THG Hosts Reflective Discussion with National Water Leaders on Shaping a Brighter Water Outlook

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.