Lessons and guidance for the management of safe drinking water during extreme weather events†
Extreme weather events have presented significant challenges to drinking water quality managers in Australia and elsewhere. Examples of extreme weather events include droughts, floods, cyclones, and wildfires. With global climate change, an increased frequency and severity of diverse extreme weather events is projected for many parts of the world. As such, the need to effectively prepare for and manage these types of extreme events is increasing. Previous experience with managing water supplies before, during and after extreme weather events can provide valuable lessons to aid planning for future events. By surveying Australian water utilities, detailed experiences and lessons from ten case studies of the management of extreme weather events was compiled. The weather events and their impacts to water quality management are described. The lessons learned from these events were used to establish a series of recommendations intended to be used as guidance for future management of extreme events. An important finding was the need to lead change and coordinate effort by the development of a formal whole-of-organisation strategy for building resilience to extreme events. Effective components of such a strategy include the implementation of a water quality management system and the development of specific incident response plans. The development and maintenance of inter-agency relationships was also found to be important and the use of inter-agency hypothetical scenario testing was identified as an effective way to support this. Strategies identified to assist in maintaining operations during and immediately following extreme weather events include the enactment of incident response plans, effective communication and, where possible, the implementation of short-term risk management controls. Post-event activities were also identified, including event recovery, learning from experiences and knowledge dissemination. The guidance presented in this paper will be of value to water quality managers throughout the world as they plan to enhance resilience within their organisations and services.