How Communities Tackle Water and Climate Realities

It’s no secret that the view from ground level is often significantly different from the 50,000-foot perspective. For water and wastewater utility managers around the world, that difference is a daily challenge. And many are making noteworthy progress in planning for, adapting to and mitigating the climate-related changes confronting their systems and their communities.

Consider Benthemplein in the Netherlands, the first full-scale water square in the world and an early project of the Rotterdam Climate Initiative. In dry weather, the attractive downtown square offers basketball and skating, but during heavy rainfall, the square’s basins retain water from the square and the surrounding rooftops, keeping it away from the sewage system and preventing urban floods. Over the next few years, a number of new tidal parks along the New Waterway and New Meuse River will create an attractive new landscape, improve the region’s recreational potential and the river’s ecological quality. The gradually sloping riverbank will serve as a breakwater at high tide, ensuring the tidal park will also contribute to future resilience.

Denver Water in the United States stays informed about climate science and the range of projected changes and impacts by employing a climate scientist, collaborating with water utilities regionally and nationally, and working with climate researchers to meet its information and assessment needs. It studies the vulnerability of its own water system and participates in the Rocky Mountain region’s Joint Front Range Climate Change Vulnerability Study to develop models that simulate the streamflow changes caused by climate model projections. The possible climate impacts are then incorporated into the utility’s long-range water planning, customer conservation programs and supply source diversification.

Usable climate data, as well as innovative adaptation and mitigation practices, are keys to making headway on climate-related planning and resiliency. Australia’s Cooperative Research Centre for Water Sensitive Cities brings together inter-disciplinary research expertise in collaboration with more than 80 research, industry and government partners. Its four-pronged research approach looks at community attitudes and behavioral change, climate responsive urban design principles, future technologies and adoption pathways to deliver urban water management solutions, education and training programs, and industry engagement to confront the water sector’s climate concerns.

Keeping abreast of the latest and most promising water and climate initiatives can be difficult. But in December, IWA members will have an important opportunity to join colleagues from around the globe to learn about these and many other adaptation, mitigation and research projects at the 2015 International Water & Climate Forum in San Diego, California. IWA is partnering with water organizations from the U.S. and Australia for what will be a practical conversation among attendees and speakers to inform water utility climate action.

Through presentations, panel discussions and breakout sessions, Forum attendees will share utility management initiatives now underway involving infrastructure investments, stakeholder communications, cross-sector interdependencies and other issues that must be strategically considered in the context of climate resilience.

The Forum’s goal is to spark ideas that will move communities and water systems to the next level in integrating climate resilience considerations in utility strategic planning and operations. Attendees and speakers will include water, wastewater and stormwater utility leaders, utility managers working specifically in the areas of climate change, resilience and sustainability. They will be joined by urban planners, government agencies and policy makers, along with NGO and government scientists and researchers who are working on decision-relevant science and innovations to advance climate adaptation and resilience among water utilities and communities,

This is a critical year for water and climate, with the Sustainable Development Goals and the COP 21 in Paris, which aims for a universal climate agreement, both taking place. Through an exchange of knowledge, applications and innovative practices about adaptation and mitigation strategies and measures, the 2015 International Water & Climate Forum will contribute to finding solutions to the many water and climate challenges.


If you would like further information on the 2015 International Water & Climate Forum visit the website. Registering for the Forum requires an invitation, which can be requested on the website registration page.

The Forum will expose attendees to the implementation approaches underway at urban utilities around the world from peer speakers including:

Paula Verhoeven, General Director of Rotterdam’s Department of City Development, who will discuss the headway Rotterdam has made to implement strategies to become “climate proof” under the Rotterdam Climate Initiative.

Rob Pritchard, General Manager of the Calgary Utilities and Environmental Protection Department, who will focus on the department’s forward progress in developing and implementing mitigation and adaptation strategies.

Pat McCafferty, Managing Director of Yarra Valley Water, who will explain how extreme drought conditions led Yarra Valley Water – the largest of Melbourne, Australia’s three water corporations – to change its planning approach and why that approach is relevant even if future climate impact projections change.

Jim Lochhead, CEO and Manager of Denver Water, who will describe how his utility incorporates climate change into its long-range water planning, conservation, supply diversification and greenhouse gas reductions and how it benefits from regional and national collaborations.

Doug Yoder, Deputy Director of the Miami-Dade Water and Sewer Department, who will address how the utility is adapting to climate-related stormwater drainage impacts and sea level rise, with an emphasis on communicating with customers, elected officials and other stakeholders about adaptation.

A key part of the program will include conversations between climate scientists and water managers to foster continued applied research to serve the water community. Among the scientists already scheduled to speak are:

Dr. Tony Wong, CEO of Australia’s Cooperative Research Centre for Water Sensitive Cities, who will introduce the latest innovations in water sensitive urban design and will discuss sustainable water resources management in an urban setting.

Dr. Casey Brown, Associate Professor at the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, who will speak on climate risk management in water infrastructure and decision-making in the context of climate uncertainty.

International perspectives will also come from:

Pat Mulroy, Senior Fellow at the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution who will tap her many years of experience in water resources, utility management and industry leadership as General Manager of both the Las Vegas Valley Water District and the Southern Nevada Water Authority to offer her observations on the future of climate change adaptation.

Trevor Bishop, Deputy Director of Water, Land and Biodiversity for the United Kingdom Environment Agency, who will talk about the politics of climate change, highlighting the gap that often occurs between science and policy.

J. Carl Ganter, Director and co-founder of Circle of Blue, the international network of leading journalists, scientists and communications design experts reporting on the global freshwater crisis, who will deliver a multimedia presentation highlighting the developments at the Paris Climate Change talks (COP21), which will be unfolding at the time of the Forum.