Utilities Analysis Americas

Utilities offered water resilience assessment framework guidance

Monday, 8 April 2024

Water utilities looking to safeguard their business against future challenges such as those posed by climate change can assess their levels of resilience against guidance designed to help them adopt the Water Resilience Assessment Framework.

Water Resilience Assessment Framework

The framework, published in 2021, ‘supports resilient decision-making and prevents shocks and stresses from escalating into crises’. 

It is a ‘methodology to assess the resilience of water systems and to ensure that efforts to enhance resilience are strategic, coherent and effective’.

It was designed to be flexible and to support companies wherever they are in their water resilience journey. It can be used at the start of the journey to implement system-wide change, or in modular form, addressing specific issues. It can help to identify gaps and to develop strategies to improve their resilience against both current and future crises, as they arise. The WRAF can also be used to assess how any new system components will affect the Utilities’ overall resilience. 

The guidance was and published by CEO Water Mandate (a partnership between United Nations Global Compact and Pacific Institute, in the US), Alliance for Global Water Adaptation (AGWA) and WaterValue.  


Specific challenges faced by water utilities

Water utilities face challenges posed by climate change that are in many ways unique, even when compared to other entities working in the water sector. As the framework guidance states:

They are often limited by site location and legacy infrastructure that were not designed to tackle current and future challenges. They also incur high maintenance, replacement and adaptation costs, both financial and manpower. 
They often work within rigid governance and regulation frameworks, which were created for conditions that are not the ones currently being experienced. The existing methods of data collection are often limited in detecting novel and emerging issues. Addressing these issues cost money that may need to be passed on to customers. 
They are often viewed negatively by customers and other stakeholders, as well as politicians because of service disruptions and a perceived failure to make progress in tackling challenges. The increased costs and service disruptions associated with trying to address challenges and risks, such as climate change, that are hard to predict. 

As the guidance document states: ‘None of these issues are theoretical, marginal in importance, or easily resolved. Moreover, climate change is not happening in isolation, especially for a resource as cross-cutting and fundamental as water. As a result, there is no single recipe or template for designing a resilient utility, just as the population, hydrology and history of the population served by a utility are distinct.’

Previous approaches to building resilience often target operational limitations, seeing water as a ‘risk’ – flood, drought, rising sea levels. 

“With climate change intensifying and water-related shocks becoming more frequent, the global water crisis is escalating at an alarming rate. The pressure falls on utilities, the backbone of urban water supply, to adapt and build resilience in the face of mounting challenges.”


Empowering utilities to survive and thrive in face of climate challenges 

The guidance empowers utilities to embark on a journey of resilience-building, enabling them to survive and thrive in the face of challenges. 

It offers a number of pathways for utilities to follow, whether fully or in part. It helps them to understand their current state of resilience, create a clearer of the impact of climate change, develop a resilience strategy and take appropriate actions to increase and maintain resilience, and identify indicators that will help them determine progress. 

The guidance aims to provide:
A step-by-step approach for utilities to apply the WRAF to build water resilience across departments, facilities and system levels.
A logical framework to develop resilience actions for a selected set of resilience goals.
A useful set of resources for performing the various steps of the WRAF, including resilience indicators, actions, tools and methods.

John Matthews, executive director, Alliance for Global Water Adaptation (AGWA) said: “The Water Resilience Assessment Framework is a methodology to harvest the best thinking climate adaptation, resilience and transformation from a wide variety of disciplines into an operational methodology for water utilities in all countries. It's time to move past simple de-risking and onto managing systemic impacts and the big challenges around adaptation, equity, and grey and green infrastructure.”

Water connects stakeholders, institutions, sectors and governance

The guidance sees water as a connector, embedded deeply within the fabric of society, institutions, technologies, trade, governance, community, health and more, rather than being a separate entity. Dialogue at all stages of the WRAF process is essential for preparing and acting on water management plans and should take place with a wide variety of stakeholders.

Dragan Savic, founder KWR Water, responding to the launch of the guidance, said: “This is a timely and valuable framework. There is so much out there on how to measure, build and maintain resilience, but a comprehensive and widely adopted framework is missing. I hope this is it and others involved in the science and practice of resilience can gather around it and build upon it.”

Water utilities can take a four-step approach to WRAF:
Step 1 is to visualise the system: define system boundaries; identify challenges, stressors, shocks and drivers; identify water status and trends.
Step 2 is to develop a resilience strategy: consider suitable strategies; identify resilience characteristics; identify system components and resilience indicators; refine the strategy; develop resilience actions.
Step 3 is to test the system resilience: benchmarking state, linked to identifying resilience indicators in step2, calculate the resilience score without these actions being taken; validation stage, linked to developing resilience actions in step 2, calculate the resilience score with the actions being taken.
Step 4 is to evaluate, which feeds into the other three steps.

Download the WRAF Utility Guidance