As presented to The Nature Conservancy

Lynn Scarlett
Authored by: Lynn Scarlett, Former Deputy Secretary of the Interior (2005-2009)

November 30, 2010

As I contemplated the current conservation landscape, I thought of a passage in Alice in Wonderland. Alice, coming upon a fork in the road, looks up to see the Cheshire cat eyeing her from a tree above. Seizing the opportunity for help, she asks: “Tell me, please, which way ought I to go from here.” The grinning cat replies: “That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.”

Yet perhaps reaching a destination is not as simple as the Cheshire cat advised. Success depends also on the lay of the land. And so it is with the Nation’s conservation journey.

Thinking of the Cheshire cat’s quip, I believe the conservation community knows where it wants to go. The challenge is how to succeed in a context of political, social, and economic change.

I want to explore the lay of the land—the political, social and economic tableau within which conservation goals must now unfold and tease out possible implications for policy strategies. That tableau offers a mix of both clear and cloudy elements. Let me begin with what seems clear, which has, I discern, two key dimensions.

First, national, state, and local levels of government face severe fiscal constraints. At the local level, many cities are facing large deficits. Atlanta, Philadelphia, New York, Chicago, Phoenix, and Los Angeles all have deficits greater than 10 percent of their general funds. At the state level, 46 states struggled to close budget shortfalls this year, including deficits in California and Texas in the double-digit billions. Shortfalls collectively approached $126 billion, or 19 percent of the total budgets in the 46 deficit states. At federal level, deepening concerns about the deficit are driving a clamor for belt-tightening. For agencies like the Interior Department, 2012 cuts could range from 7 to 15 percent.

Second, the economy remains unstable. That instability stretches globally, despite pockets of economic dynamism in China and elsewhere. That instability is affecting private, foundation, and corporate philanthropic spending, which showed a 3.6 percent decline in 2009, with some individual sectors experiencing larger declines.

But let me turn to the blurrier picture. How might we diagnose the recent election? I am neither Freud nor Cassandra nor a Gallup pollster, but I offer a couple of observations on the election. Pundits and media headlines offer three prevailing explanations for the major turnover on the Hill and in State legislatures:

  • It’s the economy
  • It’s big government
  • It’s Washington—and incumbents, generally
  • Probably the explanation resides in some mix of all of the above.

In the headlines, environmental issues are barely a blip on the screen of political and policy dialogues, with one exception—climate change. Even here, however, I perceive some ambivalence.

On the one hand, climate change has become a political symbol that transcends its scientific underpinnings and economic implications. Politically, for some Americans, climate change policy has come to represent Exhibit Two (after Health Care legislation) of Big Government. Cap and trade policy, in particular, has become a symbol for economic manipulation.

On the other hand, beyond the climate change symbolism, the conservation picture is far more complex and holds some basis for a wink of optimism. Californians voted resoundingly to sustain their clean energy and greenhouse gas reduction pathway. Moreover, those polled regarding their support for domestic energy production versus more environmental protection show near parity between the two preferences, with each garnering 46 to 47 percent support.

Consider conservation more broadly. Broad brush concepts—conservation, environment—receive barely a nod in polls or among Tea Party supporters. A google search shows just one local Tea Party chapter even mentioning the environment. But let us peer, instead, at specific issues perceived to directly touch the daily lives of people. Water issues continue to arouse significant concern. Sixty percent in a recent Gallup poll indicated that they worry “a great deal” about drinking water. That figure jumps to 74 percent if one includes those who worry a fair or great amount about drinking water.

Other issues also poll fairly strongly as arousing public concerns. Some 80 percent of those polled by Gallup are concerned a great deal or fair amount about river, lake and reservoir pollution and water supply issues. Seventy-six percent remain concerned a great deal or somewhat about air pollution. Even issues unrelated to human health poll fairly strongly. Plant and animal extinctions generate concerns among 65 percent of Americans.

My purpose is not to dissect these polls but to suggest that November’s voting results cannot be read as a mandate to override environmental investments. But let me paint into the tableau a few more elements. All these elements provide a prelude to talking about policy implications. I want to quickly mention four more brush strokes.

First is the existing regulatory backdrop—the Endangered Species Act, Clean Water Act, even the Federal Land Policy Management Act, and Natural Resource Damages Assessments, among other statutes. All of these laws require mitigation or recompense for various environmental impacts—whether to species, wetlands, or public lands, waters, and resources.

Those requirements imply the need for and sources of non-federal environmental investments. These dollars are significant. Natural Resource Damages settlements net an average payout of $100 million per year. Occasionally, individual settlements exceed $100 million. Such funds often combine with other sources to achieve significant environmental benefits.  For example, $3 million in NRD funds resulting from a settlement regarding harbor contamination in Rhode Island were combined with private-sector and nonprofit funds toward purchase of 1.5 million acres of loon nesting habitat in Maine. Elsewhere, $400,000 in NRD funds combined with Coast Guard and other nonprofit funding to protect and monitor common eider nesting habitat. Or consider wetland mitigation banks, which are emerging at a pace of 30 to 50 per year, and credits for many of these banks are “sold out.”

Let us turn now to a second brushstroke—the Nation’s huge water and wastewater infrastructure backlogs.  The American Society of Civil Engineers grades drinking water and wastewater infrastructure as poor. These ratings are reflected in the estimated $390 billion price tag to update or replace wastewater systems alone.

What do these enormous price tags have to do with a conservation mission?  Cities across the Nation are looking for better, cheaper, smarter ways to meet their infrastructure needs. And sometimes—perhaps even often—that means going “natural”—investing in floodplain restoration, open space and permeable surfacing, and watershed protection.  Philadelphia, for example, is proposing to convert 34 percent of its area to permeable surface at a fraction of the $6-$8 billion price tag to build tunnels and new pipes to eliminate sewage overflow. On a smaller scale, Seattle’s use of “green infrastructure” reduces stormwater runoff volumes at a cost 25 percent less than the traditional alternative.

The third brush struck on the landscape is the ongoing conservation investment commitments associated with existing programs. Those gathered know these data better than I do, but 25 states have state-level “purchase of agricultural easement” programs. Many states have passed conservation bonds, designated lottery funds to conservation, added fractions to sales taxes to support land acquisition, used real estate transfer fees to support conservation, and taxed oil, gas, and mineral production to provide environmental benefits. Indeed, over many years, the conservation community nationwide has been a big booster of these efforts.  At the Federal level, Migratory Bird monies from Duck Stamps, Farm Bill conservation programs, other mandatory monies, and Department of Defense compatible use conservation funds all continue to support protection, restoration, and enhancement of lands, water, and wildlife. All these funding sources provide at least some buffer to the ebbs and flows and vulnerability of annual federal appropriations for conservation.

The final element of the conservation tableau pertains to natural hazards. Over the past century, the number of natural disasters has increased more than 40-fold, rising from less than 10 in the first decades of the last century to over 400 in the last decades of the 20th century. Costs to address these disasters climbed from $1 billion in 1900 to more than $200 billion in 2005.

Many of these disasters were amplified as consequence of ecosystem transformations and degradation.  Ecosystem protection and restoration offer significant, often cost-effective strategies for reducing the impacts of these natural hazards. Investments in the protection or restoration of floodplains, coastal dunes, and sea marshes can enhance resilience to severe storms.  For example, evaluation of dune protection in North Carolina showed marked reductions in threatened and destroyed buildings compared to areas without dune protection.

Let me recap the policy landscape, then turn to implications for policy strategies. On the negative side of the ledger are fiscal constraints, economic instability, and, among many new members in the Congress, a disinterest in environmental matters. Among the mixed signals are public attitudes—lukewarm, even skeptical, d abstract environmental matters but more supportive of environmental progress on specific issues. On the positive side, we see existing regulatory drivers for action, some continuing (and significant) funding flows, and BIG NEEDS that may be harnessed toward galvanizing environmental investments.

What are implications of this tableau for conservation? Beyond the imperative starting point of setting clear goals, I offer a quick spectrum of thoughts on five key strategy questions.

  • What’s the message?
  • What are the tools?
  • Where’s the money?
  • Who’s the audience?
  • Who are the players?

Consider, first, the message. With strong public concern about tangible environmental issues, linking conservation action to those tangible issues offers a message and focus that transcend parties and ideology. “Watershed protection protects drinking water supplies;” “coastal restoration reduces storm vulnerability;” “floodplain restoration protects communities;” “enhancing forest health protects water supplies.”  Where relevant, messages that highlight “better, cheaper, smarter” have broad, bipartisan appeal. Or, for the business community, messages that highlight a favorable return on investment are compelling.

Examples that affirm such messaging abound. In August, for example, Denver Water teamed up with the U.S. Forest Service to treat 38,000 acres of critical watersheds to reduce the risks of catastrophic fires that can result in extensive erosion and damage to streams and reservoirs. The $33 million “Forest to Faucet” partnership was launched, in part, as Denver Water eyed 3 million acres of lodgepole pine forests devastated by pine beetles and recalled the enormous damage to its water supplies from the Hayman fire. Costs to address that damage have included over $10.5 million at one reservoir, with another $30 million or more in costs still looming to complete that restoration.

Linking conservation to tangible (and cost-effective) community benefits is especially relevant in the context of climate change adaptation strategies. Increases in high-intensity storms or frequency of catastrophic fires are occurring now—not hypothetically in the future.

Changes in snow melt timing and precipitation patterns are occurring now. Sea level rise is occurring now—witness the November 25 New York Times article on Norfolk, Virginia regarding the 14.5-inch rise in sea level just since 1930. High-intensity storms, sea level rise, changing precipitation patterns, and other climate change effects amplify the importance of protecting coastal sea marshes as storm buffers, or restoring flood plains, or conserving source water.

These are also opportunities to teach—locally—about climate change and its effects. They offer a way of building grassroots support for climate adaptation strategies, and, potentially, for mitigation actions, as well.

What about conservation tools in the current political climate, and who are some relevant players?  Yes, of course, legislative opportunities exist with the upcoming Farm Bill to underscore the importance of conservation funding for ecology, economy, and community well being. But less obvious opportunities also exist. Sen. Inhofe has opined that he wants major water and wastewater infrastructure investments. Why not begin to sow the seeds of the need to include ecosystem alternatives in the mix?

So, too, are there many small, noncontroversial measures that could support cooperation, collaboration, and working landscapes. These include measures to: 1) support Service First co-locations of federal agency offices to enhance efficiency and strengthen landscape-scale, cross-agency coordination; 2) affirm agency authorities to enter into cooperative agreements with conservation partners; and 3) develop cross-cut budgeting for large landscape, collaborative conservation initiatives. These measures have good government, fiscally conservative dimensions and also provide major underpinnings for landscape-scale conservation. They may also resonant on the local-action message of Tea Party newcomers and old-fashioned conservatives, as they strengthen local action and local partnerships, while also finding favor with many Democrats.

But federal legislation may not be the ripest context for action. State and local action present opportunities to galvanize conservation policies and investments. With current economic instabilities, this is not a time for new conservation sales taxes, but it could be a time for state-level support of eco-infrastructure. Many cities are already developing climate change action plans that span mitigation and adaptation measures. These planning processes present an opportunity to add into the mix watershed-scale thinking for source water protection, stormwater management, and pollution abatement.

Consider Milwaukee’s 28-city coordinated efforts on flood management and stormwater. The Milwaukee Metropolitan Stormwater District, with flood management authority across six regional watersheds, is working with 28 municipalities to coordinate water management across a 411 square-mile area. A central focus is on infrastructure “greening” and outreach to the agricultural community, as well.

But I want to add another potential locus of action. Think agencies, not just legislation.

Agencies have enormous latitude and capacity to reshape the conservation context. The current national administration is sympathetic to landscape-scale conservation, providing some leadership for agencies to strengthen their collaborative, cross-jurisdictional conservation efforts. What are some of these opportunities?  I offer this list not as an agenda for action but as examples to illustrate just how big a role agencies play in really enhancing the conservation context.

  • Natural Resource Damages Funding: Trustee agencies could further encourage the prospects of offsite restoration and collaborative projects. For example, federal agencies have combined NRD funds with Coast Guard and nonprofit funds for eider nesting site protection.  In the Northeast, using $3 million in NRD funds resulting from a settlement regarding harbor contamination in Rhode Island, agencies partnered with private-sector and nonprofit organizations to fund the purchase of 1.5 million acres of loon nesting habitat in Maine
  • Principals and Guidelines:Fuller accounting for the environmental benefits of water resource projects provides an opportunity to focus the analytic framework at a watershed/landscape-scale.
  • National Environmental Policy Act Implementation: Encourage new guidance on cumulative effects and offsite mitigation, perhaps tailored after BLM’s offsite mitigation guidance. Guidance updating could include definitions and methods for evaluating ecosystem services that could strengthen both ecosystem services evaluation and use of landscape-scale analytic framework. Key issue: how to extend boundaries of evaluation beyond the individual public land unit? Is there a role for cooperating agency status as platform for such analysis? What about use of DOI’s regulation on consensus-based collaborative management options that allows such options to be identified as preferred alternative?
  • FERC relicensing guidance:Mitigation provisions under the licensing process offer a potential source of funding for ecosystem services investments and a potential source of market demand. They also provide an opportunity for agencies to steer mitigation toward landscape-scale, high-priority, and multi-benefits conservation. These opportunities could be strengthened by updating the Hydropower Interagency Memorandum of Understanding to reference ecosystem services evaluation within the context of requirements to evaluate environmental impacts of projects and by setting mitigation funding prioritiesthrough mitigation guidance that emphasizes enhancing ecosystem services outcomes.
  • Farm Bill: Options for improvement of the conservation provisions include consolidating programs that share common purposes and/or consolidating different payment types into a single, multipurpose payment system; targeting programs to high-priority conservation areas; developing better performance indicators; and improving returns on investment through use of landscape-scale approaches, competitive bidding to lower the cost of conservation contracts, and linking payments directly to performance.
  • ESA Conservation Banking: Update guidance to on multi-species banking.
  • BLM Multi-unit Environmental Impact Statements: Build upon BLM’s recent eco-regional assessments as a foundation for undertaking multi-unit environmental evaluations that would facilitate large, landscape-scale planning, conservation corridors, non-surface disturbance in high-conservation value areas.

I conclude this policy overview with the ever-important question of money. As no big surprise, I expect federal dollars for conservation grants and land acquisition to shrink in the near term. From an agency land manager’s perspective, these grant dollars are discretionary, and cuts in grants do not generally involve “reductions in force.” Agencies will strive, understandably, to hang on to their workforces during these constrained funding periods. For annual spending, a big question is the fate of the Land and Water Conservation Fund. If the efforts to move LWCF off-budget are unsuccessful, it is very difficult to envision full funding occurring under the current fiscal climate. The Administration pledged full funding, but, at $900 million, that’s a tough pledge to fulfill when trying to find 7 percent or greater spending cuts to programs. It seems unlikely that the Congress will support full funding under its new composition.

At the federal level, for conservation funding, that leaves mandatory monies (Duck Stamp monies), NRD funds, Farm Bill conservation funding, and various other programs with ongoing funding. But these programs involve pretty big bucks—and they are further supplemented by continued State funding from bonds and other programs.

The issue, though, is never just the money. It’s the message and packaging. New members—federal and state—may be fiscally conservative. Some may want “no spending.”

But many will want “smart spending.” And many will want spending for the basic infrastructure of their communities, community safety, and basic services like water. These needs present a big opportunity, mentioned earlier, to look at nontraditional funding bills to press for shifting from gray to green project funding—not just in cities but in the countryside, as well.

The same concept applies to Safe Drinking Water Revolving Loans and Clean Drinking Water Revolving Loan funds: can more of these funds be directed to source water protection, for example? Currently, these loan programs allow usage for source water protection—but just a fraction is actually used for those purposes. Can that change?

At least two states have promoted use of these funds for land protection.  Ohio’s Water Restoration Sponsorship Program provides significant loan rate reductions for wastewater treatment projects if the recipient uses a portion of the savings to invest in watershed protection and restoration. Through its Green Acres Program, New Jersey adjusted its criteria to allocate CWA loan funds to give 3 times the weight to projects with a water supply protection benefit through land protections.

There is so much more to explore regarding conservation in a time of scarcity. But I want to end with a simple observation of optimism. Whatever the headlines in Washington and whatever the swaggers of some pundits and politicians, the American people—when environmental issues link to matters in their backyard, want environmental protection. They want restoration and conservation.

Gary Liberson

By: Gary Liberson, Co-Founder, Water Resources Action Project
October 2010

Corporations need to grow to survive. If they just tread water, they either drown or are eaten by bigger fish. While the data on sustainability performance (i.e., social responsibility) vs. economic performance is at present a bit mixed, it is true that one is hard pressed to identify a large cap international company selling consumer products that does not have a sustainability program. So why do so many successful companies have sustainability programs and why does conventional wisdom associate successful programs as an indicator of a successful company?

From my perspective the answer is simple: profits and process. A great social profile equates to more profits. A poll by the Pew Research Center for People and the Press found that in the US as income increased so did the opinion that climate change was man-made. For households with income over $150,000, the percentage that attributed climate change to man was over 81%.

In the EU the attitudes are even more pronounced. A Eurobarometer special survey in late 2009 found that close to 70% of the population identified poverty, food, and drinking water as the largest problems facing the world with 47% picking climate change as number two. The global downturn ranked third at less than 40%.

Corporations are at their best when they make a profit. A corollary to this is that sustainability programs work only when they increase profits. If they do not, then the program is equivalent to giving charity: Why pick giving to the environment over the opera or cancer? Sustainability programs can increase market size, cut costs, ensure future raw materials for growth, and facilitate site licensing or myriad other activities that improve the bottom line now or in the future. Sustainability programs are the embodiment of a corporate philosophy that ensures a corporation’s “license to produce.”

A sustainability program indicates a “best in class” mentality. Regulatory compliance cannot happen without adherence to detail and process. So ultimately, a successful sustainability program indicates a company that can execute and is striving for “best in class.”

Sustainability programs have three legs – efficiency, largesse, and compliance. Efficiency covers reduced carbon footprint, less energy usage, less water (i.e., general cost savings and smaller footprint). Largesse includes donations to a wide range of NGOs and non-profits that advance the corporate image with their markets or with government agencies that control licensing (e.g., some say BP had an easy time acquiring Amoco because of BP’s pro climate change position in 1998). Compliance includes adherence and implementation of all government regulations and permits, as well as, sensitivity to the social, political and cultural characteristics of the local market. None of this works, of course, without a corporate dashboard that measures and reports performance to the company and is ultimately used as a public relations tool.

All of this is well known to almost any large international corporation with sales and manufacturing aspirations in Asia and the EU. However, for companies who are predominantly managed from a US perspective, this may seem a bit much. For these companies, compliance as the “cost of doing business” may be the dominant corporate perspective. The US has proven to be resistant to the market strength that NGOs possess in the EU or to strong government intervention as a barrier to entry that can be found in Asia.

Yet, US regulatory agencies are more and more taking actions that affect a company’s ability to manufacture and sell their product. Toyota, eggs, Massey mining, BP offshore drilling, and J&J pharmaceutical inspections have all happened this year. Each had a strong effect on its respective industry in sales and shareholder value.

Regulatory agencies have long memories. The actual specific failure that made the news is often out of the hands of the company. The historical compliance record is absolutely within the control of the company. The root causes of poor compliance are usually attributable to a small set of factors: rapid growth and cost.

  • Rapid Growth – Toyota wanted to be the largest auto manufacturer ahead of all other concerns. BP is perhaps the most aggressive oil leasing company in the world.
  • Cost – Two egg companies only cared about cost because they could reinvent themselves (as they had before) if they were closed down. Massey coal has a long reputation for its single focus on the bottom line. Unlike unionized mines, they have no independent safety net to raise real concerns. I attribute J&J’s problems to cost cutting (only time will identify the true culprit).

All of this may seem a little far afield of environmental compliance: It is not. There is no company that says let’s comply with OSHA and not EPA. BP was damned for their historical OSHA and EPA compliance as was Massey and the Iowa egg companies. When the big accident (event) occurs, a company is judged as much by its total corporate record as for the specific incident, regardless of the specific facts.

The next time you are developing your strategic plan and do the “vision thing,” remember that sustainability preserves a corporations “license to produce” and is not just the “cost of doing business.”

Gary Liberson is a management consultant and PhD statistician. He is a former Member of the Management Committee of PA Consulting, an international consulting firm headquartered in London, and past Head of the Environmental Practice. He writes a regular blog for Huffington Post. To learn more contact Gary at

As presented at International Water Association”s World Water Congress and Exhibition in Montreal, Canada

Tracy Mehan
Authored by: G. Tracy Mehan, III. Principal, The Cadmus Group

September 20, 2010

It is a pleasure to be here in Montreal to discuss new models for financing, in a sustainable way, our urban water systems to meet the triple bottom line of environmental, economic and social concerns.

My remarks today will address a broad array of issues which encompass entire watersheds as well as hard infrastructure itself. I hope to give you a North American perspective on these issues, both mine and others’, and conclude with some remarks on the recent report by the Aspen Institute which Patrick Cairo has also discussed this morning.

Today, there is increasing concern for protecting aquatic ecosystems as well as human health and the economy, greater attention to nonstructural as well as structural solutions, more emphasis on demand- side as well as supply-side management techniques. There is also a sharper focus on the entire watershed, catchment or basin-not just on discharges from the end of the pipe.

Currently, in the United States, our water and wastewater systems are not adequately supported by municipal politicians who, facing election every four years, are often disinclined to raise water rates to a level necessary to maintain their utilities’ infrastructure for its entire life cycle including replacement costs. Many water systems’ revenues are used to support more visible, labor-intensive activities such as fire and police services. By almost every measure available, the United States has the lowest water and wastewater rates of any developed, democratic nation in the world. No wonder there is so much angst about an infrastructure investment “gap” in our water sector, that is, the gap between required financing over time and the present rate of investment.

Recall that our colleagues from Amsterdam mentioned that the average household in their service area pays about 2 percent of its annual income for water and wastewater services. American households, on the other hand, are paying only 0.5-0.6 percent of income, on average, for water and sewer bills as calculated by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).

While serving at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 2003, my colleagues and I proposed the Four Pillars of Sustainable Infrastructure which were: better management (including environmental management systems and asset management as pioneered in Australia and elsewhere), full-cost pricing, water efficiency and the watershed approach. This last pillar included source water protection, watershed-based permitting and water quality trading to meeting water quality standards, say, for nutrients.

If we were doing this exercise today, we would definitely include energy management as a fifth pillar.

The Four Pillars were important because they all contributed to a solid foundation of sustainable infrastructure and watershed management and encouraged least-cost approaches which generated multiple environmental benefits by focusing on more than just supply-side or traditional structural solutions.

Indeed, there was, and still is, a growing realization that traditional engineered approaches, alone, no longer meet our environmental, economic and social needs and wants. Indeed, the best and brightest of the engineering profession recognize the crucial role of an integrated, interdisciplinary approach which aims to protect the watershed as well as maintain hard infrastructure; adopts “green” practices which mimic nature; engages in robust civic education to communicate the importance of full-value, full-cost and conservation pricing; and begs, cajoles and often compels customers to use water-efficient fixtures and drought-resistant plantings.

“Water management has typically been approached as an engineering problem, rather than an economic one,” say Robert N. Stavins, a Kennedy School (Harvard) environmental economics professor, and Sheila M. Olmstead of Yale and Resources for the Future.

In their White Paper for the Massachusetts-based Pioneer Institute, Managing Water Demand: Price vs. Non-Price Conservation Programs (July 2007), they argue that water supply managers are “often reluctant to use price increases as water conservation tools, instead relying on non-price demand management techniques.” These would include actions such as requiring low-flow fixtures and restricting particular uses, which, while good things in and of themselves, are not as cost-effective as “using prices to manage water demand.”

Olmstead and Stavins review the literature on water pricing and the mysteries of price elasticity. Their conclusion? “On average, in the United States, a ten percent increase in the marginal price of water can be expected to diminish demand in the urban residential sector by about 3 to 4 percent,” say the authors of the White Paper. “Price elasticity of residential water demand is similar to that of residential electricity and gasoline demand in the United States.”

Olmstead and Stavins highlight a key limitation or drawback of non-price approaches. Water savings are usually smaller than expected due to “behavioral responses,” i.e., customers taking longer showers with low-flow shower heads, flush twice with low-flow toilets, or water lawns longer under day-of-the week or time-of-day restrictions. They cite a recent study of 12 American and Canadian cities which suggested that replacing two-day-per week outdoor watering restrictions with drought pricing could achieve the same level of aggregate water savings, “along with welfare gains of approximately $81 per household per summer drought.” Low-income customers can be helped through rebate programs “inversely related to household income, or some other measure.”

Water utilities are starting to consider increasing-block prices (IBPs) as part of their overall water conservation program. If nothing else, “it is better to have high prices on some consumption, than low prices on all consumption.” Stavins and Olmstead cite the case where a water supplier is concerned with reducing summer demand due to residential lawn-watering and sets the quantity threshold at which the price “jumps” at the “quantity of consumption generally achieved by households water lawns in the summer in that community.”

The movement away from an exclusive reliance on supply-side solutions and toward demand-side management techniques, such as pricing, non-pricing or hybrid programs (public education, too), is very desirable. Of course, they are not mutually exclusive and can work well in tandem. However, Canadian proponents of the “water soft path” (WSP) believe an even more radical approach is required, one that places ecosystem integrity at the heart of water management and governance.

In a stimulating and provocative volume, David B. Brooks3, Oliver M. Brandes and Stephen Gurman, editors of Making the Most of the Water We Have: The Soft Path Approach to Water Management (2009), tip their hats to American thought leaders, Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute, and Peter H. Gleick, co-founder and president of the Pacific Institute, and a contributor to this volume, both of whom inspired the WSP. They assembled an interdisciplinary team to press their case that “the era of ‘endless’ freshwater is coming to an end” and “a 21st century approach to water management must move from a focus on large centralized reservoirs, higher capacity pumps and longer pipelines towards an emphasis on decentralized, smaller scale built infrastructure, alternative sources, such as rainwater collection, greater reliance on reuse and recycling, pricing and economic incentives and highly improved efficiency in water use, as the starting point.”

Brooks, et al. believe that cost-effective water savings of 20 to 40 percent are readily available, and several chapters explore a number of Canadian and other studies around the globe which they view as extremely promising.

The WSP is not simply a technocratic or value-neutral fix to a purely technical problem. A consistent theme in Making the Most of the Water We Have is that changing behavior or “social engineering” (an ominous phrase which actually appears in the text) requires a “value-laden” or “profoundly normative” political commitment to an ecosystem perspective over an anthropocentric view. In fact, “ecological sustainability is one of the WSP’s four controlling principles along with treating water as a service, not just a commodity (a view typical of most theories of sustainability); matching the quality of water to the appropriate use (not everything we want to do requires potable water); and planning from the future back to the present, so-called “backcasting,” an iterative process eschewing traditional planning which normally “starts from the present and projects forward to the future.”

In a rousing, even controversial call to arms, the editors of this volume assert, explicitly, that “Conventional cost-benefit analysis is not sufficient to ensure basic ecological resilience and ecosystem health.” Rather, “environmental constraints are built in from the start to limit the amount of water withdrawn from natural sources and to establish conditions on the quality of water returned to nature.”

Ergo: “Major inter-basin transfers of water are not considered acceptable; they contradict the objective of living with the water you have. Similarly, if there are water resources that are valued for their beauty or for their cultural or religious significance, they must be placed off limits for development.”

I think we can safely say that this is one of the provocative parts. Such an attitude on inter-basin transfers or diversions is probably popular on both sides of the border in the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Basin; but it would be very unpopular, say, in California and other points west.

Professors Olmstead and Stavins, whose work I cited earlier, would be pleased with the emphasis on metering and “realistic water pricing” which these proponents of the WSP support wholeheartedly. Susan Holtz of the Canadian Institute of Environmental Law and Policy, and a contributor to Making the Most of the Water We Have, even utters the politically incorrect and self-evidently true statement that “the rhetoric of activist campaigns for water as a human right, and against privatizing water treatment, may encourage an attitude of entitlement toward water use and hostility to putting any price on it- making matters worse.”

As Patrick Cairo mentioned, I, too, had the privilege of participating in a process organized by the Aspen Institute to investigate a new model for sustainable water infrastructure management. Along with Pat and I, Michael Deane, president of the National Association of Water Companies (in attendance today), and incoming International Water Association president, Glen Diagger, also joined in this extended conversation in the beautiful surroundings of the Colorado Rockies.

The report of the Aspen Institute’s Dialogue on Sustainable Water Infrastructure in the US, Sustainable Water Systems: Step One-Reducing The Nation’s Infrastructure Challenge (2009), is very much concerned with discerning a “Sustainable Path” for the management of existing and future “hard” infrastructure, and setting out three principles, ten recommendations and twenty steps. It advocates “that the traditional definition of water infrastructure must evolve to embrace a broader, more holistic definition of sustainable water infrastructure that includes both traditional man-made water and wastewater infrastructure and natural watershed systems.” Besides tending to the concerns of physical structures, “a sustainable water infrastructure integrates these traditional components with the protection and restoration of natural ecosystems, conservation and efficiency, reuse and reclamation, and the active incorporation of new decentralized technologies, green infrastructure and low-impact development to ensure the reliability and resilience of our water resources.”

The Aspen Institute Report argues for an inclusive definition of infrastructure which encompasses “rivers, lakes, streams, groundwater aquifers, floodplains, floodways, wetlands, and the watersheds that serve or are affected by water and wastewater systems.”

I should mention that the Aspen committee tried to strike a realistic note, neither too optimistic nor too much “gloom and doom.” The following statement from the report typifies the prevailing attitude amongst the committee members:

“We submit that a crisis-driven approach, based on the ‘investment-gap’ analysis, will be insufficient to meet the growing challenges facing the nation’s water infrastructure. Rather than looking ahead with apprehension, a new framework that looks ahead with intention, by reframing the issue from one focused solely on an ‘infrastructure gap’ towards a more sustainable model or approach to funding water and wastewater infrastructure, is needed.”

Aspen’s redefinition is a movement toward a much more holistic view of the water delivery system in the U.S.

As water utilities and government entities around the country look at improving, upgrading, and replacing hard structures and built infrastructure, the report urges them to recognize the protection and restoration of the natural watershed as a critical way to improve water delivery in this nation. It encourages them to utilize emerging small-scale water technologies and management solutions that conserve water and energy on both the treatment side and the consumer side.

It also asks national leaders to consider the natural water cycle when considering water infrastructure costs and improvements. Thinking about the way water moves through plants and soil and air, as opposed to gutters and drains and concrete, and, in turn, adopting green and low-impact development techniques such as urban reforestation programs and green-roof and rain-garden projects, can ensure reliability and resilience of our water resources.

Utility and system managers, governing boards, and regulators must also ensure that the price of water services fairly reflects their full value to human health and the environment and recovers the cost of maintaining, operating and replacing this invaluable infrastructure. And they must address the needs of low-income customers through equitable rate design and, where necessary, direct subsidies.

Small systems present a unique challenge for federal and state agencies. Of the approximately 52,000 community water suppliers in America, 8 percent serve 82 percent of our population. Smaller entities should consider low-cost loans, consolidation, regionalization, and centralized financial and management systems.

The Aspen panel also views the federal government’s role as making strategic investments in new green and low-impact development approaches; water and energy efficiency; climate change adaptation; assistance to low-income or distressed customers; and research, development, and demonstration projects for integrated watershed management.

The message, at least from many circles in North American and elsewhere is that new tools and interdisciplinary approaches, on the demand-side as much as the supply-side, as well as recourse to non-structural as well as structural techniques, are all necessary to achieve a new model of managing water resources and its supporting infrastructure. Moreover, it is necessary to encompass the entire watershed and “nature’s services” and those techniques which mimic natural functions to achieve optimal results. Finally, we must recognize the full value of water as well as water and wastewater services in the prices we pay while supporting those whom financial hardship makes it difficult to bear those costs.

Thank you for allowing me to share these thoughts with you today.

G. Tracy Mehan, III is Principal at The Cadmus Group, Inc. ( and former Assistant Administrator for Water at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 2001-2003. Mehan may be e-mailed by clicking here.

Chris Cheatham
Authored by: Chris Cheatham, Managing Partner, Cheatham Consulting, LLC

July 12, 2010

The long, painful death of cap-and-trade legislation in 2010 finally came to an end in July when Senator Harry Reid announced that the Senate would not be pursuing a comprehensive energy bill. But the Obama Administration has quietly been implementing other policies that will phase in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reporting requirements, drastically reshape the federal procurement system, and ultimately create a market for emissions reductions. Contractors and vendors that are prepared to report GHG emissions could benefit tremendously from the shift in procurement.

In October 2009, President Barack Obama signed Executive Order 13514, which included a number of stringent sustainability requirements for the federal government. Among the various requirements, Section 13 asked the GSA to make recommendations regarding “requiring contractors . . . to develop and make available its greenhouse gas inventory and description of efforts to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions.” The GSA responded with its report “Executive Order 13514 Section 13: Recommendations for Vendor and Contractor Emissions,” which is currently being reviewed by the Administration. Importantly, the GSA report concludes that it is feasible to implement a “phased approach, for the Federal Government to track and reduce its … supply chain emissions through coordination with suppliers and other stakeholders.” The report goes on to propose the implementation of a voluntary GHG emissions reporting mechanism for contractors and vendors over the next two years starting in 2011.

The proposed implementation of greenhouse gas emissions reporting requirements mirrors the GSA’s previous implementation of green building requirements that began nearly ten years ago. A few years after the United States Green Building Council (USGBC) launched the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system, the GSA and other federal agencies adopted this third-party rating system to demonstrate the construction of green buildings. Similarly, the GSA report recognizes the need to rely on a third-party GHG emissions reporting system.

The contractors and vendors that were early adopters of green building design and construction techniques and the LEED rating system benefited from project experiences and were able to demonstrate specific experience in order to win federal green building contracts. The same will be true of early adopters of greenhouse gas emission reporting. While GHG emissions accounting will be burdensome, particularly for construction contractors that are dependent on hundreds of suppliers and subcontractors, early adoption may be the key to differentiating bids and winning contracts in an industry that has experienced increased competition and narrower profit margins. As the country’s largest buyer of goods and services – $425 billion spent last year – the federal government can quickly force companies to incorporate greenhouse gas emissions accounting in every sector of the economy.

For federal contractors – and eventually state and local contractors – tracking, reporting, and reducing emissions will become an important strategy for winning government contracts. Is your business accounting for its greenhouse gas emissions?

Chris Cheatham is the managing partner of Cheatham Consulting, LLC. Chris works with the construction industry to identify new market trends and opportunities – like green building and greenhouse gas emissions reporting – and create business opportunities. Please visit his blog, Green Building Law Update, to learn more about these and other topics or contact Chris at

As presented at America’s Inner Coast Summit, St. Louis, Missouri
Mark Gorman
Authored by: Mark Gorman, Policy Analyst, Northeast-Midwest Institute

June 23, 2010

Thank you. I want to begin by putting my humble musings into perspective. What I’ve drawn upon for today’s talk are personal experiences working in the Gulf of Mexico and Great Lakes and the Upper Ohio and Susquehanna River basins, and upon the conclusions contained in a 2005 report prepared by my organization on emergent lessons from large-scale ecosystem restoration efforts nationwide. And while it’s true that I’m sharing with you a “view from Washington,” and that view is from a national perspective, I’ve spent most of my life in Pennsylvania, and only moved to Washington, DC a little less than two years ago, a time during which I’ve felt somewhat like Mark Twain’s “Connecticut Yankee in King Author’s Court;” more than a little bit out of place and time. So these opinions are shaped much more by life outside rather than inside the Beltway.

I want to first share a story that a friend of mine back in Northwestern Pennsylvania often relates and that motivated today’s thoughts: a story of 17th and 18th century mapmaking. You may recall from your grade school history lessons that in the mid-1600s, Spanish explorers sailed up the west coast of the Americas for the first time to a place now called the Baja Peninsula: a bit of land that juts southward from what, today, is called California. There is, as we all know, water between the Baja Peninsula and the mainland of Mexico – it’s called the Gulf of California. But what the mapmakers of the 1630s did was extend that body of water in a straight line north from the Baja Peninsula to Strait of Juan de Fuca, which lies between Vancouver Island and Washington State. So as a result, the maps that were published in 1635 showed California very distinctly as an island.

Now, that would be only a delightful story if it were not for the fact that the missionaries of that time back in Spain were using those maps to plan their travels inland when they got to the New World. And given the information on the early maps, they developed the world’s first, great, pre-fabricated boat building project. They manufactured flatboats in Spain, cut them apart, sailed them to North America in pieces and, on the ocean shores of California, put them all back together again to be transported by mules 12,000 feet up the Sierra Nevada Mountains to the other side of California, where they expected to find the sea that the mapmakers told them was there. But as we now know, on the other side of the mountains the missionaries discovered that there was no seashore at all. Much to their surprise they found, instead, what is now the state of Nevada and the beginning of the great American desert. California was the mainland!

Now, this is a rather amusing story. But one additional fact makes it somewhat amazing: when the missionaries wrote back to tell the mapmakers and the Spanish King that California was not an island, no one believed them. In fact, the people back home insisted that the map was obviously correct and that it was the missionaries who were in the wrong place!

Even more astonishing, in 1701 – almost 70 years after their first map – the cartographers reissued an updated version of the same map. Those maps went unchanged year after year because someone in Spain continued to work with partial information, assumed that data from the past had the infallibility of tradition and then used their authority to prove it.

Finally, after years of new reports coming in from the Americas, a few mapmakers with vision and the courage to buck the crown began to issue a new version. And in 1721, the last cartographer holdout finally attached California to the mainland.

But this is the really unbelievable part: it took almost 30 more years for the new maps to be declared official. It wasn’t until the mid-century, in 1747, that King Ferdinand VII of Spain decreed that California was no longer an island. And all of this occurred despite the fact that the people who were there all the time knew differently over 100 years earlier . . . from the very first day.

The point of the story is this: Truth is always larger than the partial present, the infallibility of tradition and the declarations of authority. And vision is the ability to realize that. And if we hope to come out of these two days with any semblance of a vision about how to the conserve and restore the Mississippi River system, we had better realize where the truth really lies . . . and it’s not in Washington, DC, where we tend to work on the basis of partial information, endow ways of the past with an aura of infallibility and then used our authority to crown our assumptions as “true.”

The people living and working in the Mississippi River basin are extremely fortunate to be able to call the watershed their home. It’s one of the great iconic environmental, cultural and economic features on the Nation’s landscape; in the world. The mighty River and its tributaries in so many ways tie the region together into a diverse natural, historic and cultural quilt that is the region’s heritage. They are streams that have literally sustained the quality of life and the natural world upon which it depends. You know the facts, I’m sure, but it pays to often repeat them: in Saint Louis today we’re sitting near the banks of a River that drains the largest watershed in North America; not only a key navigational waterway but a globally significant flyway for 326 bird species. Its waters support 260 kinds of fish. Some 18 million people rely on it for their drinking water and millions more recreate on the River and in its communities. Taken together, the Jefferson, Missouri and Mississippi rivers form the longest river system in North America and the fourth longest in the world. And the Mississippi River system is the world’s tenth most powerful on the basis of flow. With all due deference to the Great Lakes, this system is really the “great” iconic water system of the nation. It has 60% greater outflow and almost three times the drainage area of the Great Lakes. In fact, the River’s flow is so significant at its mouth that it remains largely intact and NASA satellites can detect it as a unique body of water as it courses through the Gulf of Mexico, passes through the Straits of Florida, enters the Gulf Stream, and flows up the southeastern U.S. coast to Georgia, before finally blending in with the Atlantic.

Now, the Native peoples who lived along these waters and the first Europeans to explore and settle in these valleys didn’t have all of these facts underlying their appreciation of the rivers and streams and the land around them; yet they certainly valued the importance of those waterways and connected lands. They understood the relationship and the connection of their lives to the land and the water and each other . . . the connection of economy to ecology. While they may not have expressed it in today’s terminology, our ancestors knew very well that everything was connected.

But over time, we’ve forgotten those connections and severed human life from the natural that sustains it, to the peril of both. And as a result of our collective amnesia, for all of its greatness, the region’s waters now flow through a fragmented bureaucratic and social reality, whose functions and structures are equally fragmented. Just looking at the Mississippi River, alone, we find that it flows through, past or over three USDA farm resource regions, four EPA regions, four USDA farm production regions, five USDA Land Resource regions, six Army Corps of Engineer districts, 10 states, 14.8 miles of floodwall, 31 U.S. congressional districts, 43 dams, dozens of Soil and Water Conservation districts, 123 counties and parishes, 150 cities and towns, over

1,500 miles of levees, thousands of farms (with 38.7 million acres of drained fields, managed by upwards of 5,000 drainage districts, boards or other authorities), and tens of thousands of businesses. Nearly 30 U.S. House and Senate committees and subcommittees have some jurisdiction over the Basin’s water issues.

And the fragmentation not only occurs spatially and institutionally, but temporally, as well. Federal budgets are developed in one-year increments. Congress turns over every two years; and the Administration and its agencies’ key leaders every four years or so.

These cadres of disconnected organizations and institutions that have evolved here in the region and in Washington have ended up devising and implementing disjointed solutions based on incongruent and often contrasting missions and objectives. “Silo” bureaucratic cultures have become entrenched at the state and federal levels. Fragmented mindsets and politically driven schedules, exacerbated by limited resources, have lead to myopia when it comes to identifying issues of concern, planning solutions, seeking funds and applying them toward holistic solutions.

As a result of this fragmented disarray, our NGOs, agencies, private stakeholders, states and other entities largely act as separate disembodied appendages, exhibiting little sense of direction, an insular set of priorities, and at best an incomplete investment from the communities they serve. Our public and private initiatives are not really driven by an overarching, all-inclusive vision. Our projects are not truly integrated. Our corrective and protective measures are narrowly applied and suffer from mission shortsightedness, even when occasionally couched in terms of systemic solutions. Very striking is the fact that most efforts rarely involve members from the private sector to any significant extent – an element that is especially ominous, given that the overwhelming majority of land in the River Basin lies in private hands, and since all of the Basin’s issues relate to and solutions will impact private interests. This lack of involvement is especially evident when it comes to the agricultural sector.

You don’t have to take my word for it. Bill Roderick, the EPA’s acting Inspector General earlier this month released a report concluding that the agency’s authority is too fragmented to adequately address the nation’s environmental issues; that the EPA is in dire need of a new, comprehensive, national environmental protection policy and that the EPA needs to improve coordination with other Federal, and with state and local officials. I would contend that Mr. Roderick’s findings could be equally applied to each of the more than 20 Federal agencies who share a piece of the legal authority over and involvement in the Mississippi River system’s water resources.

Some individuals, offices and organizations working within the basin are trying to break free of this stifling inertia, and there are emerging indications of change within state and Federal government, as well. Time doesn’t permit naming all of the examples, but the list includes many of you here. But even these hopeful initiatives are limited in scope and vision; partial in their own ways and constrained by the fragmented, event-driven and non-systemic traditions in which we work and live.

This is the wrong map, folks. No matter how well-intentioned or how fully-funded they may be, this segregated approach to issue identification and problem-solving in the end will simply not work, and will only end in disappointment, mistrust and finger-pointing. We know this from past experience within the Mississippi River system, and we can see this in the poor track record of other fragmented watershed scale efforts. The well-meant but poorly designed and patchwork, linear, event-driven and non-systemic restoration attempts within the Columbia River watershed serve to prove that point. Those efforts resulted in the establishment of multiple and often-conflicting restoration goals and objectives, the filing of numerous court actions and appeals, significant and chronic delays, ambiguous and conflicting timelines, continuous implementation problems, distrust and frustration.

The Mississippi system issues we face are multi-jurisdictional, multifaceted, intergenerational and interconnected, and none will be adequately solved, let alone understood, if our way of thinking, planning and doing does not also become multi-jurisdictional, multifaceted, intergenerational and interconnected. In fact, the basin’s problems will only be made worse by any isolated attempts at mitigation. Albert Einstein said it best when he wisely observed that “The significant problems we have cannot be solved at the same level of thinking with which we created them.” In other words, if we continue with the status quo as a conservation approach or adopt an artfully massaged version of the status quo, we might as well go home right now. We’re simply wasting each other’s time while paying lip-service to integration, progress and sustainability.

Put more pragmatically, perhaps, in a time of extremely limited Federal resources and an even more limited Federal attention-span, how in the world can we expect the country to pay attention, make Mississippi River Basin sustainability a national priority, and invest its limited resources here, when the watershed community, itself, can’t get its act together?

Clearly, clearly, the timing is right for this Summit; it’s time to come up with a new model of conservation – a new vision – to restore and save the economic and environmental vitality of the region. And if we want that model to mirror other successful efforts around the nation, I would suggest that our work be driven by a vision built upon integration and inclusion; a philosophy that has worked very well in other landscapes. It will work here, as well, when we, like others have elsewhere, envision a revitalized, healthy river system at the very center of a community and economic renaissance where all activities occur in such a fashion as to protect and restore the environmental richness and enhance the quality of life of all who live and work here. It’s a vision that values, conserves and revitalizes both the economy and nature; a vision built upon a philosophy of “Conservation through Cooperation.”

We’ve seen this cooperative model achieve real, significant conservation successes in large and small watersheds nationwide: in the Great Lakes, in particular. And we’ve seen this model generate the beginnings of success in other large scale systems, such as Coastal Louisiana, the Chesapeake Bay watershed and Florida Everglades. The Pennsylvania Environmental Council, where I previously worked, successfully managed watershed scale conservation using this model within the Upper Allegheny River system. Cooperating with one another is what people in the Great Lakes region had to do beginning in the early 1900s as they developed nascent networks, advancing the cause of restoration, and more intentionally and recently, as they drafted the Great Lakes Regional Collaboration restoration strategy. Cooperation is how the Florida Everglades Comprehensive Ecosystem Restoration Plan came to involve the breadth of the region’s stakeholders, including local, state and federal agencies. Cooperation is how Louisiana’s “Coast 2050 Plan” came to be locally driven and so very well-organized. And cooperation is the reason that Chesapeake Bay restoration has become solidly-founded upon stakeholder involvement and collaboration, and the participation of all of the basin states.

If the successes of these and other system scale efforts have taught us anything, it is that purposeful and meaningful integration across boundaries, and among people and organizations is central to emerging from the trap of pursuing partial and incomplete solutions. Intentional integration is vital to generating creative, new ideas that actually work and breaking free of the traditional ways that don’t. Integration is essential to creating a new basis for authority, grounded not so much in Washington, DC, as much as in the river system community, itself, where the real authority lies.

A friend who is a social psychologist tells me that under the right circumstances, such community-based collaboratives can be remarkably intelligent; often smarter than the smartest individuals andsmall clusters of experts within the group. She tells me that group collective wisdom prevails even ifsome members of the community don’t know all the facts or choose, individually, to act irrationally. She advises (and other successful watershed endeavors demonstrate) that leadership cannot come solely or principally from the good people in Washington, DC. Rather, that leaders of this effort will need to emerge from within the community, borne out of a collective wisdom founded upon mutually agreed-upon interests and value-driven goals. Because social scientists have learned what we must now embrace: it is only the values that the group holds in common that will bind and drive people toward a goal.

We all will need to collectively bring our hard work, knowledge and skills to bear onto this existing, fragmented tapestry to help break down barriers, build bridges, and catalyze change; to bring people with varying backgrounds together to understand each other’s interests within an atmosphere of mutual respect; and to forge a common path forward.

That hard, nose-to-the-grindstone kind of effort will be necessary, because lasting collaboration never happens on its own. No matter how well-meaning the parties may be, when left to flounder within a fragmented status quo, either people never get together; or when they do, they speak but never really hear each other. Or if they hear, they sift what they think they are hearing through the filters of their own institutions, histories and traditions, and hear only positions – never getting close to understanding the other’s core interests and agreeing upon the values that the members of the group inevitably do hold in common; if only they would stop to listen.

Social science instructs us that to effectively do this – to span the private and public sectors in a basinwide integrative and collaborative manner – four principles will need to underlie our work. Those are openness, collegiality, sharing and inclusion. Let me briefly look at each.

We are usually reluctant to consider new ideas, out of fear of taking risks or losing control or losing influence that comes from being an expert. Openness demands that we loosen our hold over information, opinions and ideas. It requires that we not filter everything through the lens of the way we traditionally have done things; rather that we be willing to bend or completely change those ways, and explore new and creative ways to accomplish goals. Openness to new ideas means that policy, procedure, rules and regulation be viewed not as rigid reasons for avoiding action or as rationales for constraining change, but as adaptable tools to help achieve commonly held objectives.

An atmosphere of collegiality is one in which trust and information exchange flourish; something greatly lacking in the current social and political atmosphere here in the region and in DC. Collegiality demands horizontal rather than the traditional top-down, hierarchy. Collegiality requires appreciation for and respect of the other, genuine attention to their concerns and interests, and setting aside biases and preconceptions.

Openness and collegiality unlock the door to increased information sharing. The principle of sharing recognizes that lasting progress comes only when people have access to enough information to enable collective wisdom to develop and thrive. Sharing demands transparency, and requires that reasons for decisions not be held tight but be made clear. Without information sharing, any possible chance at success will be severely limited.

Lastly, inclusion; this may be the most problematic of these principles to make real, because it goes against the insidious culture of individualism that characterizes western society in general and middle-America in particular. There is a lot of distrust and anger and partisanship and polarization out there. And all of that gets in the way of inclusion. Inclusion requires that everyone sit at the table, and that we start viewing other people and groups, even those with whom we seriously disagree, as part of the solution, and not part of the problem. So, we had all better become very adept and comfortable spanning and working within the public and private sectors and including everyone in a collective effort. Those involved in the successful landscape-scale conservation initiatives I mentioned before found repeatedly that the real capacity – the human resources and capital – to accomplish sustainable restoration and conservation does not lie in Washington, DC, but in the promise of an inclusive, regionally based, private-public partnership. And five or ten or more years from now, if we haven’t fully engaged that capacity, we won’t have done our job.

This is extremely hard work. How can we possibly embark upon and complete such a daunting task? If you look into the history of other watershed scale conservation success stories, you’ll find that what they ultimately ended up doing when all was said and done was sit down and listen to each other. They moved out of their comfort zones – their usual network of friends and peers, their usual way of doing things – to meet and greet and connect with and pay attention to and listen, because they finally understood that everyone was a member of the economic and ecological system that made up their community, and that all had a critical voice to share and a vital part to play in its conservation.

And in the end that’s how we will become effective stewards of the Mississippi River system. Put simply, to create that new conservation map in the region we will need to begin listening. Keep listening. Always listen. Before we even take another step, we need to reconnect with and listen to the land and the water and the people – stop to listen re-imagine the possibilities laid out on a new map and, then together, make those possibilities real, because the old maps just aren’t working; they never have.

And how are you to listen? Once upon a time, the story goes; a youngster asked an elder that question. And the elder advised, “Become an ear that pays attention to every single thing the universe is saying. The moment you hear something you yourself are saying, stop.”

Listening – real listening – is very possible. It has been done. And I can promise you this: it is also very hard. This will be extremely difficult work. This could very well be the most challenging work you’ve undertaken in your professional careers. But as essayist Leon Rosten wrote, the purpose of life is not to take the easy route, but to matter; to have made a difference that you lived at all.

So, may we leave this summit intent on making a difference.

And if along the way toward making that difference you get frustrated and worn down by authority and bureaucracy, keep going. Why? Because the truth is always larger than the partial present, the infallibility of tradition and the declarations of authority.

And if others tell you that this just isn’t the way we do things around here, keep going. Why? Because as Albert Einstein once said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

And if the good folks in Washington, DC won’t listen, tell you that they are obviously correct and that you are all in the wrong place, keep going. Tell them that the old maps are mistaken. Follow a new vision to sustainability. Why? Because history is clear: if the people lead, eventually the leaders will follow.

Thank you.

Synopsis of The Horinko Group’s April 13, 2010 Water Summit

Donna Ayres
Authored by: Dr. Donna Ayres, Senior Consultant, THG

May 8, 2010

A rainy day in Washington, DC provided an opportunity to hear about a brighter future for water resources planning and management through effective collaboration. Inaugurating The Horinko Group’s new Water Division, Marianne Horinko and her group gathered 70 federal, state, non-profit, private sector, and academic water resources stakeholders at their headquarters to hear about new concepts and models for effective water management. These emerging models are more integrated, collaborative, and focused on sustaining critical water resources for future generations than in the past. The afternoon session provided the opportunity to hear current Administration officials and private and non-profit partners tell their unique stories of partnering for outcomes that reflect real progress toward sustaining critical natural resources and building active and informed community engagement and political will. These stories provide success exemplars and models to sustain a bright water future.

Following Terrance (Rock) Salt’s opening remarks, it is clear that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, for whom he provides policy as the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works, is encouraged about the federal emphasis on collaboration across government levels and with non-government entities to develop multi-purpose and integrated water resources. Collaboration holds promise to blend diverse federal organizational authorities and cultures for common aims in a watershed context, using rigorous and risk-informed multidisciplinary and multivariate analytic frameworks to achieve common goals. The ability to consider uncertainty and feedback from adaptive management practices are keys to success today. Revising the Principles and Guidelines for investment decisions about water project development and applying them across Federal resource agencies will help achieve this, said Mr. Salt.

Peter Silva, Assistant Administration of the Office of Water in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency echoed the need for collaboration and touted EPA’s efforts to build sustainable communities and healthy watersheds in concert with states through a smarter and more integrated way of doing business that connects water and land. There is a grand opportunity to collaborate right now on setting total maximum daily loads (TMDLs) to improve conditions in the Chesapeake Bay near the nation’s capitol. Refreshing the Clean Water Act is another upcoming opportunity.

The keynote speaker, G. Tracy Mehan, III, a principal with The Cadmus Group, focused attention on public-private partnerships. In his remarks, Public-Private Partnerships: The Good, the Bad, and the Untested, Mr. Mehan said that new models and more collaborative approaches are needed to pave the way for a brighter water future. Government must move, and is moving away, from adversary regulatory approaches and binary choices between regulation, or privatization of water resources management, toward more collective enterprises that reinforce self-monitoring and use of sophisticated decision-making rules. “The true governance challenge we face today,” Mr. Mehan said, “is managing ourselves.” Public-private solutions may well be the answer to shrinking resources, perennial water conflicts, and inconsistent or lacking authorities across federal agencies and levels of government.

Three panels of presenters followed with the experience and savvy to see and tell it like it is, providing additional opportunities to gain information and insights about how the water world is working and can be improved. Post-panel presentations engaged participants in a question and answer exchange.

Panel One, Meeting the President’s Chesapeake Bay Protection and Restoration Executive Order, focused on opportunities for collaboration to protect and restore the Chesapeake Bay given the 2009 Executive Order. Alex Beehler, former Acting Under Secretary for Installations and Environment in the U.S. Department of Defense introduced Charles J. (Chuck) Fox, Senior Advisor to the Chesapeake Bay Program in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; Donald Schregardus, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Environment, U.S. Department of the Navy; and Dan Nees, Director of the Chesapeake Fund.

Chuck Fox initiated the discussion with his message that a combined land and water strategy in a watershed context and accountability standards will enable EPA to set a TMDL for the entire Chesapeake Bay. The difference in the future will be revitalized engagement with state and regulatory interests. While Don Schregardus noted how the Department of Defense, with the U.S. Navy as an illustration, desires to lead by example through greater inter-service collaboration to develop Strategic Action Plans for installation management across the services. These plans are engaging states in coordinated planning, budgeting, and tracking of the results of interventions for land and facilities management and conservation practices on military property. Dan Nees closed by describing how the private sector can help to fill the government funding gap. Market-based public-private partnerships based on transparency, oversight, and accountability can make limited resources go a long way. Opportunities are certainly ripe to foster effecting working partnerships for the protection and restoration of the Chesapeake Bay.

The second panel, The Mississippi River: The Systems Approach: A Grassroots Perspective, explored a highly collaborative grassroots initiative in the region near St. Louis, Missouri to develop a far-sighted and innovative “Riverbend” community of active public and private partners to grow the region as a water-based tourism, research, and recreation center grounded in a passion for the value of Great Rivers. Patrick McGinnis, Water Resources Team Leader for The Horinko Group, provided a context for the example and introduced Dr. Dale Chapman, Chairman, The National Great Rivers Research and Education Center (NGRREC) and President of Lewis and Clark Community College; Dr. Richard Warner, Director, Office of Sustainability, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; Dan Whyte, Vice President, Government and Stakeholder Relations, Brookfield Renewable Power; and Anne Lewis, Founder, America’s Waterway, the panel’s synthesizer.

The Riverbend region is unique in having the confluence of the Mississippi, Illinois, and Missouri Rivers. At this location, NGRREC, a partnership among the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Lewis and Clark Community College, and the Illinois Natural History Survey, is developing a new state-of-the-art Confluence Field Station dedicated to research on ecosystem restoration, floodplain and watershed management, and sustainability of big rivers. Both NGRREC and the Confluence Field Station are co-located on leased Corps of Engineers Property adjacent to the Mel Price Lock and Dam and the Corps’ National Great Rivers Museum and Visitors Center. Success of the Riverbend enterprise is due to many factors including: a shared perception of real needs precipitated by devastating and recurring floods; the passion to rebuild a viable community and to sustain the overall health of the watershed; strategic formation of partnerships around clear needs and leveraged authorities, responsibilities, and resources; water as a connecting thread to engage outreach and public education; the ability to take a systems perspective to see the “big picture,” its elements, and their connections; a willingness on the part of elected officials to think about long-term sustainability; and the political will and creative thinking to connect the dots, especially funding resources, to achieve a shared vision and common goals.

The third and final panel, The Challenge of Implementing Integrated Water Resources Management in the Federal Sector, informed guests about efforts in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Federal Emergency Management Agency to work more collaboratively toward shared aims. Dr. Joe Manous, Team Leader for the Future Directions Team in the Corps’ Institute for Water Resources (IWR), introduced Robert Pietrowsky, Director of IWR, Mike Grimm, Deputy Director, Risk Reduction Agency, Mitigation Directorate, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and Dr. Gerald Galloway, Glenn Martinell Professor of Engineering at the University of Maryland and a former Corps of Engineers general.

Bob Pietrowsky of IWR noted the common challenges faced by water managers throughout the nation and across local-state-federal government levels, for example, governance (unclear, inconsistent, or unfilled roles), fiscal constraints, the need for data/information/models, growing populations, water conflicts and scarcity, the growing energy-food-water nexus, adverse climate change impacts, declining biodiversity, and conflicting authorities. Mike Grimm of FEMA highlighted the importance of public education to help people understand and address flood risks. He noted how people readily understand and accept response and recovery operations but do not necessarily take steps to prevent or mitigate flood damages and losses. Current policies have the federal government subsidizing risk, thus encouraging people to rebuild after floods and disasters. The U.S. currently lacks a federal policy to discourage people from building in hazardous areas; policy conflicts among 55 federal agencies regarding development and hazard mitigation must be addressed. A more effective public policy will involve federal-state coordination. Retired U.S. Army Corps of Engineers general, Dr. Gerald Galloway, shook up the discussion up a bit by contending that we have yet to find good examples of integrated water resources management. The problem is that there are real obstacles that interfere with progress toward integrated water resources management for sustainability; those in the lower social strata tend to be disenfranchised; politics get in the way; and silos or stovepipes are dominant in organizations. Water resources projects are developed independently in the vacuum of individual silos, which leads to localized and narrowly focused objectives over broad objectives and a watershed context for project development. The federal government must address such challenges in order to effectively integrate water resources management.

An interesting fact provided by Bob Pietrowsky is that, before it was disbanded in the early 1980s, the Water Resources Council was ready to issue new guidelines for comprehensive river basin planning that engaged states and federal interests in a full partnership through a decentralized bottom-up approach led by state, interstate, and/or regional organizations based on state water plans. This guidance is what states are asking for today and the direction the federal government actually is beginning to pursue. It is a case of “back to the future.”

As the Summit came to a close, the following are a few of the key themes that surfaced:

  • Use science to inform water resources policy and decision-making and get more rigorous and multivariate in doing so.
  • Decisions must reflect risk management strategies.
  • Governance is an important issue needing clarity, but the most important form may be self-monitoring self-governance.
  • Partnerships bring more resources to the table, fostering creative inputs and innovative outputs.
  • Work in watersheds is a social reality that can benefit from communication technologies and decision-support processes.
  • Integrated water resources management is difficult to define but translates into:
    • Desire for balanced economic, environmental, and social benefits and sustainable resources;
    • Planning and working within a systems context;
    • A strong sense of the watershed as the scale of intervention;
    • A strong sense of place;
    • Collaborating with multiple stakeholders at many levels; and,
    • Regional adaptive management platforms that create the opportunity for flexible and transparent networked governance.
  • Good ideas never die – they get better with the creative and energetic input of many new thinkers and doers. Persistence and actionability are crucial.

“This is the beginning of a continuing dialogue about water sponsored by The Horinko Group to engage diverse sectors and levels of government,” said Marianne Horinko in her closing remarks. She invited people to keep the discussion and problem-solving going through a series of quarterly Water Salons The Horinko Group’s Water Division will begin facilitating to address specific water issues.

Steps like these will go far to build a brighter water future – even on rainy days.

To view the April 13 Summit Proceedings in its entirety, click here.

Anne Lewis
Authored by: Anne Lewis, Founder, America’s Waterway

May 8, 2010

According to Wallace Stegner, renowned American author and ecologist, there are two kinds of Americans: placed and unplaced.

Being “placed” means you know the earth where you are or have been. You know it physically and spiritually. You know it because you fish in it, work beside it, walk its river banks and, even, possibly, make your living on it.

But if you are “unplaced”, you’re part of the American adventurer psyche – the migrant families moving across the country for generations for better work, better weather or just because you can – you know only the barren structures of a place.

Stegner says George Stewart’s book, Names on the Land, provides a good explanation. Stewart posits that Bear Run, Kentucky isn’t a certain spot just because Daniel Boone killed a bear there. Bear Run became a place when people lived there, traveled through it and settled in it, raised families and built schools and swimming holes. It was the sense of place that resulted from the collective understandings of a shared life that gave the town’s name, Bear Run, meaning. “No place is a place,” Stegner goes on to say, “until things that have happened in it are remembered in history, ballads, yarns, legends or monuments. Fictions serve as well as facts.”

His points are well taken. They also support the argument that we’ve made about the National Dialogue for the Future of America’s Waterway. We believe the best people to form a shared vision of the Mississippi River are the people with a sense of place about the Mississippi River: the grass roots community residents along the River. I’ve advocated a shared vision for the river can be developed using a deliberative, decision-making model augmented with technology, and relying on the people who live along the River. It’s using civic engagement to build a unified constituency for the Mississippi River. Going grass roots doesn’t exclude people with expertise or authority. Rather it draws for local experts and authorities from all walks of life along the Mississippi. It’s the best way to ensure that the people who set the agenda for the Mississippi River are the people whose decisions are intertwined with their sense of place about the River.

What a sense of place does for the Mississippi River is ensure a more complex understanding and a more comprehensive vision. It ensures that a National Dialogue participant with the expertise of a Fish and Wildlife researcher also kayaks on the River, watches sunsets and enjoys picnics on its banks. It ensures that a participant managing a River tourist destination also goes to meetings with barge company executives and Corps of Engineers administrators. Ultimately, it ensures a greater openness to collaboration and ideas that go beyond single-issue solutions.

Wallace Stegner had it right. We need to give up our tradition of restlessness, and it’s probably time we, as a country, settle down. “History was part of the baggage we threw overboard when we launched ourselves in the New World. We threw it away because it recalled old tyrannies, old limitations…plunging into the future through a landscape that had no history, we did both the country and ourselves some harm along with some good. Neither the country nor the society we built out of it can be healthy until we learn to be quiet part of the time, and acquire the sense not of ownership but of belonging. Only in the act of submission is the sense of place realized and a sustainable relationship between people and earth established.”

Brendan McGinnis

The Role of Storytelling and Social Networkers
Co-Authored By: Brendan P. McGinnis and Patrick S. McGinnis
THG’s Water Division
April 2010

Water is ubiquitous but its values can be deconstructed or unbundled in order to examine who, what, and how individuals and organizations relate to water.

In Planet Water, author Steven Hoffmann examines water as a public good, commodity, and resource. In his treatment, he also calls out five functionally separable water sectors: water utilities, treatment, analytical, infrastructure, and resource management. In addition, multibusiness hybrids are described that cross multiple sectors.

Assistant Professor Stephen Gasteyer of Michigan State University describes water resource sustainability at the community level as multifaceted and consisting of a balance between human, social, financial/built, and natural capitals.

We believe a closer examination is worthwhile into each of Hoffman’s water sectors, and how they are influenced by and relate to each of the forms of capital that Gasteyer describes. The effort allows for more careful and thorough analysis of where gaps or needs might exist in water services and in achieving the sustainability of water as a resource, rather than as a public good or commodity. At the community level, it is critically important to emphasize and fully account for the cultural, economic, and intrinsic values that water resources represent. And by doing so, we will better determine where socially relevant and socially understood footholds are in raising public awareness to a point where common and important water objectives can be advanced with popular understanding and support.

Hoffman ultimately concludes water is a spatially dispersed interjurisdictional resource that is influenced by layers of governance and regulation. And therefore, its stewardship will be confounded if its management is not flexible, adaptive, and integrated. We would argue that the need for stewardship must also find common understanding and support.

Generally explained, water could be divided into two central attributes: quality and availability (i.e., supply). To address the stewardship of these two attributes, two broad levels of engagement seem inevitable – the regional or system level and the local level, both of which can focus attention and action on these two fronts. While we believe much attention needs to be given to interjurisdictional governance at the system or watershed level, much effort is immediately needed to better engage and inform at the local level also. Regional networked planning and governance reveals the whole and a system context and creates the implementing opportunity for an adaptive management framework to address riparian protection and make watershed-level strategies actionable. That same system context becomes a baseline of understanding that individuals at the community level can reflect upon when attempting to value the positive or negative impacts of individual local outputs or proposed new development.

Communities are being confronted with a number of financial challenges in today’s world. Pressing infrastructure issues exist with attendant costs related to treatment and distribution, stormwater retention, source control, and individual behavior. In most cases, these issues can only be effectively addressed when civic engagement leads to informed and emotionally engaged citizens. Only then will an informed appreciation of water challenges gain popular traction and a culture of sustainability have popular footing.

We believe the great overlooked piece in addressing our common water future and a central barrier to successful integrated water resource management is the need to shape a greater sensibility among our policymakers and program administrators about the power of social networking and social capital in changing behavior and opening doors to innovation. At the core of social networking is communication, building relationships, and building trust.

To move beyond our current understanding, a more thoughtful accounting of the processes that enable integration may prove to be significant. Case building through storytelling and effective communication can be utilized not only to present or convey technical solutions, but more importantly to reach and connect with an audience’s core values. Likewise better communication and understanding will be crucial to working collaboratively across organizational boundaries. Critical information cannot be simply briefed or reported, but conveyed as a narrative or story that makes an emotional connection and builds ownership. Rather than investing in improved but rigid public involvement processes, a water conversation could be fostered that creates listening opportunities to recast issues and solutions as more socially relevant and culturally acceptable. Forums will result where actionable paths forward with well-defined measurable milestones can be better visualized, described, designed, and delivered with new levels of popular ownership.

Another component of integration is building and servicing relationships, requiring a heightened appreciation and understanding of diverse corporate, organizational, and community cultures, so that collaboration and cooperation can be more effectively facilitated. In this capacity, there is a facilitating need to locate potential partners, help them find one another, and then understand each organization's needs and culture in order to provide the necessary translation between cultures. In public-private partnerships, this need is particularly acute. When organizations are science or technically-based, this can prove very difficult because scientists and engineers, often by their nature, are not typically recruited for their social networking skills – a rather unsettling observation in an era of value-based collaboration and shared purpose.

On the matter of integrating across organizational boundaries, Stephan Goldsmith’s book Governing by Network, the New Shape of the Public Sector, points out that good oversight by government officials engaged in outsourcing or private-public partnerships concentrates on outcomes, not process. Fixation on process undermines efforts to achieve goal congruence among partners. One particular strength the federal government can bring to bear on facilitation of integrated approaches is its “convening authority,” bringing together various service silos together for networking. Goldsmith presents a very worthwhile read in trying to understand where gaps are likely to exist in integrated management and networked governance.

To conclude, the need for integrated resource management at the regional level may represent the path forward to effectively address water issues with sustainable solutions. At the local community level, the focus will likely continue to be on bringing networks for action together for zoning and individual conservation action, and funding to address stormwater, treatment, and distribution infrastructure. In rural floodplain areas, testing old assumptions by creating new landowner incentives to encourage outputs that reduce the social costs attendant to unsustainable practices may finally get a fair look.

At the core of effectively addressing these regional and local water concerns, a stronger focus should be placed on folding in integrators, communicators, and translators into the conversation so that all points of view are better understood and all participants are better informed. In a measured world, there will likely be a challenge to produce examples of outcomes that account for the value of such players and how they expedite actionable solutions. The best integrators or connectors will be the ones that get results…the closers. Call them whatever you like, but these great communicators may very well prove to be the difference makers, and at present, they seem too often to be the missing piece in collaboration.

Patrick S. McGinnis
Authored by: Patrick S. McGinnis, Water Resources Team Leader, THG

March 21, 2010

I. Moving from a Shared Vision to Scalable Results and Outcomes

Arriving at a National Water Strategy that successfully integrates water resource management across water sectors and across watersheds will benefit greatly in the beginning by accounting for the contribution and role of local communities and private/public partnerships. A thoughtful assessment and understanding of the successes and setbacks of collaboration and the role of pathfinders attempting to cut new collaborative trails at the federal level, the community level, and in the private sector can reveal much about the path ahead and the undervalued importance of social networking and social capital. The lessons being learned at the community level must interface with the federal experience in partnering and collaboration in order that approaches can be nuanced to account for the complexities in relationship building toward common direction, goal congruence, and effective outcomes that ultimately serve regional areas.

Loyalty to the individual organization cannot displace or overtake service to the idea or the collaborative venture being advanced. The presence of gifted and selfless collaborators, whether participating as individuals, institutions, or communities may be the key to collaborative success.

II. Waterside Communities, A Place for Establishing a Collaborative Foothold

In the public sector, communities located near iconic water features have the advantage of a strong and long standing water heritage and connection to their water resources. Many are making grassroots-led advances to undertake efforts to arrive at some sustainable balance in their interaction with water. This is not happening everywhere and often the advances are subtle and difficult to detect without close examination but centers of water excellence are emerging.

Likewise at the Federal level, agencies with water centric missions and responsibilities are being challenged to test traditional assumptions about interjurisdictional collaboration in order to produce water outputs that are scalable, replicable, demonstrational, producing measureable cumulative results for system betterment. Specific individuals, programs and projects undertaken with a supportive federal presence are making headway. Again, this is not occurring everywhere but examples of very effective collaboration are breaking through and should be documented and shared. The better part of the federal sector is seeking effective and timely ways to leverage resources, build shared ownership, and seek alignment and integration with multiple players operating at local, state, and regional levels to integrate efforts across water sectors to achieve sustainable outputs – a lofty goal, but one that is attainable and overdue.

III. Revealing Community Water Leaders

Individuals and institutional cultures possessing advanced collaborative skills and attitudes are uncommon. And therefore, locating water leaders and stewards becomes even more important. These gifted individuals are difference makers in collaboration, and where you find them, you find collaborative breakthroughs being made. We refer to these individuals as pathfinders. Locating and linking pathfinders at the local community level to like-minded individuals in the federal sector will enable greater and timelier collaborative success. More and more, water leaders are emerging in the private sector as well, often in the capacity of water resource consultants that have demonstrated the ability to greatly assist in facilitating this matchmaking process. By identifying and linking local water leaders to federal sector water leaders, water outcomes will result that accomplish federal program intent, while producing socially relevant and sustainable outcomes at the local level, that in turn add value at the system or watershed level.

Unlike many non-profit water focused organizations with a mission focus and a constituency, independent private consultants are principally interested in serving the interests of the client. If the client’s goal is seeking sustainable solutions, the private consultant can serve willingly as honest broker playing role of connector, convener, and sometimes translator in bringing water interests together in a dialogue that advances sustainable objectives.

IV. Championing Scalable Advancement, Revealing Water Success Stories

Interjurisdictional success stories present evidence of outputs that scale up to produce systems outcomes. In most cases, these models of water success are ongoing and iterative, building upon each success by tackling more sophisticated water challenges as the partners gain confidence with each milestone. Each success in turn produces a higher level of interorganizational trust, reliance, and collaborative efficiency. However, each new endeavor is often beset with arguably avoidable setbacks, overcoming a certain amount of inertia as new collaborators are folded in, and as strategic direction is refined to factor in and accommodate outlying or divergent interests. This inefficiency could be accounted for and reduced if successful collaborative communities of practice were more closely watched and actively nurtured by external champions, including Federal Program Managers. At critical points in the journey, these pathfinders need assistance and support. The necessary support sometimes is financial but, more often than not, it is a matter of mentoring and facilitation to overcome institutional barriers or traditional approaches and processes that are proving to be less than effective in today’s collaborative world – a time when networked governance and optimal use of social networks is proving to be the difference maker.

There is also the confounding matter that the farther away a person, institution, or community is from prominent influencing natural water features and/or pressing water issues, the greater lack of appreciation of water issues and urgency is in evidence. This is very likely due to a lack of water awareness and an attending lack of individual and collective commitment to stewardship of important natural capital. It also points to the acute need to improve watershed literacy. More and more local water leaders are accounting for this by incorporating greater emphasis on education and outreach to inform and empower by bringing the water message and its importance to the popular mainstream.

V. Developing Regional Water Centers

Examining major iconic natural water features reveals an obvious list that includes the Chesapeake Bay, the Great Lakes, the Everglades, the Mississippi River, and the Gulf. These systems are expansive but within each system one can find bayside, lakeside, riverside, and gulfside communities that are working effectively toward sustainable water outcomes. Significant local investments are being made to reconnect watershed “gateway” communities to their water heritage in order to diversify their economies and create more livable communities, by recognizing and protecting their natural capital and often creating water destinations for leisure travel. In other communities, leaders are successfully and incrementally tackling staggering water infrastructure updates. A greening effort is also underway to achieve source protection and/or source control to reduce and eliminate impacts to pre-development hydrology by employing creative local solutions to create stormwater retention and catchment plans, correct CSO’s, incentivize LID’s, and more aggressively protect riparian open space. In many cases, one can find federal partners and the influence of state and federal grants or programs at work in these communities.

The opportunity exists to further encourage and leverage the work of these pathfinding communities that are pioneering collaborative solutions by giving them structured access to pathfinders in the federal sector. One outcome of this interaction would be to document and share collaborative models that evolve through their interaction with other communities throughout the watershed.

VI. Identifying Beta Test Sites

An Alpha testing phase has been overtaken by the events of trial and error, lessons learned, and isolated success stories, often opportunistic. Beta test site identification seems more appropriate at the current stage. Initially desirable communities would be of sufficient size, near major population centers, within close proximity of iconic, socially relevant water features, and blessed with institutions that are fully engaged in water programs/projects. In some cases, the variety, complexity, and actual concentration of water work underway in certain communities reveals a “water campus,” possessing a concentrated array of water outputs with representative outputs accessible, interpretive, and demonstrational. These campuses can be used as living laboratories and life-cycle classrooms for sharing successful approaches to tackling a wide array of water challenges. Within each pathfinding community, a single institution, be it private, public, or academic typically emerges or is revealed as a convener, bringing other to the table. These pathfinders are a critical linkage and create a very important in-road or gateway into the community.

VII. Regional Test Sites Program

A small manageable number of test sites, initially one site within each regional watershed could be identified, the current status of water work quickly accounted for, and an assessment of near and long term collaborative milestones and critical processes identified. Monitoring, interaction, and facilitation could be initiated toward building a platform for demonstration. In turn, this could reveal a living social laboratory that anchors and fosters a dialogue with regional and local leaders on the applied principles and pathways for achieving effective integrated water resource management in that region.

VIII. First Step, Bringing Water Leaders Together

Concurrent to the identification of test sites, a series of discussions among federal and local water leaders to brainstorm facilitative assistance pathways could be conducted. These small group discussions or “water salons” would be informally chaired/facilitated by prominent water leaders and would serve to create a larger water conversation that could align interests and inputs across water sectors within watersheds. These salons could also promote information exchanges with local community water leaders on needs and barriers to successful collaboration. Stakeholders could sponsor this Water Resource Communities of Practice, but their autonomy must be assured so that it is apparent to all that their efforts are driven by common interest, not stakeholder or special interest. Since the mission of sponsoring such conversations falls outside the responsibility of any one of the twenty federal agencies with water resource responsibilities, private sector water consultants could be engaged to host and formulate these networking solution roundtables. A series of water salons, each focused on a particular test site, could be proceeded by, and launched with, an initial gathering that would provide an overview of each test site, its attributes, strengths, previous successes, barriers to overcome, and long-term needs.

IX. Bringing the Community into the Conversation – Moving from Public Involvement to Civic Engagement

Many communities are not yet ready to participate in a water conversation, which is why pathfinding communities with strong water portfolios are critical. Water infrastructure challenges confront every community but many lack the sophistication, experience, and resources to confront and address their water challenges. These communities often do not know who to turn to or where to begin. They could particularly benefit from access to the experience and lessons learned of other communities farther down the sustainable path. Most could benefit from heightened water awareness and a practical understanding of what makes collaboration work. All could benefit from a better-informed and engaged citizenry. Citizen empowerment will likely be necessary to move each of us from being water users to effective water stewards. At the federal level, water program managers could benefit from appreciating the differences between and across communities, the importance of a “no short cuts” approach to values-based relationship building in collaboration, and the need for civic engagement to raise water awareness and forge popular support for water resource stewardship, thus bringing water issues to an informed and engaged mainstream.

X. Keeping the Flame Burning at Home

Community colleges located in areas with a rich water heritage could prove to be important influencers at the community level. Community colleges are often trusted grassroots institutions of great social and practical relevance to the communities they serve. A Sustainability Network of Community Colleges linked to the research and extension capacity of major land grant universities could provide a sustained support role. By moving communities onto the sustainable path forward and assisting local businesses and industry with green job training and re-training, these colleges possess an important local narrative on sustainability and the importance of water resource stewardship, facilitating a fair and honest brokered discussion of existing water use and the need for a sustainable course correction.


Successful integration and governance of regional natural aquatic ecosystems to support a renewable and equitable distribution of freshwater is a great and immediate challenge confronting all levels of government. Individual civic responsibility for our common water future has to be addressed. Local communities must be at the table and civic engagement is warranted to bring everyone into the conversation. Effective and efficient collaboration will be crucial. We need to begin to chart an actionable course forward. We can no longer deliberate – we must act.

A path forward is presenting itself, one that is inclusive, empowering, and doable.