental impact associated with severed supply chains, suspended economic activities, and/or threatened social well-being. To date, quantitative analysis of critical infrastructure vulnerability to climate change is limited. This is in part due to the fact that the Integrated Assessment Models (IAM's) used to make such analyses have temporal and spatial resolution much different from that needed to capture these infrastructure impacts. This gap is particularly important as adaptation measures hinge on the ability to determine what modifications to infrastructure will reduce the risk from climate change. Using energy and water infrastructure as the basis for the initial quantitative development of the bridge between IAM and Infrastructure IAV (Impact adaptation and, vulnerability) analyses, this paper discusses an analysis approach that starts with the IAM models and determines the modeling required to integrate infrastructure considerations directly within IAM assessments. In particular is the interest in developing analysis methods to explicitly incorporate the medium to long-term impacts of climate change on connected infrastructures. This is a joint effort between Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Los Alamos National Laboratory and Sandia National Laboratories. This paper focuses on development of a model of water supply infrastructure designed to interact with and respond to the demands of other critical infrastructure. Immediately, water infrastructure operations will be linked to impacts of climate change and the demands of thermoelectric power generation as well as future evolution of the broader energy sector. At the core of the analysis is the USDA Agricultural Research Service's Soil and Water Assessment Tool. Model simulations are driven by downscaled climatic data (e.g., temperatures, precipitation, wind speed) taken from select CMIP5 model runs. For this proof of concept analysis, the model domain is limited to the State of Illinois resolved at the 8-digit Hydrologic Unit Code level and looks out 50 years into the future. The key feedback between the power and water sector models is in the thermoelectric demand for water and the drought impacted delivery of water. Also considered are potential thermal restrictions on cooling water return flows.

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