Water and Climate Change

Impacts on water and water utilities in the region

Climate_350.jpgAcute and chronic changes to weather patterns, including temperature and precipitation, pose significant risks to the water resources we rely on for drinking, recreation, and economic productivity.

These changes also impact the ability of our wastewater utility and local water suppliers to provide essential public health services to the region. Negative impacts threaten the reliability of water infrastructure and service delivery, and the predictability of the regulatory environment, resulting in increased costs for service providers and those that they serve.

Taking action to reduce emissions and adapt facilities

Limiting the most severe impacts of climate change requires both immediate and sustained action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (mitigation) and implement resilient climate design (adaptation) within our regional water infrastructure and water planning. If we don’t, the region may not be able to grow sustainably and meet the water needs of future generations.

Metropolitan Council Environmental Services is committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions in our wastewater operations and support services. Likewise, through our long-term planning responsibilities, our wastewater and water resource planning sections can help the region to adapt by providing technical support that helps communities to prepare, build resiliency, and grow sustainably.

Equity, water, and climate change

The consequences of climate change will not be felt by all residents or communities at the same time or in similar ways, potentially making current disparities around water services and resources worse. However, these complex challenges create meaningful opportunities to develop policies and partnerships that address climate change and its impacts within our organization, across communities and water sectors, and throughout the region.

Crucial concerns for water and climate change

  • Mitigating greenhouse gas emissions
  • Managing land and water
  • Safeguarding water infrastructure
  • Aligning and supporting local climate efforts

Recognizing connections, strengthening partnerships

Our research paper, Water and Climate Change: Impacts on Water and Water Utilities in the Twin Cities Metropolitan Area, highlights how we need to integrate our approach to water, strengthen our policies, and deepen and expand our collaborations. It offers policy recommendations in two key areas – mitigation and adaptation – to help ensure that we become a climate-resilient region.

We work together with our partners in several ways to promote water and climate efforts, including long-range visioning and planning, regional investments and system operations, technical assistance, research, and partnership. Here we offer several policy and action recommendations in two areas – mitigation and adaptation – that can help build regional resiliency, ensure the sustainability of our waters and water infrastructure, and ensure clean water for future generations.

Not all the recommendations included here will move forward for inclusion into the Water Resources Policy Plan, and conversely, the Water Resources Policy Plan may include policies not discussed here. Our intent is to begin to develop a shared understanding and conversation about water and climate, which is connected to all aspects of our core services.

Mitigation Policies

Proposed policy recommendation

The Met Council prioritizes the mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions and their climate consequences in its operations, facility management, and planning functions.

Proposed actions

  • The Met Council will have net zero emissions by 2050, in alignment with the Minnesota Climate Action Framework.
  • The Met Council will maximize energy efficiency, electrification, energy recovery, and renewable energy opportunities in the planning, design, procurement, operation, and maintenance of its assets.
  • The Met Council will work to implement a methodology to account for the social cost of greenhouse gases when conducting cost-benefit analyses.
  • The Met Council will invest in efforts to quantify and monitor process and fugitive emissions and will pursue opportunities to minimize these emissions.
  • The Met Council will collaborate to advance nature-based solutions and other best management practices that achieve dual reductions in nutrient loading and greenhouse gas emissions.
  • The Met Council will support the development and piloting of innovative approaches to reduce emissions in our own or the region’s emissions.
  • The Met Council will support local water suppliers to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

Adaptation Policies

Proposed policy recommendation

The Met Council will support, partner, and create information to better understand the impacts of climate change on the natural and built environments within the metro area.

Proposed actions

  • The Met Council will convene water and climate-focused conversations to ensure regional priorities are represented and shared. This includes state agencies, climate policy experts, watershed organizations, water suppliers, community planners, and residents.
  • The Met Council will partner with and support university and research organizations to generate metro area-specific climate information and best understand the potential future climate based on current science and models.
  • The Met Council will, with assistance of our partners, monitor the quality of regional lakes and rivers and the quality and flow of regional streams.
  • The Met Council will assess and evaluate long-term water quality trends for the region’s lakes, streams, and rivers and identify climate-related issues to be addressed.
  • The Met Council will prioritize inter-agency collaboration to understand the effectiveness of infiltration as a stormwater management practice, particularly under a range of potential climate futures (high and low water tables).
  • The Met Council will research to better understand metro area water balances during both wet and dry periods.
  • The Met Council will use the latest research to improve and update stormwater infiltration requirements and recommendations around best practices, particularly in vulnerable drinking water supply management areas.
  • The Met Council will share climate research with local governments and decision-makers through tools and resources to encourage local risk assessments, evaluation, and action.

Proposed policy recommendation

The Met Council will consider the climate vulnerabilities and risks within our facilities and reduce the impact of climate on water resources, land management, water planning, and regional wastewater services now and into the future.

Proposed actions

  • The Met Council will integrate and center state and regional climate objectives into our wastewater operations and water resources and supply planning within the region.
  • The Met Council will connect, partner, and learn from other water utilities and planning organizations as we take on water and climate challenges.
  • The Met Council will evaluate and quantify the risks to our regional waters, ecosystems, and facilities through scenario planning, adaptive management, and the creation of robust strategies and plans.
  • The Met Council will consider future climate scenarios when evaluating the Inflow and Infiltration (I/I) Program.
  • The Met Council will periodically reevaluate and assess climate vulnerability and risk to our facilities and infrastructure as we refine climate projections.
  • The Met Council will make investments to safeguard our regional wastewater system to ensure its viability in a changing climate.
  • The Met Council will be a regional leader in climate-focused land management by managing our facilities and land holdings to reduce impervious surfaces, integrate green infrastructure and nature-based solutions within our stormwater management systems, install native plantings where possible.
  • The Met Council will assess our operational supply chain to build in resiliency against climate disruptions and ensure that we continue to achieve permit compliance at all our wastewater treatment plants and facilities.

Proposed policy recommendation

The Met Council will support and collaborate with local communities and partners to understand regional climate risk, including the associated economic, social, and cultural consequences, and adapt land use and water infrastructure to ensure sustainable water resources and resilient regional growth.

Proposed actions

  • The Met Council strongly supports low-impact design and the integration of nature-based solutions into regional development to adapt to projected climate impacts on our land and waters.
  • The Met Council will understand and quantify the impacts of land use change on water resources as the climate changes.
  • The Met Council will evaluate and quantify the risks to our regional waters, ecosystems, and local water utilities through scenario planning, adaptive management, and the creation of robust strategies and plans.
  • The Met Council will partner with research organizations to create tools and resources to identify risk to new and existing local water infrastructure.
  • The Met Council will share climate research with local governments and decision-makers through tools and resources to encourage local risk assessment, evaluation, and action.
  • The Met Council will promote stormwater and wastewater reuse as viable alternatives to augment non-potable water uses.
  • The Met Council will identify social, economic, and cultural impacts of water-related climate change impacts on vulnerable communities within the region.
  • The Met Council will consider climate migration (people forcibly moved by climate-related events) and its impacts on water resources and water utility systems to the metro area as we plan towards regional resiliency.
  • The Met Council will work towards securing funds to provide grants promoting best management practices in regional water quality improvement and volume reduction.
  • The Met Council will assess and provide recommendations on the creation of funds to help close the investment gap in water (stormwater, water supply, and wastewater) infrastructure.

Proposed policy recommendation

The Met Council recognizes that climate change exacerbates current and future regional disparities and will work with impacted communities to co-create water and climate solutions that fit regional objectives and best benefit the community.

Proposed actions

The Met Council will listen and make an honest effort towards reconciliation with communities most impacted by environmental injustices relating to wastewater water planning functions, or other experienced water inequities.

  • The Met Council will work to develop relationships with community members to build trust.
  • The Met Council will co-create solutions with impacted communities to best alleviate water and climate burdens.
  • The Met Council will partner and support metro area organizations with a water equity focus.
  • Environmental Services will create and integrate equity metrics into our programs, projects, and services.
    • Environmental Services will partner and collaborate with other Met Council divisions to address equity efforts that overlap regional systems.

Provide your feedback

Provide your feedback

The survey linked below offers the opportunity to provide feedback about the ideas and recommendations generated in the paper and about the topic as a whole. Hearing feedback from the region will help us create a Water Resources Policy Plan that is more reflective of the values held by our residents and water professionals.

Water and Climate Change Research Paper Survey