How should water professionals invest in resilience?

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Nick Michell spoke to leading water experts about how water professionals should prioritise investments to become more resilient

“If resilience is the capacity of a system to bounce back and recover its functioning integrity after extreme stress and unexpected shocks, how should water professionals with limited funds, time, and other resources, focus investments in resilience?”

Linda Freiner, Group Head of Corporate Responsibility, Zurich Insurance Company

“In 2013, Zurich started a US$43 million programme to increase the resilience of flood-prone communities around the world. We define resilience as the ability of a system, community or society to pursue its social, ecological and economic development and growth objectives, while managing its disaster risk over time. Our solutions to fight flood risk go beyond physical measures and include the whole of our ‘five capitals’ approach–human, social, natural, financial, as well as physical.

To ensure flood resilience reaches the ground with pragmatic outcomes, we built the first end-to-end flood resilience measurement framework, applying complementary software to 70 communities in 10 programme countries that Zurich supports. This framework helps us identify strengths, weaknesses and what new and innovated solutions can go beyond standard physical protection to help tackle the resilience problem.

Potential solutions may include increased financial literacy for risk transfers. Likewise, early warning systems and other prevention tools help us go beyond response and recovery. These innovative approaches help enhance and diversify livelihoods and people’s skills, ensuring we tackle resilience as what it really is–a comprehensive view to ensure development can happen.”

Mark Smith, Manager for Organisational Change, IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature)

“The answer starts with water professionals seeing themselves as part of a bigger system. In resilience terms, then, their job is not just to design water storage infrastructure, engineer a distribution network or set up watershed management institutions. Their challenge is to build resilient systems. IUCN has gathered lessons from river basin management and water governance projects, worldwide, and identified four basic components that combine into an effective and pragmatic resilience framework: diversity, sustainable infrastructure and technologies, self-organisation and learning.

A water professional builds resilience, when she or he draws on aspects of each. For example, designing for water supply brings together the needed technologies with ecosystem restoration in source areas, governance in which local people are able to organise decisions in response to changing circumstances, and know-how to use the new information needed to help them do so.

We worked with IUCN’s partners in high altitude watersheds in Guatemala to do exactly this, coupling water distribution networks to forest restoration and strengthening of micro-watershed councils. Floods and droughts then have less impact, but when they come, people can take the actions needed to safeguard their water supply.”

Mary Ann Dickinson, President and CEO, Alliance for Water Efficiency

“Resilience in a water system means that a water manager has the ability to cope with changes in weather, growth, or the economy that will affect the demand on the water system, and still be able to provide service to customers. An important ingredient in the recipe for resilience is water efficiency. By reducing wasteful consumer demand, and by recovering network leaks, the efficient water system creates “swing” water supply; water supply that was formerly wastefully consumed or lost to leaks that is now available to be used.

This “swing” supply allows the system to respond to demand in drought times, or supply to be placed in reserve for future use, or supply to accommodate new customer demand as the system grows. This concept of water efficiency and resilience was amply illustrated during Australia’s Millennium Drought; faced with an extraordinary reduction in available water resources because of the 10-year shortage, Australian water utilities used water efficiency programmes as a means of coping with their dwindling supply.”

Mathieu de Kervenoael, Head of Global Strategy & Development, Treatment Infrastructure, Suez

“SUEZ believes that a “Design Build Operate” approach will best ensure the highest resiliency of water infrastructure. That means designing treatment plants to achieve triple efficiency over the asset’s full life-cycle: highest operating performance, lowest capital and operating cost, highest capacity usage.

With core businesses at the heart of the water-waste-energy nexus, SUEZ is embarking with even more passion into combined treatment infrastructure for water and solid waste, unlocking synergies across all sectors. With energy being the major cost component, water resiliency requires us to design the most energy efficient treatment plants, with the highest possible producer consumption of renewable energy, biogas in particular. For example, Samra wastewater treatment plant, built and operated in Jordan, is almost energy neutral.

SUEZ promotes water solutions to cities that are always connected to, and wise about, their surrounding water basins. We are highly conscious of the need to share water resources for multiple purposes, exemplified by the West Basin water reclamation plant in California.

SUEZ also develops the “modularity” dimension of water infrastructure, to ensure these become more resilient throughout the uncertain future, leveraging the company’s know-how in compact units for decentralised systems.”

Heather Smith, Lecturer in Water Governance, Cranfield University

“Resilience is a tricky term, and it’s no easy matter to specify what a resilient infrastructure system could look like. I believe systems need to go beyond just planning for rare extreme events or shocks. Resilience is about seeing ‘disruption’ more as the rule than the exception, and about dealing with all kinds of change, large and small. That ability to deal with change is more a function of the human aspects of the system than the physical built aspects. That’s where learning takes place, which is ultimately how the system adapts.

To support this kind of learning and improve resilience, water service providers need to rely on innovation–in other words, they need to allow room for developing and trialling new technologies and approaches. But that doesn’t necessarily mean spending a fortune on in-house R&D. Instead, new models of ‘open innovation’ are presenting some interesting opportunities for resilience in the UK water sector.

These open approaches can involve scanning for innovation in previously underexplored areas, such as with customers or different industrial sectors. This facilitates the development of knowledge banks around new technologies and approaches, which become easier to access and deploy in the wake of disruption.”

Christian Nyerup Nielsen, Director, Climate Adaptation, Ramboll

“Challenges related to resilience, such as flood-risk management, are societal issues, not isolated water challenges. However, water professionals play a major and central part of the solution. Therefore, water professionals could and should facilitate collaboration with other sectors as for instance transport infrastructure, urban development and insurance.

Thereby, more funds can be raised which allows for the design and implementation of holistic and multi- disciplinary solutions serving a wider range of needs. As an example we are currently carrying out a project related to climate adaptation on behalf of the European Commission that involves the insurance sector internationally. Especially regarding increased resilience–the ability to bounce back–the insurance sector is a key player.”

Liz Yee, Vice President, City Solutions, 100 Resilient Cities

“The upfront investments needed for hard and soft water-related measures can carry a high price tag–and many governments have limited financial resources. However, resilience is about accomplishing multiple direct and indirect goals with one project, saving time, money, and effort, in the process. Water professionals should apply a resilience lens to all of their investments, ensuring that every project they undertake results in multiple benefits and prioritising the projects that maximise benefits for the cost.

One example is Rotterdam’s water square–a recreational centre for the community that doubles as a water catchment basin when it rains to prevent flooding. Water professionals should also look for solutions that engage and empower citizens. Norfolk, Virginia, in conjunction with local firms, created an app called Helping Hands that provides emergency information and connection to residents, turning every citizen into a water manager. Through resilience thinking, every member of the community can be part of the solution and affect long-term change.”

Jordan Fischbach, Policy Researcher and Co-Director of the Water and Climate Resilience Center, RAND Corporation

“Water professionals can think about building resilience as a process of embracing and managing future uncertainty. Rather than seeking to predict which long-term stressor, drought, or other shock to plan for, I, along with other colleagues at the RAND Corporation, help planners consider a wide range of “what if” scenarios. This robust decision making approach uses computer simulation models and scenario analysis to identify future threats, systematically tests management strategies against these scenarios, and uses data visualisation and statistical techniques to highlight key tradeoffs for planners and stakeholders. The resilience benefits are threefold.

First, it helps identify “no regrets” investments that perform well regardless of scenario. Second, it leads to adaptive strategies that are flexible and introduces new investments only when challenging conditions become likely. Finally, it can answer emerging questions and support conversations between planners and stakeholders during complex and difficult planning processes.

One example is the Colorado River Water Supply and Demand Study, whose robust decision making approach helped federal and state planners better understand the future threat from growing water demand and climate change.”

Kathryn Silvester, Engineering Planner, Sydney Water and 2016 Australian Young Water Professional of the Year

“With the effects of climate change we are seeing an increased frequency of extreme environmental events and, consequently, the resilience of a system to cope with these events is ever more crucial. To address the challenge of increasing our system resilience with limited funding, water professionals will need to work with those outside the sector to create solutions with multiple benefits to communities.

The city of Copenhagen’s cloudburst management plan aims to do just this by providing dual purpose solutions to extreme wet weather events. Working with communities, key stakeholders and partners, they have created parks, tennis courts and skate parks that are designed to flood in wet weather, acting as retention zones, but also adding value to communities in dry weather.

Diversification of solutions is also essential to create a resilient system. Singapore smartly responded to their lack of natural water resources and high population by investing in a variety of water sources including rainwater, desalination and NEWater (reclaimed water). They are now in a robust position independent of environmental factors.”