Climate Resiliency: Local Perspectives, Global Ideas, and the Upcoming International Water & Climate Forum

Backing for the 2015 International Water & Climate Forum comes from across the water utility spectrum, including drinking water, wastewater and stormwater. The National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA), a U.S. association representing large publicly owned wastewater utilities, is a major supporter of the Forum and, as such, is helping organizers develop an agenda that includes key wastewater perspectives, ideas and contributions on climate resiliency. NACWA Vice President and Board member Adel Hagekhalil of the City of Los Angeles’ Bureau of Sanitation contributed his thoughts on the holistic “one water” approach to climate change.  His blog below is also found on the NACWA website.

As cities seek to redesign the way they manage water in response to changing climate conditions, it has become clear that a “one water” approach that unites drinking water, wastewater treatment, recycled water, and stormwater management efforts is the most beneficial to addressing many resiliency challenges while providing a wide range of community benefits.

LA Sanitation, which manages the City’s wastewater, stormwater and solid waste resources – is working closely with the City’s drinking water agency, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, to write and implement the One Water LA 2040 Plan that aims to increase local water supplies and improve water security in the context of climate change and resiliency. This citywide and regional water strategy encompasses groundwater remediation, stormwater capture and storage, green infrastructure, recycled water and conservation. Initiatives to maximize water recycling through indirect and non-potable reuse including groundwater recharge and the establishment of dual networks throughout the City for delivery of highly filtered recycled water to its customers, which include large parks, lakes and major industry. The LASAN’s four water reclamation plants produce and treat more than 350 mgd of wastewater, which has the potential to be recycled.

Green infrastructure projects that improve water quality in the City’s waterways are also a top priority. LA Sanitation added parking lots at the City zoo with permeable pavement and drought-tolerant landscaping; built a wetland park to treat urban runoff for the removal of pollutants such as trash, bacteria and metals while providing residents an urban refuge with native wildlife; and drained and restored an 13-acre lake to improve water quality while enhancing the community benefits in the area.

While Los Angeles has made significant progress toward climate resiliency, we are always looking for new options and ideas to advance our goals. Internationally, water and wastewater utilities facing similar challenges are undertaking initiatives that can provide valuable lessons for their peers. Whether its Rotterdam’s Benthemplein Water Square, Melbourne’s Kalkallo Stormwater Harvesting or the many novel ideas from the European Union-funded PREPARED project, everyone can gain from fresh perspectives.

An important conference coming up later this year, the 2015 International Water and Climate Forum will focus on what utilities are doing on the ground in their communities to implement climate adaptation and mitigation strategies. NACWA is partnering with the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies and other water organizations in planning the event, which is scheduled for December 7-9 in San Diego. By highlighting best practices in action, this international gathering of water, wastewater and stormwater utility managers promises to be a great opportunity to unite water leaders in a holistic approach to the challenges of improving water sustainability and resilience in the urban environment. I recommend that you register today!


Adel Hagekhalil is a registered civil engineer with the State of California and a national Board Certified Environmental Engineer. Adel is currently an Assistant Director with the City of Los Angeles’ Bureau of Sanitation where he is responsible for the Bureau’s wastewater collection system management, storm water and watershed protection program, water quality compliance, and facilities and advance planning. Under his direction, the City has prepared an award winning “One Water” Water Integrated Resources Plan (IRP) for the year 2020 which relies on public input and participation and integrates water supply, water reuse, water conservation and stormwater management with wastewater facilities planning through a regional watershed approach. Adel is leading the City’s effort in green infrastructure and multi-benefit projects and embarking on the City 2040 One Water LA Plan. Adel is currently a Board member and Vice President with the National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA).More information is available at

Investing in Co-production of Water and Climate Knowledge

orgainizer_wucaBenjamin Franklin, the 18th century scientist, inventor, statesman and Founding Father of the United States, once said: “An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest.”

Perhaps the most valuable investment for water utilities confronting the risks and impact of climate change is a stake in “co-production” of the knowledge that will pay the best interest – i.e., water system sustainability and resilience for their communities. Co-production is the term used to describe the collaborative efforts between the users of climate information (such as water utilities) and the generators of climate information (such as government or academic researchers.) to design research projects aimed at meeting specific utility informational needs.

The Water Utility Climate Alliance (WUCA) recently released two important white papers that advance understanding of how climate change assessment and adaptation is developing at water and wastewater systems. WUCA, one of the six organizers of the 2015 International Water & Climate Forum, is dedicated to enhancing climate change research and improving water management decision making to ensure that water utilities will be positioned to respond to climate change and protect their water supplies. The new papers are a rich resource of case studies from the front lines of climate change planning and assessments as well as a practical guide to future investment.

The first paper showcases 13 water agencies actively incorporating climate change into their planning and decision-making processes. Embracing Uncertainty: A Case Study Examination of How Climate Change is Shifting Water Utility Planning discusses the new level of complexity climate change adds to decision-making processes and presents case studies illustrating the variety of ways in which utilities are bringing climate change into planning – from immediate operational decisions, to capital planning and asset management, to long-term supply planning. This white paper was developed through a collaboration between WUCA, AWWA, AMWA, and WRF.

The second paper, Actionable Science in Practice: Co-Producing Climate Change Information for Water Utility Vulnerability Assessments: Final Report of the Piloting Utility Modeling Applications (PUMA) Project, features four PUMA Project water utilities (New York City, Tampa Bay, Seattle and Portland). The utilities worked in collaboration with local climate science consortiums to select or develop locally appropriate tools, projections and approaches to understand the impact of climate change on drinking water supplies.

These white papers are extremely relevant to the aims of the 2015 International Water & Climate Forum. This focus on “co-production” and understanding research needs through discussion and interaction of utilities and researchers, as well as case studies of water systems understanding climate impacts and implementing climate considerations and uncertainties into decision making, prime the pump for the Forum’s full agenda of presentations, panel discussions and breakout sessions. There is no required reading for the Forum, but the WUCA white papers are highly recommended, as they provide an insightful introduction to many key topics.


The Water Utility Climate Alliance (WUCA) is a co-organizer of the 2015 International Water & Climate Forum.  WUCA is comprised of ten of the largest water providers in the United States and was formed to provide leadership and collaboration on climate change issues affecting water agencies. 

Water and Climate Resiliency: The Long View and the Broad Perspective

When it comes to insights on climate change and water, few in the U.S. can draw on more extensive experience than Pat Mulroy, who served for decades as general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority and the Las Vegas Valley Water District and is now a senior fellow with the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution and a senior fellow for climate adaptation and environmental policy at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas’ Brookings Mountain West.

speaker_mulroy_lgAlso a leader in the international water community for more than 25 years, Pat is an unrivaled resource for the Forum and will play a key role as the capstone speaker, weaving together the conference themes in a closing address aimed to inspire and challenge attendees.

Pat has never been reluctant to share her views on climate change and water. Just consider a few things she’s had to say in recent interviews:

On what to tell other cities about climate adaptation: You don’t have to build everything right away, but you have to play it out in your own planning process and in your own head. What are the trigger points? Where does carrying the risk become so untenable that we have to build climate defenses?

On government-sponsored research: The greatest investment the federal government could make right now would be to provide the financial resources that NOAA and NASA need to refine the science around predictability of climate and weather. Looking in the rear-view mirror doesn’t do us any good.

On communicating climate change to customers: Utilities need to stay on message and they have to be brutally honest with their customers. They need an engaged citizenry who can understand the issues, whether it’s water quality or conservation.

On connectivity: If we start looking for strategic partners and say it’s time for a larger strategy that provides maximum protection to agriculture, to urbans and to the environment – then we can work it out. And if we look at an integrated resource plan and blur state lines and blur geographic boundaries for connectivity and the opportunities that presents – then and only then do we have a chance.

Pat Mulroy is the total package when it comes to climate change and water utilities – a sensational asset for the Forum.

Miami and Denver – Addressing Climate in Very Different Water Environments

miami+denver1What makes the 2015 International Water & Climate Forum different from its successful predecessor, the 2010 Climate Change Impacts on Water: An International Adaptation Forum? This year’s Forum will shift the focus from policy discussions to the reality of what’s happening at urban water, wastewater and stormwater systems around the globe.To obtain that on-the-ground intelligence, the Forum is inviting many of the recognized trailblazers in climate adaptation and mitigation at water utilities throughout the world to speak. Just recently, Doug Yoder, deputy director of Miami-Dade Water and Sewer Department, and Jim Lochhead, Denver Water’s CEO and manager, committed to present their utilities’ forward-looking programs to deal with climate impacts. Both systems are among the largest in the U.S., and they face very different changes and challenges.

Doug Yoder will speak on the topic of communicating climate change. He will provide insights and examples of how the department is working to adapt to the impacts of climate change while communicating with customers, elected officials and other stakeholders about the need for and benefits of adaptation. And this is in a state where state environment officials have been banned from using the terms climate change or global warming in official communications and reports!

Jim Lochhead will present a case study on how Denver Water is implementing adaptation measures. The utility participates in regional and national collaborations with water utilities, scientists and researchers and works with the Front Range Climate Change group to develop useful climate models. In addition, Denver Water incorporates climate change into its long-range water planning, customer conservation programs, supply diversification, greenhouse gas reductions and other initiatives.

These two extraordinary water executives are valuable additions to our program, bringing their perspectives and experience from two very different climactic regions.

Photo credits:  Captain Tucker (Miami) and Matt Wright (Denver).

Carl Ganter: An International Perspective on Climate Change Policy

While progress on climate change policy has highs and lows from year to year and country to country, on the international front climate policy continues to move in promising directions. On the frontline of climate change journalism is J. Carl Ganter, co-founder and director of Circle of Blue, the internationally recognized center for original reporting, research and analysis on resource issues with a focus on the intersection between water, food and energy. The Forum is very fortunate to have him on the program to give us his take on current developments in international climate change policy.

j-carl-ganter-720-720-590x590In 2012, Ganter received the Rockefeller Foundation’s Centennial Innovation Award for developing a “unique, multi-disciplinary approach to documenting and reporting on the global freshwater crisis.” Circle of Blue’s non-advocacy, on-the-ground journalism makes complex issues understandable and provides trusted information and data that connects local stories to global trends. To link policymakers, scientists, academics, businesses and the general public, Circle of Blue uses emerging technologies and creative processes – in collaboration with organizations such as Google – to develop interactive “big data” projects and global surveys that make climate issues relevant and personal.

Ganter serves as vice-chairman of the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Global Agenda Council on Water Security, a group of leading experts from business, government, academia and the general public that provides thought leadership to the WEF’s activities on water security. For many years he has also served on the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars Navigating Peace Water Working Group, which produces policy papers on global water policies.

Insider perspectives generated from these many involvements make Carl Ganter an ideal source of knowledge on international climate change policy for Forum participants. Among other critical topics, he will talk about the discussions that will be taking place at COP 21 in Paris and how these relate to discussions at the Forum about water resilience strategies at urban utilities in light of climate change impacts. His unique insights on the international policy scene promise to be a highlight of the Forum.

Sharing Best Practices: Paula Verhoeven

Museumpark Rotterdam, an underground water storage facility with a capacity of 10 million litres (roughly 2.6 million gallons)

Museumpark Rotterdam, an underground water storage facility with a capacity of 10 million litres (roughly 2.6 million gallons)

In its aim to refocus the discussion of water/climate adaptation and mitigation to what’s being done by communities “on the ground,” the Forum is fortunate to have Paula Verhoeven on its program. Her long-time interest in climate-related issues, particularly in the area of water management, is reflected in her involvement and leadership in the many sustainability initiatives of the city of Rotterdam.

Verhoeven played a key role in the development of the first comprehensive Rotterdam Water Plan and built strong partnerships with industry and academia through the Rotterdam Climate Initiative.

So what is Rotterdam doing “on the ground” to mitigate and adapt to climate change?

  • One approach is water plazas that fill up in a controlled manner during heavy rainfall, preventing surrounding streets from flooding. The city’s Benthemplein Water Square opened in late 2013. The square retains water during peak rainfall and doubles as an urban public space. The lowered areas designed to retain water can be repurposed for sports and recreational use during dry weather.
  • To integrate water storage with the urban environment, Rotterdam actively encourages the installation of green roofs that absorb precipitation, reducing both the speed of rainwater runoff and pressure on the sewerage system during heavy rainfall. Green roofs are mandatory for municipal buildings, and the city has a program to subsidize the installation of green roofs on privately owned buildings.
  • The city is also pursuing use of multifunctional garages to deal with stormwater overflow. The Museumpark is an underground water storage facility with a capacity of 10 million liters (roughly 2.6 million gallons), making it the largest underground water storage facility in the Netherlands. When a downpour is over, the rainwater is pumped into the sewers and discharged in the usual manner.

We’re looking forward to sharing with Paula Verhoeven her insights and experiences on these and other water and climate initiatives at the Forum.

From Solutions To Implementation

Raül Glotzbach, with the International Water Association – one of the International Water & Climate Forum’s co-organizers, recently blogged about climate change’s impacts on urbanized areas and the need to move toward implementation of solutions.

“In Europe, about 75% of the population lives in urban areas – a figure that is likely to increase in the coming years,” Raül writes. “This means a growing demand for water and sanitation provisions. New solutions, ones that can be effectively – cost effective, carbon and energy efficient, etc. – implemented in cities, will be required to deal with the new paradigm.”

IWA2-25-2015 blogIWA and its partners are already showing what is possible. For instance, the European Union-funded PREPARED project, which is aimed at enabling the water sector to better adapt and cope with climate change, highlights that city water supply and sanitation systems and their catchment areas can adapt and be resilient to the challenges of climate change.

Likewise, the International Water and Climate Forum will support the transition from solutions to implementation by connecting water research and technology with high profile water utility managers and CEOs. These water leaders are well positioned to influence implementation of the many solutions at our disposal today, and they will demonstrate how this can be achieved at the Forum in December.

Read Raül’s full blog, From Solutions To Implementation.

Innovating, Mitigating, Adapting and Evolving: DC Water

Recently, DC Water General Manager and CEO George Hawkins blogged about his utility’s innovative research in support of its new CAMBI thermal hydrolysis and digester system. The digester will reduce the agency’s greenhouse gas footprint, enhance the utility’s resilience and ultimately save customers money.

Cambi-1“This incredible benefit is just one demonstration of the value of our research program at Blue Plains. Research doesn’t always pan out, but when it does, the return can be immense, as this example illustrates,” he wrote.

Innovation in research, greenhouse gas mitigation, climate resilience – DC Water’s work embodies many of the key topics to be discussed during the International Water and Climate Forum. From Washington, D.C., to California, Australia to the Netherlands, in urban utilities around the world, utility managers are innovating, mitigating, adapting and evolving. I hope you’ll make plans to join your utility peers December 7-9, 2015 to discuss what’s working on the ground, and how to keep the momentum going.

By Diane VanDe Hei

Diane VanDe Hei is executive director of the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies. AMWA is an organization of the largest publicly owned drinking water utilities in the U.S.

Who Should Attend the Forum?

Invitations to the Forum were emailed to hundreds of water and wastewater utility managers in late January. Additional invitations to water sector utility leaders, scientists, researchers and government agency representatives will be sent in February. If you didn’t receive an invitation and wish to attend, please let us know.

Here’s who should attend the Forum:

  • Water, wastewater and stormwater utility leaders (CEOs, GMs, Presidents);
  • Utility managers working in the areas of climate change, resilience and sustainability;
  • Government agency representatives working in these areas;
  • NGO and government scientists and researchers working on decision relevant science and innovations to advance on the ground progress for utilities and communities in adaptation and resilience; and
  • Policymakers in climate change, resilience, sustainability and greenhouse gas mitigation.

If you fall into one of these categories and wish to be invited, visit the Registration page and complete the Invitation Request form. Consultants, contractors and other non-utility corporations may attend by becoming a Forum sponsor.

Here is what Forum attendees can expect:

  • An exchange of knowledge, applications and innovative practices about adaptation and mitigation strategies and measures,
  • Exposure for water utility managers to the implementation approaches underway at urban water utilities around the world,
  • Conversations between climate scientists and utility managers to continue to foster applied research to serve the water community, and
  • Ample time for making contacts and sharing insights during breakout group discussions, extended breaks, luncheons and receptions.

If you already received an invitation, claim your spot soon. We expect a sell-out crowd!

International Water Luminaries Shine on Forum Agenda

When three globally acclaimed water sector leaders join the program of the 2015 International Water and Climate Forum it becomes apparent that this gathering will be something extraordinary.  In recent weeks, the Forum received commitments from Trevor Bishop, head of water resources for the United Kingdom Environment Agency; Rob Pritchard, General Manager of Utilities and Environmental Protection for the City of Calgary; and Pat Mulroy, long-time water executive with the Southern Nevada Water Authority and now a Brookings Institution fellow.

Rob Pritchard

imagineCalgaryForty years experience in the water industry give Rob Pritchard an unparalleled outlook on Forum issues.  Pritchard joined the City of Calgary in 1986 was appointed General Manager of Utilities and Environmental Protection in 2004.  He will share Calgary’s progress towards climate resilience and sustainability, as well as the city’s exceptional performance in addressing its “2020 Sustainability Direction,” a strategic guide for transformation that identifies what must happen at the city over the next 10 years to contribute towards the imagineCALGARY 100-year vision.

Trevor Bishop

Water resilience efforts will have little traction without partnership between utilities and government, and Trevor Bishop’s background spans the two sectors, giving him the perfect perspective to speak on the politics of climate change.  At the UK Environment Agency, his duties include all aspects of the management and operation of water resources across England and Wales, including strategic water resource planning and  climate change adaptation and mitigation. He has an additional decade of experience in the water industry with a wide range of both strategic and operational roles in a number of water companies.  

Pat Mulroy

A recognized thought leader on water issues, Pat Mulroy accumulated many years of experience in water resource, utility management and industry leadership as general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority from 1993 until retiring in February 2014.  Now she shares her expertise as a senior fellow at the Metropolitan Policy Program of the Brookings Institution.  She also serves as the senior fellow for climate adaptation and environmental policy at the University of Las Vegas’ Brookings Mountain West.  In her position as the “wrap-up” speaker the Forum, she will weave together conference themes and issue a challenge to the attendees on a powerful path forward.

By Diane VanDe Hei

Diane VanDe Hei is executive director of the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies. AMWA is an organization of the largest publicly owned drinking water utilities in the U.S.