The Effects of Climate Change on Wastewater Management

The world depends on wastewater treatment plants to process sewage water so that it can return safely to the environment. These facilities use several steps to remove water pollution of all sizes and types from the stream. Successfully performing this task is challenging without the complications of global climate change. As weather patterns modify, wastewater treatment systems must also adjust to prevent additional pollution of waters.

What is climate change?

Over time, the local weather follows predictable patterns. Although you cannot know exactly what will happen on a particular day, every region has an expected average temperature and precipitation level. However, the average global temperature has risen faster than normal over the past century. This increase has several impacts, including rising sea levels and changing weather patterns.

The Climate Change Effect on Water Management

Local governments designed wastewater management facilities based on the weather patterns at the time of their construction. These facilities can only handle a fixed volume of water every day. If the facility also processes stormwater runoff, changing weather patterns can mean unexpected changes in volume. Most facilities were not designed to handle the amount of water dropped by atmospheric rivers or superstorms. When the water volume exceeds the facility limit, the typical solution involves diverting and releasing excess untreated water into nearby waterways.

Water Pollution and Wastewater Release

Untreated effluent carries a wide variety of impurities. Water that flows down rainwater drains can pick up petroleum products from the street. Industrial water may have chemical contaminants that are poisonous to wildlife. Untreated sewage carries high levels of bacteria that pose a health and safety threat to the region.

How Pollution in Waters Affects the Environment

Pollution in waters released as wastewater overflow can have damaging environmental effects. Several industries produce effluent with high levels of nitrogen and phosphorus. When these chemicals enter water bodies, they stimulate plant growth. Affected ponds and lakes will see algae blooms that can kill fish and disrupt the local ecosystem.

Wastewater Management Solutions

Local utilities must address the climate change effect on water management to keep their infrastructure resilient. When high-volume storms become an annual occurrence rather than a rarity, communities must adjust.

Offline Storage of Wastewater

In the past, water storage priorities have focused on maintaining a clean water surplus to avoid disruptions. In storm-prone areas, wastewater companies must also develop strategies for diverting and safely storing untreated water. Supplementary tanks or pools can prevent the system from being overwhelmed.

Improved Pumps

Backflow becomes a concern when storms push a wastewater treatment plant to its limits. Contaminated water poses a health risk if it begins to flow out of residential drains or onto city streets. Wastewater facilities that utilize improved pumps can prevent this crisis by keeping water flowing in the right direction.

Increased Capacity

To increase resiliency, a wastewater plant may seek to expand its capacity. Because storms are becoming more frequent, it is reasonable to treat volume surges as expected issues rather than rare deviations from the norm.

SCADA and the Future of Wastewater Management

System control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems will play a vital role as water utilities seek to adapt to a changing climate. Sensors throughout the wastewater facility will send real-time reports on conditions such as sudden changes in flow volume. The water management team can program the system to respond automatically at certain thresholds, diverting water to alternative storage. If releasing untreated water becomes necessary, accurate information from the SCADA system will minimize the amount of effluent.

Cloud-Based SCADA Experts

High Tide Technologies provides expert design, implementation, and support for cloud-based SCADA systems in the water industry. We have helped many municipal water collection, distribution, and treatment facilities improve the efficiency of their operations. Cloud-based SCADA provides instant access to vital data from any location on a handheld phone or tablet. Contact us to learn how our SCADA technology can help prepare your facility for the effects of climate change.