Forum Synthesis Report Issued

A synthesis report of the 2015 International Water and Climate Forum is now available. To develop the 12-page synthesis, the 27 Forum presentations were analyzed for common themes. Six key themes were identified and the synthesis discussion is organized by these six topic areas. Nine key take-away points were identified from the event. The key points are:

  1. Water challenges are now recognized as key climate change impacts.
  2. The water sector is responding to climate change by reimagining and reinventing itself – going from reactive to proactive, from drought management to drought anticipation, from flood control to stormwater management and harvesting, from silos to “one water” management integrated with community spatial planning.
  3. Uncertainty need not be a deterrent to action, as research efforts and practitioner experience have produced methods, tools and implementation strategies that embrace uncertainty, preserve options, plan for multiple futures and use diversification to manage risks.
  4. Cities around the world have proven adaptation success is possible by tackling prolonged drought, severe storage capacity constraints, massive rainfall events and intense storms with workable, locally tailored climate adaptation responses.
  5. Collaboration and partnerships are fundamental elements of effective climate change response; adaptation efforts need to reflect integrated planning and execution across the water cycle and across governmental responsibility areas.
  6. Climate adaptation and mitigation requires substantial resources, and successful approaches to funding include better integration of climate impact considerations into core infrastructure investment strategy, as well as seeking a mix of sources for financing, including various forms of public-private partnerships.
  7. With an understanding of the high interdependency between water and energy, water sector practitioners have moved to reduce the energy, and greenhouse gas, intensity of water.
  8. Resilient water requires a resilient community and vice versa; the Forum spotlighted broad-based sustainability plans that integrate water management with the physical, economic and social fabric of communities.
  9. Climate change adaptation success relies on effective engagement, partnerships and a knowledgeable, trusting, and supportive community, and these require effective communication.

The report also includes an appendix of supplemental information – global community examples that illustrate how utilities are addressing climate challenges to build resilience. The important lessons learned from the Forum can be considered and implemented by utilities of all shapes and sizes across the world.

Forum Presentations Now Available to All Online

From water utilities’ climate resiliency planning efforts to the actions underway today to address drought, sea level rise and extreme weather events, the 2015 International Water & Climate Forum offered the most innovative thinking, best approaches and convincing case studies of any conference on water and climate change so far.  More than 200 water sector representatives came away with ideas and inspiration for moving ahead to address climate change challenges to the world’s water systems. These important water/climate resources are now available online to both attendees and the interested public.

The Forum was launched with a video highlighting several metropolitan mayors discussing the actions their cities are taking to become more climate resilient. The discussions that followed began with provocative insights on risk from Professor Simon Pollard of Cranfield University in the U.K. and closed with a call to action from Brookings Institution Senior Fellow Pat Mulroy.  In between were talks ranging from theoretical to practical and strategic to tactical.

The Forum’s presentations, audio podcasts and videos can all be accessed by visiting the Presentations tab.

Forum Reflections: A Celebration of Progress and Vision For Future Milestones

If you attended the Forum in December – thank you!  You should have received in your inbox on January 7 an invitation to take a survey to provide your feedback about the event. Your feedback is critical to helping us assess how valuable the Forum was for attendees and also consider what future forums will look like.

Also, presentations and podcasts will be posted on this site very soon. We’ll post a new blog once they are up. We are also developing a report of the key items and outcomes from the Forum.

City of Rotterdam's Paula Verhoeven speaking at the 2015 Forum.

City of Rotterdam’s Paula Verhoeven speaking at the 2015 Forum.

Participants from North and South America, Europe, Australia, Asia and Africa learned about “on the ground” activities utilities are performing to plan for and address drought, sea level rise and a host of extreme weather events and future climate and urban uncertainties.  More than 200 water sector representatives came away with ideas and inspiration for moving ahead to address climate change challenges to the world’s water systems.

Envisioned as a follow-up event to the 2010 Forum, where speakers discussed initial plans to understand and address potential climate impacts, the 2015 Forum included illustrations and case studies of how utilities and communities are becoming more resilient, demonstrating just how much progress has been made in five years.

Closing speaker Pat Mulroy summed up the event well when she said that the discussions at the Forum made clear that despite the uncertainties of the future, the water utility industry has demonstrated it is reimagining, reinventing and re-envisioning itself to the challenges presented by climate change.  A key thread of the Forum, she noted, was one of strategic partnerships between different levels of government, watershed neighbors, technology companies, customers and beyond. This thread was one of many from the event that demonstrated that utilities are transitioning from reactive to proactive solutions to become more resilient.

Nearly every Forum speaker discussed the role of partnerships in their resilience and strategic planning to address climate change impacts. She pulled other threads that were woven throughout the Forum: the need for resilient regulatory and governance structures, and the need for human capital, human acumen and social strategies that can be connected to infrastructure strategies. Forum speakers and attendees represented the luminaries in climate resilience but with that, she concluded, comes the responsibility to lead, guide and persuade people to start thinking differently.

Visionary Thinkers to Gather at International Water & Climate Forum

After years of guiding his water supply company through the worst drought in Melbourne, Australia’s history, Pat McCafferty learned one Saturday morning that the scourge of climate change had struck his own family. His son’s junior cricket game was cancelled.

The lack of water had killed the grass and hardened the playing fields. “Active, usable space is so important to the community’s well-being, and we as an industry were failing in supporting that,” said McCafferty, whose utility serves more than 1.7 million people. “I could envisage hundreds of kids being lost to local sport, retreating indoors to watch TV or use PlayStation, and the huge societal impact that would have.”IWCF Picture clipping

McCafferty will detail the extensive measures his utility took during next month’s International Water & Climate Forum in San Diego. Nearly 30 presenters will come from around the globe, including Denmark, the United Kingdom, Mexico, Canada, Singapore, Ecuador, Israel, the Netherlands and throughout the United States.

“Urban water and wastewater utility managers will leave with ideas, tools and resources for mainstreaming climate change considerations into their strategic planning and operations,” said Diane VanDe Hei, executive director of the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies, one of the organizers of the event.

Other organizers of the Dec 7-9 forum include AWWA, the Water Research Foundation, International Water Association, Water Services Association of Australia and the Water Utility Climate Alliance.

The forum’s opening speaker is Simon Pollard, a professor and pro-vice-chancellor of the School of Energy, Environment and Agrifood at Cranfield University in the United Kingdom. He will talk about how climate change impacts day-to-day operational risks and costs, as well the design, planning and location of investments.

“Ensuring adaptation is correctly embedded in the funding and planning processes of utilities is essential to avoiding poor investment decisions,” Pollard said.

New York City has taken steps to become more resilient to climate change, extreme events and other threats, said another forum speaker, Angela Licata, deputy director of the city’s Department of Environmental Protection. On the wastewater side, the department is pioneering green infrastructure to manage increasing volumes of stormwater.

It is also “investing in protecting wastewater treatment facilities from the impacts of coastal storms and sea level rise, adopting a design standard to protect for the 100-year storm of the 2050s,” Licata said.

Trevor Bishop, deputy director of water, land and biodiversity for the United Kingdom Environment Agency, will talk about the politics of climate change, highlighting the gap that often occurs between science and policy.

“My presentation is all about the journey from developing an evidence-based policy for water climate change adaptation through to its implementation — the translation of policy, legislation and regulation into actions which water companies and customers can take to make a real difference,” Bishop said.

Jim Lochhead, CEO and manager of Denver Water, will present a case study on how his utility is implementing adaptation measures.

“We know, from conversations we’ve had with customers from focus groups as well as a survey, that our customers really want us to be thinking long term,” Lochhead said. “What resonates with them is we are planning 50 years and beyond into the future.”

McCafferty, managing director of Yarra Valley Water, the largest of Melbourne’s three water corporations, said his talk will focus on what Melbourne does differently as a result of the drought that began more than a decade ago. In 2006, McCafferty said, the stream flow into the city’s catchments was 36 percent lower than the previously recorded low over the past 100 years.

The city used an arsenal of tools, said McCafferty, pictured at right, to replenish its water supply: water use behavior change, recycled water and stormwater capture and reuse, as well as construction of a major desalinated water plant and creation of a state water grid.

The forum will conclude with Pat Mulroy, the former general manager of the Las Vegas Valley Water District and the Southern Nevada Water Authority, offering her observations on the future of climate change adaptation.

“Depending on where you are in the country and what your risk is,” Mulroy said, “there are various approaches you can take to be able to prepare your community for what lies ahead.”


From the November 11, 2015 edition of AWWA Connections, a publication of the American Water Works Association.

Risk, Resilience and Foresight: Improved Strategic Planning for Utilities

The way in which water utilities assess and manage their business risks is changing.  Strategic (top level) business risks with root causes external to operations are increasing in importance and the degree of control that utilities have over their risk portfolio has altered and, in general, decreased.  Utilities are widely expected to plan for the long-term, shape their organisations so they are resilient when shocks occur, and inculcate an ability to ‘bounce’ back to normal operations quickly to avoid prolonged outage.  The uncertainties of a changing future mean that utilities, along with many other organisations, have to become ‘fleet of foot’ in how internal and external risks are managed within utilities and with their partner organisations. This landscape of risk, resilience and foresight poses new challenges for water sector managers – it makes for an even more dynamic operational environment and commands better alignment between their risk management arrangements and the other business processes that add value, not least of which is strategic planning.Pollard_X

Climate change, like land use and demographic change, is a driver of risk and opportunity for utilities.  In the short term, climate variability affects day-to-day operational risks and costs, whilst longer-term changes due to climate change will affect the design, planning and location of investments.  These longer-term impacts are affected both by changes in the average values of event occurrence, by increased variability and by the consequences of extreme events.  Ensuring adaptation is correctly embedded in the funding and planning processes of utilities is essential to avoiding poor investment decisions.

The International Water and Climate Forum in San Diego 7-9 December, 2015 provides a pivotal opportunity to explore these issues.  At the very point when the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change meets in Paris to secure international agreement that limits a further rise in global warming to below 2ºC, the Forum in San Diego will examine what water utilities are doing in their communities to implement adaptation and mitigation.  Water utilities are playing their part in recognising that ‘business as usual’ isn’t an option. Over 1,100 of the world’s leading companies and business groups have now announced commitments on the run-up to Paris, calling for strong climate action on behalf of 6.5 million companies worldwide.  This needs to be matched by a strong deal at Paris. The task for developed countries is to decarbonize their capital stock, change consumption patterns and transform the legacy of carbon‐intensive infrastructure systems. A clear direction of travel from the Paris talks can provide certainty at an international level, legitimise the strategic planning of public and private utilities and support the forward investment that our utilities need.


Simon Pollard, DSc, is Pro-Vice-Chancellor of the School of Energy, Environment and Agrifood at Cranfield University in the UK. Professor Pollard will give the Forum’s Opening Address and frame the importance of utility planning in the context of risk management and sustainability.

AWWA Supports Forum to Advance Climate Change Dialogue

The American Water Works Association (AWWA) has a strong history of active involvement on climate change impacts on water utilities. As part of its policy on climate change, AWWA is partnering in the 2015 International Water & Climate Forum and encouraging water utilities to attend this important event. The association sees this commitment as a way to support the development and promotion of education and training resources that advance the dialogue on climate change across the water utility sector.cynthia-lane

Given the immense amount of attention focused on climate change, as well as the very real impacts expected for the water utility sector, the AWWA last year revised its climate change policy (originally issued in 2010) in an effort to elevate the issue and ensure attention was directed to this important topic. The policy identifies two principal goals for water utilities regarding impacts due to climate change: “to assess risk and uncertainty due to climate change; and to develop and take actions to improve resiliency and sustainability in utility facilities and overall utility management.”

Many parts of the Forum agenda support and give concrete, practical dimensions to key elements of AWWA’s climate change policy:

  • AWWA supports the development of more refined climate models and tools to address the impacts of climate changes on water quality, quantity, and demand at scales that are relevant to water utilities. Water utilities should monitor climate science developments, reach out to climate science research programs, and participate in the practical application of climate modeling and impact assessment at the utility scale. To effectively integrate climate science into water utility operation and planning, water utilities should collaborate with national climate services to address the needs of water utilities. In a Forum session on “Innovations and Current Research,” prominent global innovators and researchers will examine the interactions between climate and water will provide an overview of key topics that are the focus of current research. Presentations will be followed by a discussion to identify research needs for implementing climate adaptation strategies.
  • AWWA encourages water utilities to: support regional climate modeling; respond proactively to anticipated climate variation; and develop adaptation responses to enhance resiliency for a range of projected climate impacts. A panel addressing “Perspectives on Resilience” will highlight approaches that utilities and cities around the world are taking to become more resilient. These approaches may not be driven specifically by a changing climate, but rather by the need to build resilience to address other threats and risks to their communities.
  • AWWA believes it is essential for water utilities to work together and with other sectors of water users on climate change analyses, evaluation of alternative scenarios, and mitigation and adaptation planning and investments. Comprehensive planning efforts such as integrated water resources development, contingency and emergency preparedness, risk assessments and energy management plans can address a wide range of climate scenarios in preparation for, and response to, changing climate conditions. Water and wastewater utility and city leaders from around the world will describe where they are now in implementing climate resilience plans in a Forum session entitledAdapting, Mitigating, And Planning: Looking Back and Looking Ahead.”
  • Water utilities should work closely with power suppliers to address issues related to the water-energy nexus. AWWA encourages and supports efforts by water utilities to examine their energy usage and carbon footprint, and reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions by developing energy efficiency and management plans. The development of “water footprints” helps utilities and the communities they serve prioritize climate change responses and communicate them to the public. In discussion and breakout sessions on “Planning and Resilience,” Forum participants will interact with experts on the topics of infrastructure investment, integrated water resources management, and water and energy interdependencies. In addition,Case Studies in Adaptation” will feature utility executives from Europe and the U.S. discussing and answering questions about their experiences in implementing climate adaptation measures and improving resiliency.

Water utility professionals looking for best practices in implementing climate change resilience into their planning and operations need look no farther than the 2015 International Water & Climate Forum.

Cynthia Lane is the Director of Engineering & Technical Services at AWWA, a co-organizer of the 2015 International Water & Climate Forum.

Forum Water Facility Tours: See Climate Resilience in Action

San Vicente Dam-1

San Vicente Dam

Something new has been added: the International Water & Climate Forum has an important new dimension that expands the value of participation. On the meeting’s final afternoon, attendees will have the chance to get out and visit local water facilities – a unique opportunity to see first-hand how California utilities are managing water and diversifying supply and to ask questions of utility professionals immersed in real-time responses to climate impacts.

On Wednesday, December 9, after the final plenary session, participants will be able to explore one of two premier water projects in Southern California that are building resilience to climate change and improving the region’s sustainability: the San Vicente Dam and the San Diego Advanced Water Purification Facility.

The San Vicente Dam is a steep-sided impounding reservoir approximately 25 miles northeast of San Diego.  The dam was recently raised by 117 feet to 337 feet – the tallest dam-raise in the U.S. – as part of an emergency storage project that will more than double San Diego County Water Authority’s water storage capacity and protect against drought.  The six-year project added 152,000 acre-feet (187.5 million cubic meters) of water capacity, two-thirds of which will be for capturing surplus water during wet seasons for use in dry years and one-third of which will store water for use in a regional emergency, such as an earthquake that cuts off imported water supplies. In addition to a briefing on the project, tour participants will visit the top of the dam.


Advanced Water Purification Facility

The Advanced Water Purification Facility is part of Pure Water San Diego, a multi-year program to produce a safe and sustainable high-quality water supply for the city. From 2009 to 2013, a water purification demonstration verified the feasibility of a full-scale reservoir augmentation project, where purified water could be blended with imported water supplies in the San Vicente Reservoir before going to a standard drinking water treatment plant. At the new facility, recycled water is purified through membrane filtration processes including reverse osmosis, advanced oxidation with ultraviolet light and hydrogen peroxide. The purified water is similar in quality to distilled water. Tour participants will see the equipment and resulting purified water up close and have an opportunity to compare samples of purified, tap and recycled water.

Since space on these free tours is limited and will be filled on a first-come, first-served basis, anyone interested in participating is urged to register early. You can select one of the two tour options when you register for the Forum, or if you registered before September 1, email Nicole Jacobson at to sign up.

The tours are a perfect way to close out your Forum experience, so be sure to act soon.

Organizing a Sustainable Event

One critical facet of the International Water & Climate Forum that you will not find on the agenda is the meeting’s sustainable event management system – which is compliant with ISO 20121 . Following an event management system that is compliant with this standard will pervade all aspects of the meeting – some apparent, some more hidden – in ways that will both reduce the Forum’s environmental impact while offering useful lessons in resilience and sustainability to attendees.

Developed as an international standard to coincide with the London 2012 Olympics, the ISO 20121 – Event Sustainability Management System Standard offers best practices and a business framework that organizers can use to manage events and control their social, economic and environmental impacts.

Staging any event can generate negative impacts such as material waste, energy consumption and strains on local communities. Following the standard at the Forum will help the event leave behind a positive legacy while serving as a model for improving the sustainability of future meetings.

What does it mean for the Forum to operate in line with ISO 20121 principles? Most notably, the Forum has established several targets and objectives. They promote staff and key event stakeholder involvement and define management responsibilities and event hosting goals. Each objective features detailed key performance indicators and targets that were set with the aim of achieving continual improvement in event performance.

More broadly, the Forum will focus on four sustainable management practices that are governed by principles of inclusivity, integrity, stewardship and transparency:

  • Partnerships with event hosts;
  • Education of vendors, partners and attendees to achieve environmental, social and economic benefits;
  • Minimizing event environmental impacts and
  • Improving local economic impacts associated with the event.

Finally, the Forum website and other information provided at the event will offer multiple opportunities to learn about, support and benefit from the triple-bottom-line values of this and other ISO 20121 sustainable events.

Achieving a sustainable international forum will not be easy, but it will be worthwhile both in terms of environmental benefits and lessons that attendees can take home.

From Planning to Action

The phenomenon of climate change is particularly challenging from a number of policy perspectives. Absent a “silver bullet” technology solution to remove carbon from the atmosphere, any solution requires international cooperation on a scale not previously achieved for an issue so broad and pervasive. Unlike many other types of pollution issues, localities cannot independently put their own house in order and thereby solve their problem independent of action taken by the rest of the world, though localities will be first line players in any set of solutions. Timing is a critical factor. The most serious and direct consequences of climate change may be decades off, meaning that today’s decision makers must communicate effectively regarding short term costs and long term benefits, often a heavy lift for elected officials. These policy deliberations continue to occur in a context of climate science challenge or denial, a degree of uncertainty as to the extent and timing of climate change consequences, and growing demands among developing nations for access to the benefits of cheap energy that fueled the prosperity of the developed nations.Miami Blog Photo

Being among the “canaries in the coal mine” (perhaps an unfortunate analogy for this particular problem) is not a situation to which many knowingly aspire. Southeast Florida is one of several places where vulnerability to climate change consequences, particularly sea level rise, is being experienced in the present. Miami-Dade County has been actively engaged in climate change issues since 1990. Now Florida’s four southeastern coastal counties from Palm Beach to Key West have created a Four County Climate Change Compact to establish consistent regional planning assumptions and to bring to bear as many local, regional, state, federal, and private resources as possible to plan for and act on infrastructure and other investment needs to address long term climate change vulnerabilities.   Miami has been ranked number one in the world in terms of the potential value of property losses vulnerable to sea level rise and storm surge flooding. As a result, the Miami-Dade County Commission has mandated that all County infrastructure projects consider the consequences of sea level rise for 50 years or the expected life of the asset in question, whichever is greater.

In Miami Beach, a booming barrier island fronting the Atlantic Ocean, clear weather street flooding, caused by rising seas backing up through the drainage system at extreme tides, has become a mainstream political issue. The City has committed to a $460 million program to install 60 pump stations, retrofit drainage lines, and elevate streets by up to 2 feet. This is an extraordinary and significant example of the leading edge of policy actions that need to be developed sooner rather than later in vulnerable communities around the globe.

The International Water and Climate Forum is an opportunity to share the lessons-to-be-learned as diverse communities move from planning to action to define vulnerability and invest in the infrastructure, technology, and behavioral changes that utilities and communities need to embrace adaptively for a resilient and sustainable future. Critical elements of this effort include effective applied research initiatives and communications strategies that produce broad public awareness of the issues and the need to act on these issues responsibly from a personal level, a corporate level, and at all levels of government. The Forum seeks to include all of these considerations in practical and insightful ways.

Douglas Yoder is a Deputy Director of the Miami-Dade Water and Sewer Department, the largest utility in Florida and one of the 10 largest in the United States.  His address at the Forum will provide insights and examples of how Miami-Dade is working to adapt to the impacts of climate change, specifically storm water drainage and sea level rise, with an emphasis on the communication component of the utility’s work. 



Managing Climate Risk in Water Utility Planning

Sound, practical research is critical to water utility planning for climate impacts. For many years, the Water Research Foundation (WRF) has worked with water executives to identify their climate change information needs and to design and conduct the studies required to gather and analyze this essential data. As one of the key organizers of the International Water & Climate Forum, WRF is drawing on this experience to help craft an agenda that ensures decision-relevant climate research is highlighted during the forum and discussions will constructively consider future research needs.

Rob Renner-squareClimate change has always been an interest to water managers because decisions made in the near term affect system reliability well into the future. For example, utilities build costly water infrastructure with the expectation that investments will meet future requirements for decades to come. Traditional water utility planning methods are based on the assumption that future hydrologic conditions will be statistically similar to those recorded in the recent historical record; this is known as stationarity. However, the current scientific information on climate change indicates that future climate and hydrologic conditions will be significantly different than those in the past. Therefore, to plan efficiently, water managers need to understand how climate may change in the future and how that may affect the resources upon which the water utility industry depends.

Assessing and managing climate risk in water utility planning introduces several key challenges:

  • Developing projections of how the climate may change at a scale suitable for water planning
  • Developing existing planning tools to reflect and evaluate climate change impacts on water management plans
  • Accommodating the profound uncertainty that climate change introduces through the development of robust and dynamic risk management strategies

While the potential impacts and uncertainties associated with climate change will create unprecedented challenges, there are many reasons to believe that water utilities and the water supply community are up to the challenge. Water utilities are developing response strategies, forming coalitions and alliances, and raising awareness among policy makers and government officials. Additionally, federal, state, and even local governments are responding with legislation to increase funding for climate change research and solutions.

The Water Research Foundation (WRF) has been studying climate change and its impact on water supplies since 2003. In that time, WRF has funded over 30 projects valued at $12 million to research enhancing and improving water industry awareness of climate change issues and impacts, developing effective adaptation strategies, developing effective mitigation strategies, and communicating climate change impacts to internal/external stakeholders. Most of these projects are finished and reports and related resources are available for download.

When it comes to climate change, WRF recognizes that learning from each other’s experience provides water utilities a better understanding of the issues and challenges that will come. The 2015 International Water and Climate Forum will bring together water and wastewater utility leaders from around the world to discuss adaptation and mitigation strategies for water utilities, showcase case studies and lessons learned, and identify the decision-relevant research needed to incorporate climate change considerations into real-world utilities’ strategic planning operations.

Rob Renner is the Executive Director of the Water Research Foundation, 6666 W. Quincy Ave., Denver, CO 80235 USA;; @RobRennerWRF. The Water Research Foundation is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization that sponsors research that supports the water community in cooperatively managing water from all sources to meet social, environmental, and economic needs. Renner was previously the executive director of the International Society of Automation and served as deputy executive director of AWWA. He has more than 20 years of experience as a consultant optimizing water treatment plant performance, and has a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering and a master’s degree in sanitary engineering from South Dakota State University.