Many of the Commonwealth’s drinking water and wastewater treatment facilities are gravity-fed and therefore located at low elevations, especially along the Commonwealth’s 1500-mile coastline.  Although this reduces the expense of pumping large volumes of water, it also makes such facilities more vulnerable to coastal and inland flooding during extreme storm events.  Predicted sea-level rise, storm surges, and increased frequency of flooding along rivers and streams due to climate change could severely impact operation of water treatment facilities, pump stations, and flows within water/sewer lines.  

In Massachusetts, the resulting impact could be significant.  Approximately 79 percent of the state’s 6.5 million residents discharge 785 million gallons of treated sewage into the state‘s waters each day through over 20,000 miles of pipe and 126 treatment facilities. The Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA) Deer Island Sewage Treatment Plant alone treats an average of 350 million gallons of sewage per day from about 2.1 million people in 43 metro Boston communities. In addition, maintaining infrastructure associated with potable water is critical to the public health and safety of Massachusetts residents. Approximately 95 percent of the 6.5 million residents living in Massachusetts obtain their drinking water from one of the state‘s 531 community public water supply systems.

Climate change adaptation planning for Massachusetts drinking water and wastewater utilities

This project, which was sponsored by MassDEP through Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), focuses on how MassDEP can provide assistance to water utilities for adapting to climate-change effects such as sea-level rise, an increase in storm intensity, and rising temperatures. Through interviews with MassDEP water experts, water associations and utilities, a team of students from WPI identified ways MassDEP can assist utilities in adapting to changing weather conditions. The final deliverable is a list of recommendations and a risk-assessment tool that MassDEP can provide to utilities in need of protecting themselves against potential weather-related threats. To see the full report and the tool, please visit the WPI web page. A synopsis of the project can be viewed in the presentation below.

MA Coastal Water Treatment Facility Risk Assessment Tool Presentation  ppt format of MA Water Treatment Facility Risk Assessment Tool

Zero-Net Energy at Water and Wastewater Treatment Facilities

High energy consumption at water and wastewater treatment facilities prompted this project from the Worcester Polytechnic Institute. Students developed a methodology to achieve energy independence at three selected water & wastewater treatment facilities in Pepperell, Southbridge, and Millis, Massachusetts. This report serves as a template that can be applied for analysis of other treatment facilities.

Additional Resources

Climate Change: Resilience and Adaptation in New England (RAINE) - The Resilience and Adaptation in New England (RAINE) database is a collection of vulnerability, resilience and adaptation reports, plans, and webpages at the state, regional, and community level.

EPA’s Climate Ready Water Utilities Initiative - EPA's Climate Ready Water Utilities (CRWU) initiative assists the water sector, which includes drinking water, wastewater, and stormwater utilities, in addressing climate change impacts.

EPA’s Ground Water and Drinking Water Resource Page - Major storms and other types of incidents can be highly disruptive for water systems. Learn what water consumers can do to protect their water and what utility operators can do to protect their drinking water and wastewater systems.

EPA’s Sustainable Water Infrastructure Resource Page - Sustainable infrastructure and systems are essential to ensuring the environmental and economic sustainability of communities throughout the nation.

EPA's Guide for Evaluating Capacity, Management, Operation, and Maintenance Programs at Sanitary Sewer Collection Systems - Identifying the criteria used by EPA to evaluate a collection system's management, operation & maintenance program activities.