Improving through Resilient Adaptation
President's Message, July 2019
We just wrapped up a wonderful Summer Specialty Conference in Sparks, Nevada on Improving Water Infrastructure through Resilient Adaptation. I love all our American Water Resources Association (AWRA) conferences and the great thing about the smaller specialty conferences is the opportunity to meet and have extraordinary conversations. Participants are often the exemplars in their field and exploring the raw edges of their disciplines. They come to the conferences to share their work and engage on topics that bridge across the water sectors. The specialty conferences simultaneously provide information applicable to our day to day work and serve as an R&D lab for interdisciplinary exploration. By the end of these conferences there is a good chance you will have met many of the other attendees and have plans to stay in touch with more than a few.
The AWRA promises Community, Conversation and Connections. This summer’s conference delivered just that. The printed conference program set the stage for discussions with a preamble highlighting the challenges we face. Aging infrastructure, climate change and population growth often “act in unison to threaten our abilities to meet ever-growing water demands in this world.” It continued by proffering that there are no “one size fits all solutions” and, to quote John F. Kennedy, “There are risks and costs to action, but they are far less than the long-range risks of comfortable inaction.”
The conference was ably co-led by Venki Uddameri (Texas Tech University and our JAWRA editor), Tapash Das (Jacobs Engineering and Future Risk Committee Chair), and long-time AWRA member and noted utility executive Jay Jasperse (Sonoma Water). They crafted a program focused on the intersection of demands and the steps water resource professionals are taking to tackle these challenges head on. Their goal was to develop “innovative tools and techniques to characterize future risks and develop both engineered and policy solutions to improve resilience and help communities successfully adapt to the ever-changing landscape of water resources planning, engineering and management.”
Several consistent themes emerged over the course of three days. Front and center were the concepts of extremes being the new normal. This was not a new topic for any of the participants. Yet, while we certainly know more than we did just five years ago, and many speakers shared their very latest research, our need for more and better data was equally apparent.
The second theme revolved around the limitations of engineered solutions in the face of stacked, complex problems. These types of problems require a suite of responses including reintroduction of watersheds to their natural footprints, incorporation of multi-disciplinary skill sets, decision support systems that allow tradeoffs to be better evaluated, and robust governance to guide adaptive management as conditions change.
A third, and in some ways more daunting theme, was the need for changes in societal responses. This extends well beyond asking people to just act “greener.” It requires rethinking risk and what it means to stay out of harms’ way. It also means moving past denial to action.
Keynote speaker Tony Willardson, economist and Western States Water Council CEO, provided a summation of the themes, noting “Resilient adaptation requires investments in more than grey or green infrastructure, but also in science, technology, observations, data analysis and visualization for decision support, as well as innovative institutional, legal and political governance. There is a growing and increasingly serious need for collaboration and leadership at all levels, both public and private, academic and operational, corporate and regulatory.”
The need for improving through resilient adaptation extends beyond the water profession. Organizations, like infrastructure, have life cycles and must be responsive to stressors and changing needs. Our fifty-plus year-old AWRA is no exception. You may have already noticed changes in the works, including a transition to virtual management systems. We are committed to improving our environmental footprint, finding ways to be more efficient and to adding value for our members.
During the coming months we will be asking for your help in shaping AWRA to be all it can be. Resilient adaptive management is dependent on an effective feedback cycle. That means we need to hear from you. We want to know more about you, what issues you are facing, and how AWRA can better serve you. Please consider participating in surveys and other outreach we will be conducting during the rest of the year. We also love hearing from you for any reason. Please feel free to drop a note to firstname.lastname@example.org with any ideas or suggestions you might have. We want to be your association home for Community, Conversation, and Connections.
Lisa Beutler is the 2019 president of AWRA. Contact: email@example.com.