Case Study Series: Water Resource Strategies and Information Needs in Response to Extreme Weather/Climate Events

A case study series based on workshops in six communities that have experienced extreme events: floods, storms and derechos, sea level rise and storm surge, drought, and unseasonable frost.

The case studies highlight:

  • For utility managers: lessons learned on building resilience, including useful tools and data sources.
  • For policy makers and the research community: how water utilities plan, including information needs.
  • For communities: opportunities for dialogue.

Co-sponsored by:

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, US Environmental Protection Agency, Water Environment Research Foundation, Water Research Foundation, Concurrent Technologies Corporation, and Noblis

Executive Summary of Lessons Learned

Summaries of the case study visits, lessons learned from the entire study and a list of Tools for Planning and Responding to Extreme Events are included here. Individual case studies (also included in the first document) are listed and available for each site beneath that document for easy downloading.

Questions or comments?

Nancy Beller-Simms,

Lauren Fillmore,

Karen Metchis,

Kenan Ozekin,

Claudio Ternieden,

Erica Brown

Download the final report here.

Case Studies

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Texas: Central Region

Publication Date: 05/2013

Central Texas entered its third consecutive year of drought in 2013, which began in 2011 when the state endured its worst single-year drought and hottest summer in recorded history. That year, communities in Central Texas faced 90 days of triple-digit heat, during which extensive wildfires burned hundreds of homes. Heading into the 2013 summer season the reservoir system on the Lower Colorado River was at even lower levels than at that same time in 2011. For the second year in a row the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) had not released water for downstream agricultural uses that had an ‘interruptible’ standing under water rights provisions, which meant they could be curtailed. Urban users had purchased ‘firm’ water, available in a drought, resulting in the perception that there was plenty of water and creating tension with downstream agricultural users. Challenges persisted both in instituting an ethic of water conservation and in funding utility operations when selling less water.

Download: Texas_Case Study Factsheet_Extreme Weather Events_2013-5-15v1.pdf

Washington DC: National Capital Area

Publication Date: 04/2013

Two exceptional extreme events struck the Washington metropolitan area in 2012 that provide insight into the value and cost of utility and community preparedness. With little warning, a rare derecho windstorm left a swath of wind damage in its path. Four months later and after a week of tracking and preparation, “Superstorm” Sandy devastated much of the East Coast. The Washington region was largely spared, but many lessons were learned from full-scale emergency preparation. These two events highlighted critical interdependencies between power, transportation, and water infrastructures and the need for more coordinated planning for resiliency.

Download: Nat Cap_Case Study Factsheet_Extreme Weather Events_2013-4-4v1-1.pdf

Kansas/Missouri: Lower Missouri River Basin

Publication Date: 04/2013

The Lower Missouri River (LMR) basin has long experienced extreme weather and climate events. Over the last 20 years, the basin has faced increasing frequency and severity of flood and drought. Communities endured record floods in 1993 and again in 2011. Recent droughts, including the ongoing drought of 2012/13, have ignited tension over water supplies and river flows in a region that perceives itself as having plenty of water. For utilities on the Missouri River, the issue is low water levels due to riverbed degradation, not availability of water itself. Water utilities also are struggling with the lack of sufficient water storage in the Kansas River tributary. Managing the LMR to control flash flooding, protect water quality and habitat for endangered species, as well as support the agriculture and barge-based economy, provides a challenging context.

Download: Missouri_Case Study Factsheet_Extreme Weather Events_2013-4-10v1.pdf

Georgia: Upper Apalachicola- Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin

Publication Date: 01/2013

Communities in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin (ACF) in Georgia, including Gwinnett County and the city of Atlanta, faced four consecutive extreme weather events: drought of 2007-08, floods of September and winter 2009, and drought of 2011-12. These events cost taxpayers millions of dollars in damaged infrastructure, homes, and businesses and threatened water supply for ecological, agricultural, energy, and urban water users. Water utilities were faced with ensuring reliable service during and after these events.

Download: Russian River Basin CA_Case Study Factsheet_Extreme Weather Events_2013-2-6v1.pdf

California: Russian River Watershed

Publication Date: 01/2013

California’s Russian River watershed has a history of variable weather, but recent events reveal an emerging pattern that is more erratic and unpredictable. The 2006 New Year’s Day flood, the 2007-2009 drought, and an unusually intense period of frosts in spring 2008 are examples of this pattern. Such cascading weather-driven events require management of both flood risk and water supply in balance with environmental needs, and they illuminate the interdependent challenges water resource managers face.

Download: Russian River Basin CA_Case Study Factsheet_Extreme Weather Events_2013-2-6v1.pdf

Virginia: Tidewater Area

Publication Date: 01/2013

“Tidewater” is the eastern Virginia coastal plain where the James, Rappahannock, and York Rivers join the Chesapeake Bay. Within the lower Tidewater there are four cities (Hampton, Newport News, Norfolk, and Virginia Beach), rural and small communities, military installations including the world’s largest naval station (the Norfolk Naval Base), and a large state-owned cargo port. Three metropolitan drinking water utilities and one sanitation district serve 1.7 million people. The region has many wildlife refuges and recreational beaches, alongside areas of dense development. All of this sits at an average 33 feet above sea level, posing challenges to the area’s water and wastewater utilities and to the delicate balance between fresh and salt water in the estuarine environment, especially in light of heightened storm threats.

Download: Tidewater VA Case Study Factsheet Extreme Weather Events_2013-1-30v1.pdf

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Bhaskaran Subramanian, Ph.D.
Program Manager, Adaptation Sciences
P: (301) 660-4630
C: (443) 523-7461

Lisa Vaughan
Program Manager, International Adaptation Science
P: (301) 734-1277
F: (301) 713-0518

Jennifer Dopkowski
Program Manager, Climate and Fisheries Adaptation (CAFA)
P: (301) 734-1261

Andrea Miralles-Barboza
Knauss Fellow
P: (301) 778-8059

Amanda Speciale
Program Specialist
P: (410) 212-8742


Americans’ health, security and economic wellbeing are tied to climate and weather. Every day, we see communities grappling with environmental challenges due to unusual or extreme events related to climate and weather. 


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