International Water Leaders Discuss Global Issues, Trends

January 15, 2021

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The January 2021 issue of Water Environment & Technology magazine includes sound-offs from water sector leaders around the world, who described how their organizations contend with such universal challenges as climate change, workforce issues, and flood management.

Their remarks were abbreviated for space in print. Full comments are presented below.

Janett Tapia — The Netherlands

In the January 2021 issue of Water Environment & Technology (WE&T) magazine, water leaders from around the world discuss their approaches to universal challenges including climate change and workforce issues. Click here to read the full State of the Sector 2021 section in WE&T magazine. Image courtesy of PIRO4D/Pixabay

Janett Tapia is a project manager for the Netherlands Water Partnership.

To help face the global issue of climate change, which is also a massive threat to the Netherlands in particular, we at the Netherlands Water Partnership designed the Dutch Resilience Hub. The Resilience Hub is a platform of Dutch organizations in the private, public, academic, and NGO sectors working together on building climate resilience. The hub not only connects Dutch organizations with expertise on resilience, but also catalyzes collaboration with their international counterparts working on the same issues.

The Dutch Resilience Hub is creating an ecosystem of organizations where otherwise separate innovations can be combined to generate transformative and inclusive solutions for cities or coastal villages trying to adapt to climate change and remain resilient.

For example, consider an organization designing urban aquifers that catch and store water underground during flash floods before releasing that water during dry periods to alleviate urban heat. They could bring this innovation to the hub. From there, conceptual design firms that work with citizen engagement groups could help to integrate this solution to a specific urban neighborhood. The organization can also meet a supplier of the materials they need or engage with a construction company and financiers to help make the design a reality. At the Dutch Resilience Hub, innovators are brought together, maximizing their potential. Furthermore, the platform helps these innovators by connecting them with partners abroad.

One success story from the Dutch Resilience Hub is the Sand Engine, an engineered coastal-protection solution that is now being replicated in the United Kingdom. The Resilience Hub is eager to continue supporting resilience innovation in the Netherlands and beyond.

Robert Haller— Canada

Robert Haller is executive director of the Canadian Water and Wastewater Association.

As the only national association for water and wastewater professionals in Canada, it is difficult to name one, or even just a few, of our shared challenges and the common issues we are all facing. But regardless of the issue, the answers will be discovered, developed, tested, and implemented by people. We rely on the ingenuity and passion of dedicated water professionals. I have to note two trends related to these people — and I see them as closely related.

First is a new appreciation for the depth and width of our potential talent pool. Municipal utilities and their partners nationally are rethinking their recruitment and retention programs to consider that wider potential. Diversity and inclusivity are the guiding principles of good workforce development plans.

New recruiting methods work to eliminate systemic biases and create opportunities for candidates of different ages, genders, and cultures. But to get the most from this more diverse workforce, and to retain it, we must commit to changing the workplace norms and make everyone feel welcomed and appreciated.

The second trend is the growing number of municipal/academic partnerships. This is a great opportunity for utilities to tap into the wider talent pool mentioned above. Utilities have challenges to solve, while universities have the talent and resources to dedicate to problem-solving. Advancing Canadian Wastewater Assets is an innovation alliance that has paired the City of Calgary with the University of Calgary (Alberta) to create an active wastewater research and testing facility.

Other alliances like the Southern Ontario Water Consortium in Ontario or CentrEau in Quebec are facilitating many more such partnerships. I could cite partnerships from coast to coast that are developing the innovative solutions we need.    

Johannes Lohaus— Germany

Johannes Lohaus is executive director of the Management Board of the German Association for Water, Wastewater, and Waste (DWA)

Climate change is a fact. It is disrupting weather patterns and leads to unpredictable water availability, flooding, as well as more severe water scarcity. And climate change will outlast the present COVID-19 pandemic. Climate change is the biggest threat humanity is facing today, and the primary medium through which we will feel its effects is water.

The water sector cannot fight climate change alone, but we can reduce our emissions footprint and help to mitigate the consequences of climate change. For example, we can reduce the energy consumption in our wastewater facilities. To this end, the German Association for Water, Wastewater and Waste (DWA) developed the technical standard DWA-A 216 – Energy Check and Energy Analysis. This standard enables operators of wastewater systems to optimize their energy consumption.

Another way the water sector can help is encouraging cities to become more water resilient. One slogan that captures this idea is “sponge city.” This refers to a variety of measures and actions, including the local infiltration of water, the construction of watercourses in town, green facades and roofs, green-blue infrastructures, just to name a few. These measures would lead to sustainable, attractive cities where people like to live. The water in town would make the microclimate more pleasant and lower the temperatures during summers.

This is one of the issues we are committed to and are working on.

An increased number of floods is another consequence of climate change. We need to develop practices for preventive flood protection. In many cities and local governments there is a critical lack of awareness about the danger of floods. DWA therefore trains specialist staff and provides certification for the flood protection systems of municipalities. All of this is environmental protection — not popular with all governments, but certainly something that is in the interest of ourselves, our children, grandchildren, and all descendants. Working on these issues is well worth every effort.

Get more expert commentary about where water stands in 2021 in the January issue of Water Environment & Technology magazine.

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