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New map-based tool set to steer utility’s climate resilience efforts

With extreme weather events increasingly impacting water supply and essential infrastructure, one Victorian utility has unveiled a new map-based tool to show the threat climate change may have on its infrastructure in the future.

Yarra Valley Water has partnered with Nation Partners to develop a Climate Resilience Risk Assessment tool tailored to address asset-related climate hazards, vulnerability and exposure.

Yarra Valley Water Resilience and Liveability Manager Dr Lisa Ehrenfried said the work done to develop the tool marks a significant step towards Yarra Valley Water proactively managing climate-related risks and ensuring the resilience of its infrastructure.

“Victoria’s climate is already changing, becoming hotter and drier in recent decades, but with more intense rainfall bursts. Summer heat and rainfall events are breaking records. The climate is behaving in ways we have never seen before,” she said.

“We cannot rely on historical data anymore to assess climate risk. Victoria’s climate strategy outlines that we are now expecting double the number of fire danger days, double the number of very hot days and much more intense downpour events.

“We can’t look at the past to figure out what we can expect anymore. This means we can’t rely on traditional risk assessment methods, which are based on historical data. Understanding what our climate may be like in the future will help us to plan and adapt,” she said.

The map-based tool uses data from a number of sources, including the Bureau of Meteorology and Department of Energy, Environment and Climate Action, and overlays it in Yarra Valley Water’s service area.

Dr Ehrenfried said planning for the worst-case scenario will help Yarra Valley Water assess risks to protect its sites more effectively.

“The map helps to identify potential future climate hazards to our assets and paints a stark image of what we have to prepare for. But by taking action now, we can identify the risks earlier and ways to adapt to them,” she said.

“This work has been a fantastic effort from the Yarra Valley Water team. Our asset management specialists have worked hard to ensure the new tool fits in with our frameworks and are applicable.

“Working together with our asset management practitioners in developing this tool has produced great results.”

How it works

The interactive tool covers a vast service area spanning from Wallan in the north to Warburton in the east, allowing users to view future climate information as maps and charts, including temperature, bushfire risk, rainfall and heatwaves.

Dr Ehrenfried said the tool was designed to compare climate data for specific locations across different time periods and climate scenarios, an approach that is important for assessing infrastructure assets with varying service life.

“The mapping tool has many different layers, including the ability to look at different climate change scenarios. And these scenarios produce various different considerations relating to our assets and our systems,” she said.

“For example, during heat waves, we need to consider how long our staff can be exposed to the elements. On high fire danger days, we need to consider if our staff will be impacted and need to stay at home as a precaution.”

Yarra Valley Water is using current climate trend data to inform its risk assessment process to consider the criticality of assets, as well as the consequences of certain risks, to calculate a risk score.

“Rather than looking only at the past data though a one-dimensional time scale, we now look at the current climate and the inherent risk before we put mitigation controls in, as well as what residual risks are after we put in controls,” Ehrenfried said.

“We could spend millions of dollars to make all of our assets as resilient as we would love them to be, but it’s just not possible to invest in everything all at once. We have to understand the risks and prioritise mitigation. Our risk scores help us do this work.

“By utilising all the data we have available now, rather than just historic data, we have a more educated glimpse into the future.”

Climate interventions

Yarra Valley Water assets such as pipes, tanks and pumps have an operational life of anywhere between five to over 100 years, and the tool is being utilised to determine the appropriate interventions to reduce hazards, including changing a building design or upgrading electric assets to make sure they can cope with rising temperatures.

“Early identification of vulnerable assets and mitigation opportunities are key to building a resilient network. By addressing and implementing proactive risk mitigation measures, we can reduce potential water and sewerage service disruptions and costly repairs in the future,” Ehrenfried said.

“One mitigation we are already implementing is around electricals. Electrical assets are built to function optimally at a certain temperature range. With more hot days, we are upgrading them to function optimally at a higher temperature range.

“Where our assets depend on power supply, we need to have mobile generators that can be sent to wherever we need them. But we now realise we need to have more permanent generators installed, as well.

“We are already installing shade sails, to reduce the amount of sun the asset is exposed to. But we are also looking at ventilation in our switchboards, so they don’t overheat.”

Dr Ehrenfried said all of this climate adaptation work certainly adds to Yarra Valley Water’s maintenance program, but adopting a forward-thinking approach to climate change adaptation is critical to safeguard its essential services.

“Our assets undergo a regular maintenance program, but now we need to have a maintenance program for climate-related features, adding to our usual workplan, which is why it’s critical to make informed decisions about how to invest for the best outcome,” she said.

“Particularly difficult scenarios are those that could be termed a polycrises – these are situations where multiple impacts and failures combine to produce unforeseeable issues. It can be very difficult to plan for these kinds of scenarios where we have piled-on risks.

“But this approach helps us to build our resilience to climate change and implement actions that reduce our vulnerabilities, and support long term planning for an uncertain future.”