Early Impressions from a Water Resources Management Practitioner

Brendan McGinnis
Authored by: Brendan McGinnis, Managing Partner, THG

March 10, 2011

In the fall of 2005, shortly after completing my Masters in Business Administration, I joined a small environmental non-profit in Arlington, VA, the Global Environment & Technology Foundation. Eager to apply my academic training to build the business case for sustainable practices, I spent the next two years focusing on a suite of international and domestic water and energy initiatives. During this time and the ensuing three years, I was fortunate to be closely involved in a number of collaborative efforts to ensure a more sustainable water future.

One experience that tested my basic understanding of water, energy, and the nexus between the two, was my involvement in the creation of a guidebook providing assistance to off-grid, rural health clinics in sub-Saharan Africa on how best to assess their electrification demands and determine feasible renewable energy alternatives. The effort, led by the Energy Team of the U.S. Agency for International Development and entitled, Powering Health: Electrification Options for Rural Health Centers, continues to be a timely and relevant resource. Upon reflection, the insight I gained truly helped to simplify the complexities of sustaining community energy and water systems.

My big take-away? That the water and energy conversation is inexorably linked. As water issues move into the mainstream, energy concerns cannot be pushed aside. Collaboration and interdependence when addressing the two is crucial.

Jumping ahead to the close of 2007, our nation will soon brace for the early stages of a recession. Gross deficits and ever-shrinking budgets result in the growing need for sensible, cost-effective solutions to address our most pressing environmental challenges – a combination of factors that led me to leave the non-profit and create a start-up environmental consulting group with a handful of colleagues and former U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Acting Administrator Marianne Horinko. In January 2008, The Horinko Group becomes incorporated to service a variety of clients from Fortune 100 Corporations and law firm giants to small riverside communities and aspiring research and education institutions.

Much of my attention early on at the firm centered on assisting clients with better leveraging of resources through more active collaboration and creating a platform to educate and inclusively engage all stakeholders. I would soon become increasingly familiar with a number of our nation’s environmental cleanup and restoration efforts – the Lower Passaic River, Delaware Estuary, Lower Fox River, Kalamazoo River, and Upper Mississippi River Basin.

My bigger take-away? It’s all about water quality and water availability, and addressing each in a manner that is measurable, effective, and holistic.

In this vein, our group committed ourselves to moving the water conversation into the mainstream, launching The Horinko Group’s Water Division in 2009. With a charge to promote water resources sustainability through effective and integrated water resources management, we sought to provide a new context for thinking and problem solving.

Fast forward to April 2010, our group hosted its first Water Summit entitled, Sustaining Our Water Resources Through Collaboration, followed by quarterly roundtable discussions referred to as Water Salons. Each gathering convenes water leadership and senior practitioners from public and private organizations to delve deeper into our nation’s central and pressing water issues.

Reflecting and closely examining the proceedings from each of these past resource forums, it becomes evident to me that our nation is approaching a tipping point where collective resource interests and concerns can gain real traction and common direction. Released in January 2011, our Water Division authored a report entitled, Promoting the Sustainability of Our Nation’s Water Resources, outlining 10 Actionable Objectives for demonstrating near-term, scalable and system-based outcomes. Our belief being the integration of these components could evolve into a system-based, regionally governed and integrated platform of water resources stewardship.

Taking a closer look at a number of complimentary efforts that I feel add real value to the national water dialogue – the Corps of Engineers’ Responding to National Water Resources Challenges Report; EPA’s Healthy Watersheds Initiative; USDA’s Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative; American Water Resources Association’s National Water Vision Position Statement; Clean Water America Alliance’s Water National Policy Framework Discussion Draft; the Johnson Foundation’s Charting New Waters Report; and River Network’s The Way Forward Action Plan – I was greatly encouraged. These plans, when taken collectively, reveal a great deal of overlap and alignment among prominent stakeholders and leading thinkers. Perhaps these complex water problems are not beyond our collective reach to address.

My grand take-away? A sustainable water future for us all rests on an informed and engaged water resources community pulling in one direction with a good measure of common purpose and determination. We have a shared responsibility to move our society from being simple water users to becoming conscientious and well-informed water stewards.

As to what’s next, I have been working with the Water Resources Action Project as a founding member for over a year now. This DC-based non-profit seeks to improve public health and quality of life for under-served communities in the Middle East by bringing shared purpose and hope to address the growing water conflict. Working with partners in the community, I am excited to report that the group has completed its pilot project, a rain collection unit at the Sur Bahr Girls School in East Jerusalem, reducing the school’s municipal water costs. In May 2011, I will make a trip to Israel, Palestine and Jordan to scout additional schools. Stay tuned as I follow-up with a travel log of my journey.

On the home front, I am pleased to announce that The Horinko Group is planning its Second Annual Water Resources Summit entitled, Sustaining Our Nation’s Water Resources: Answering the Call for Stewardship, scheduled for October 25, 2011 at the University of Maryland’s Stamp Student Union.

Looking even further ahead, I am eager for the scientific advancements to be applied, the collaboration we are capable of, the progress to come, and most of all, that I may play a small part along the way.