Water Advocacy Panelist Remarks

From the 2011 Annual Water Resources Summit at the University of Maryland, College Park

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

October 25, 2011

My name is Pat McGinnis. I currently advise The Horinko Group on water resource matters. I came to the group in 2009 after completing a 32-year career with the Corps of Engineers.

I am a Wildlife Biologist by training. I began my career with the Corps as a Regulatory Wetland Specialist but spent the last twenty years as an Operational Project Manager on the Mississippi River serving as a public lands administrator. This experience shaped my outlook regarding collaboration, civic engagement, and the struggles of bringing innovative practices forward in the face of competing interests. I gained a valuable perspective about shaping stakeholder expectations and consensus.

During this time, I also learned a great deal about advocacy…advocacy for the resource and rural landscapes, advocacy for cooperation, and advocacy for measureable results.

Because of this, I believe in the power of the big idea. Ideas that are socially relevant, that can be effectively communicated, ideas that average Americans can make an emotional connection to, and ideas that can be translated into measurable objectives commonly shared and incrementally addressed.

I also believe that collaboration has to be more than just getting along…it has to be about results that are measurable and replicable.

In advocating for greater collaboration one thing I observed repeatedly…for organizations to have success in collaboration, the people sent into the room have to have a collaborative spirit, know how to get things done, and have the courage to address and overcome barriers. Organizations can decide to collaborate, but success is left to the ability and commitment of the people they send into the room. Good intentions aside, these simply aren’t skills that are actively recruited for, mentored, or rewarded.

Our Group is committed to facilitating an informed and inclusive water conversation and fostering a collaborative spirit. Our observations have shown us that too many breakdowns are occurring in the communication between practitioners and decision-makers, that too many in our communities still lack an informed appreciation of our water resources and although many in the water sector are working hard and working together, collaboration across organizations and across natural systems and is still struggling to gain a sustainable foothold.

Our Annual Summits are intended to keep the water conversation going while bringing more attention to the water challenges that confront all of us, particularly those we should have the collective where-with-all to address.

Too many issues are being worked without effective outreach that offers a system context that allows Americans to see and understand where and how all the dots connect and why source protection, system sustaining flows, re-use, and properly valuing and pricing water is not only socially relevant, but in a growing number of locations, extremely urgent.

Our philosophy on outreach is straightforward. Government and non-profits are not the only ones with a stake in building social water awareness. As a for-profit, albeit a modest one, we believe the business community has a responsibility to help build and reveal the business case for sustainability. We have a responsibility to keep the water conversation fresh. We want to make a difference. We want our colleagues and clients positioned to make a difference.

We are continuously working to match up partners and clients with subject matter experts, talented practitioners, and investors eager to test old assumptions and explore innovation and a better path forward.

We work hard at being honest brokers advancing an inclusive dialogue on water…seeking a conversation not constrained by a narrow agenda.

Our commitment to growing the water conversation has been focused in three areas:

First, by planning and hosting an ongoing series of water focused webinars, such as the ones listed this here from our 2011 webinar series, bringing water sector thought leaders and practitioners together to discuss a variety of timely issues. These webinars are very well attended. Our Flood Risk Webinar in May had over 300 registrants.

Secondly, over the last 18 months we have also planned and hosted four important problem-solving salons focused on a number of interconnected water topics, which you can see listed here. The focus of these salons is to bring a diverse group of executives together, present an issue, recast the issue into a problem statement, deconstruct the problem, and identify key actions that arm the group with steps toward a solution. In today’s hectic work environment, these sessions afford executives an opportunity to extract themselves from the day-to-day and focus on a specific challenge.

Next, we use our company website, monthly newsletter, and other forums available to us to call attention to the great works of others, that in our judgment is advancing the water conversation and new approaches to old problems.

Showcasing the work of “pathfinders” that are demonstrating the way ahead is very important. Finding places, communities, where the concentration of positive activity is moving rural and urban landscapes culturally from exploitive water use toward long-term water stewardship, is also important and can power up the expectation for system resiliency while calling attention to the best regional “tipping point” models.
These stories need to be shared.

So…what are we advocating for? This past January we posted a white paper on our website. The paper is entitled, Promoting the Sustainability of Our Nation’s Water Resources, and can be downloaded from our website, and is also included in today’s program.

In our White Paper we call out areas where early action could be taken on a number of fronts to establish some traction for moving beyond a culture of compliance to one of stewardship. We call for regional models of cooperation. For building communities of practice to power-up initiatives into stronger, broader, integrated efforts around shared objectives. Objectives that clarify the need to sufficiently protect the natural capital in aquatic ecosystems and make that an explicit goal of water resource development, management, and governance.

What’s next for our Group? Very simply…to continue the call for stewardship.

We must change how we relate to water. We spend too much time arguing case-by-case compliance and not enough time creating a foundation of long-term stewardship and fostering a new ethic that goes beyond compliance.

We believe that we begin by testing existing authorities and policies before moving on to new institutional arrangements…by rewarding efficiency and re-use, by fostering social learning on how systems function, and by getting serious about realistic water pricing and development of new markets that promote stewardship, not exploitation.

No one has the resources or discretionary time to address sweeping change. Rather, we need to simply begin. We need to take an incremental approach that is flexible, but deliberate. We need to de-mystify adaptive management. We manage programs, but we don’t manage natural systems. Adaptive management is really just effective management. We need to begin to apply the new knowledge and monitoring that reflective management builds into the decision process, and let it begin to inform the water conversation and future re-development. If we aspire to have a shared national vision, then let’s ensure that vision is informed.

There is not enough water or money to compensate for wasteful exploitive practices. The American people need to see an effort that is transparent and inclusive, but also deliberate and actionable that will foster confidence and some sense of predictability about our water future.

Thank you.