The following sample essay on “Climate Change Vs America’s Infrastructure”: talks about the relationship between climate change and infrastructure in America.
It is no secret that America’s infrastructure is in decline. The consistent degradation of America’s infrastructure is worsened by unprecedented weather events. On the county, state, and federal levels there are plans made by engineers to accommodate for this unprecedented gradual decline. However, how these plans are designed and what they are based on varies. Most government agencies are adapting their infrastructure systems to weather models that were made decades ago, the problem with this is that weather patterns are changing in a big way.
It is paramount that engineers not only adapt infrastructure plans to current climate change predictions but also accommodate extreme weather events.
Every town must have safeguards that incorporate redundancies in place to protect the structures and the citizens from extreme weather events. Many cities use systems that are designed for events that could only happen every 100 to 1,000 years, but these systems can fail when these rare, yet substantial weather events occur, as seen in cities like Houston, San Juan, New Orleans, and even Phoenix.
Looking back on past extreme weather events, “Hurricanes Harvey and Maria revealed how little awareness people had of their vulnerability… the destruction of Puerto Rico’s energy system by Hurricane Maria not only resulted in the largest power outage in US history, but it also had compounding effects on other critical infrastructure necessary for relief efforts after the disaster”.
Planning for the unexpected in those scenarios could have saved thousands of lives, and in Puerto Rico’s case, many other horrible setbacks. Puerto Rico is a prime example of an extreme weather event in the case of Hurricane Maria which ravaged the island in late 2017, in which thousands of lives were lost. For a more local example, this avoidable disaster happened in the Phoenix area;
In the Phoenix metropolitan area in 2014 experienced a 630-year rain event in August followed by a 984-year event in September, the latter the highest amount of precipitation ever recorded for a single day… The flooding was not the result of the breakdown of hardware. Instead, the technology functioned as it was designed to do. The pumps, which were designed for much lower intensity rainfalls, automatically turned off to protect themselves from overheating.
While there were no lives lost in this instance, the misguided engineering practices caused extensive traffic delays on heavily used roadways. The importance of redundancies lies in the fail-safes of not one system, but several. This way cities can set themselves up to be better prepared in case of failure.
All Americans should be upset with their inadequate infrastructure, specifically their woefully misguided stormwater systems. Older systems used in hundreds of US cities combine wastewater, that can contain pathogens, chemicals, and more, and stormwater to be sent to nearby bodies of water. Pathogens can carry an array of diseases that if not affecting citizens directly will impact America’s environment in a big way; local bodies of water are used by numerous resources that are appreciated and used by millions. What is even more maddening is the cost to fix this aging system.
The EPA predicts that the percentage of U.S. wastewater pipes that will be in ‘poor,’ ‘very poor,’ or ‘life elapsed’ (older than its predicted life span) condition will rise from 23% in 2000 to 45% in 2020. As of 2008, the agency calculated that repairing the nation’s sanitary and stormwater sewer infrastructure would cost $298 billion. Climate change could raise the tab even higher. In their 2009 report, the National Association of Clean Water Agencies and the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies estimated that adapting to climate change through 2050 could cost U.S. water utilities between $448 billion and $944 billion — and that doesn’t account for responses to weather emergencies. (Kessler)
What could be almost a one trillion dollars fix, is vital to the health and welfare of all Americans. Budgetary concerns are of little importance when many US cities are at risk of damage to structures and harm to citizens. The ancient water distribution systems used in so many cities can be the root cause of the spread of disease, by way of pathogens entering local bodies of water. While this could be happing primarily during extreme weather events, the problem would be exacerbated by diminishing waterways that would otherwise protect the public. In many cases, updating these infrastructure systems could have answered the prayers of millions affected by extreme weather events over the past year. While the cost is daunting, updating America’s infrastructure is imperative to its citizen’s well-being.
The core issue of these infrastructure defects lies within the planning and design of these systems. Engineers are responsible for the cost to risk analysis of the systems they are making; a more expensive system can hold more water, but will it be worth the price? How engineers decide if a town needs a larger system is through research. The research for expected rainfall is done through an agency known as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), “But up until the mid-2000s, the last official precipitation document released in the U.S was the Technical Paper 40 (TP40), which was released in 1961 using data from across several decades before the report was published. This means that storm drains designed before the mid-2000s were designed using rainfall data from the early part of the 20th century” (Samaras). Engineers have used this data for decades to decide what amounts of rainfall a region can expect. But if the accuracy of the predictions is off by decades then the systems put in place while this data was supposedly current cannot be expected to last their predetermined lifespan or even stand up to current weather events, let alone extreme ones. From roads to bridges, to especially water management systems it is very apparent to all Americans the decay that is happening all around them and the urgency with which it needs to be addressed. America cannot expect its infrastructure to last, and as a result, it collapses or fails during intense rainfall or heavy flooding.
While many businesses are affected by climate change, none are more vigilant or relevant than water supply companies. There may be no better example of engineering taking the necessary steps to account for climate change or the grave results of a lack of adapting to these changes. These organizations have based their entire production on the water supply from region to region, a water supply that is directly impacted by climate change: “Climate change is a significant factor that could alter many patterns, habits, and assumptions that are the foundation for infrastructure planning and design applied by water utilities today” (Means et al.). The effects these environmental differences have on the water supply industry are vast and vary from region to region; there could be shortages of water in some areas and excess in others. These differences have been unaccounted for by many companies due to their planning being based on historical climate models instead of future predictions that include extreme weather changes. Water utilities that do not account for these abnormalities risk putting their communities in crisis and being that this is a global change, essentially every company should be taking note of these annual differences. Climate change will affect how much water America receives, and these companies need to regulate these differences for citizens to live without worrying about where their water will come from.
Recently, failing infrastructure has been in the news, and threatens to destroy large parts of North Carolina’s environment. Hurricane Florence has affected many businesses, but one energy company, in particular, made the news: Duke Energy. What caught the attention of NPR was the fact that Duke Energy was updating its landfills so that they would not pose an environmental risk in case of a large storm, these are the same pits that failed during Hurricane Florence. The host of the show, Ari Shapiro, explains what happened: “A few years ago, North Carolina ordered this power plant to move its coal ash from an old, unsafe pit to a newer, more advanced one with a lining that would keep heavy metals from entering groundwater. While they’re still in the process of doing that, the spill this weekend happened in the new pit”. This is a very current example of systems not being designed with extreme weather events being taken into consideration. While North Carolina may have ordered the pit holding the waste to be updated, it may have only been updated to meet the gradual global change and not for a major weather event, such as Hurricane Florence. It is common for regions to request or demand this of companies at risk for spillage or other incidents. The impact this kind of spillage causes could very well be seen for many years to come. The engineers and organizations arguing that planning for unlikely events is a waste of money are reckless. Engineering can be a delicate balance between excess and absence of necessary size or safety features that would ensure infrastructure success. A system only serves a purpose if it can work when needed.
While some engineers would like to argue that designing a system to excess will scare away clients due to cost, the citizen’s well-being must be put first. The way to put the citizens first is by planning for extreme eventualities, such as hurricanes or floods, but the problem with planning for extreme eventualities is the disbelief most people have in those events occurring. These types of occurrences are not new, but they have been more frequent because of climate change. A keen understanding of the developing weather patterns is essential for any researcher or engineer expecting to rely on this data. Infrastructure is very complex and diverse, being that it is built to last for decades the planning should be taken very seriously. In addition, the gradual change in stormwater, water input, and sea level should be ringing alarms for local agencies to make drastic changes to their infrastructure. While it may seem futile to design systems for every eventuality, it should be considered that a few extra safeguards will go a long way. Several times a year there are examples of major cities being overwhelmed by the sort of events that have been previously discussed, had these cities improved their infrastructure, they could be much better off. The balance between overspending and under planning is a burden that engineers are given, the importance of this balance cannot be understated.