MWRD Stickney Water Reclamation Plant in Chicago, Illinois.

Small Water Utility Builds Flood Resilience

Based on their locations, many water and wastewater utilities face an inherent risk of flooding. Here’s how a small drinking water utility recognized its risk and took steps to reduce it.

Ask the tough question

Chris Weismann of the Berwick, Maine, Water Department

Chris Weismann, Chief Operator of the Water Department in Berwick, Maine.

By design, water and wastewater utilities are often located near rivers and in flood-prone areas. Chris Weismann of the Berwick, Maine, Water Department was worried. As chief operator, Weismann had seen two previous storms threaten his utility’s ability to provide drinking water to his town of 1,000 residents. “When you realize that a flood could come and bring your utility to an end in a couple of hours, and you’d be down for potentially weeks, that makes you want to know, what can I do to avoid this?,” Weismann asked. Although concerned, Weismann was also bold. He posed this question to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the result was a Berwick/EPA pilot project to help the utility face and address its flooding risk.

Pursue the answer

As part of an on-site assessment, staff from Berwick and EPA examined FEMA flood maps, identified vulnerable equipment, and evaluated possible mitigation measures. This step-wise approach provided a solid basis for actions and recommendations. With the assessment in hand, Weismann began to implement several low-cost actions to build flood resilience. Short-term mitigation measures included placing sandbags at utility entryways, installing backflow preventers on low-lying overflow pipes, securing or elevating chemical tanks to prevent floating, and topping off water storage towers prior to storm events. Other longer-term mitigation measures are scheduled to be implemented through a gradual capital improvement program. Weismann made it a point to keep his local government informed, and this helped town officials became more aware of the true value and cost of protecting their critical water supply lifeline.

Chris Wiesmann and staff plan flood mitigation efforts.

Weismann and staff plan flood mitigation efforts.

Spread the word

In an effort to aid the many other water systems in the country with similar issues, EPA developed a tool called Flood Resilience: A Basic Guide for Water and Wastewater Utilities. Targeted to small and mid-sized water and wastewater utilities, the Guide provides worksheets, instructional videos, and flood maps to help utilities mitigate flood impacts. With a few clicks, utilities can identify ways to protect pumps, storage tanks, intakes, and other equipment from flooding.

The Flood Resilience Guide did not exist when Weismann first asked how to protect the Berwick Water Department from flooding. Now he has his own words of advice for utilities that are vulnerable to flooding: “Think ahead. Use the Flood Resilience Guide. Make plans now. Reduce the risk, and you’ll be happy in the end.”

Story Credit

David Goldbloom-Helzner, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Banner Image Credit

Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0,, via Flickr

Last modified
15 February 2018 - 12:39pm