With more than 400 miles of coastline and a heavy reliance on a single reservoir for its drinking water, Rhode Island is highly vulnerable to the projected effects of climate change. Severe storms in 2010 and 2012 further exposed those vulnerabilities, damaging the state’s drinking water utility infrastructure and threatening the water supply because of pollution overflow.

To ensure that residents receive safe, dependable drinking water, Rhode Island utilities must address challenges including drought, pollution, competing water uses, and aging infrastructure. The effects of global climate change will exacerbate current challenges.

To understand how climate change could affect Rhode Island’s drinking water utilities and to develop strategies to address changing conditions, the Rhode Island Department of Health (HEALTH), Office of Drinking Water Quality worked with Tetra Tech to launch SafeWater RI. Tetra Tech assessed climate change risks across three future periods (2022, 2052, and 2084) for sea level rise, hurricanes, drought, and coastal and riverine flooding. Tetra Tech developed loss estimates for individual water utilities to provide locally relevant and actionable data for water utility managers to evaluate and plan for future scenarios.

Tetra Tech worked closely with HEALTH and the water utility managers to develop adaptation strategies to promote resilience. Utilities need customer support, political backing, and financial resources to implement many of the proposed adaption strategies, from relocating at-risk infrastructure to developing new drinking water supplies. To build public support for future climate change projects, Tetra Tech prepared a communication and outreach strategy to educate stakeholders regarding climate change impacts and water resource needs.