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.