Managing Scarce Western Water Resources

Facilitation

Managing scarce western water resources increasingly requires an understanding of the multiple interests facing any watershed and ways in which they interact, overlap, and compete. CDR Associates reflects on inter-jurisdictional stakeholder based efforts in western watersheds.

Water managers and policy makers balance pressures ranging from ensuring a safe and reliable water supply for municipal and agricultural users, to maintaining a healthy river system, to protecting against flood danger and damage, to ensuring economic development and recreational opportunities. These interests often overlap – e.g., a healthy river system can help protect against flooding; a reliable water supply can help ensure flows to create or maintain a healthy river. For water-scarce western communities, however, with the increasing threats of climate change and reduced water supply, these demands are often seen as inherently competing for funding, public attention, priority status, and political support. This challenge is compounded by the siloes created in local government to manage different water-related programs and priorities.

Having facilitated several inter-jurisdictional, stakeholder-based efforts to create watershed-wide master plans for the State after the 2013 Colorado floods, CDR is working with municipalities to internally align their priorities and approaches to managing rivers. For cities juggling numerous river-related objectives (e.g., water supply, a healthy river, flood protection), this means building internal understanding about the nuanced ways in which their interests relate to and impact one another. For a utility department, this may mean a better understanding of what ecologists mean by ‘river health’ and how water supply projects or water management to meet multiple interests. For environmental scientists, this may mean a better understanding of the risks and threats that utility or storm water departments manage, including engineering projects that could be impacted by the timing or politics of river health projects.

As CDR’s work has shown, a forward-thinking, cross-sector approach to managing western water – particularly in this era of water scarcity and the unpredictability of climate change – requires building communication, trust and understanding across disciplines and interest groups; designing and developing mechanisms for collaboration, including effective facilitation; and leadership that promotes and supports this silo-busting approach.

 

Notes From the Field: 25-Mile Swim for Improving Water Quality and Coastal Restoration – Lake Ponchartrain, Louisiana

BasinBayou

CDR’s CEO, Jonathan Bartsch supported the first ever 25 mile swim across Lake Pontchartrain to celebrate the improved water quality and coastal restoration of the area. The 25 mile swim was to support the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation (LPBF), an organization dedicated to cleaning up the lake and drawing attention to coastal wetlands issues.  LPBF is celebrating its 25Thanniversary of tirelessly working to improve the water quality and quality of life in New Orleans.

Starting on the night of June 12 2014, Matthew Moseley and his support crew swam across Lake Ponchartrain, battling waves that grew to 4 feet and completed the first ever  swim across the lake in 14 hours and 55 minutes. The danger wasn’t merely lake swells and utter exhaustion, an interested alligator was pulled from near the finish area one hour prior to conclusion of the swim, adding additional drama to the exciting event.  Moseley followed the English Channel rules, which meant that he couldn’t touch another boat or person for the entire length of the swim. The major physical and mental accomplishment by Moseley was the first recorded solo crossing of Lake Ponchartrain.

While swimming is a different way to approach collaborative problem-solving work in the water arena, it is consistent with CDR’s commitment to promoting sustainable change in difficult situations.  For example, the LPBF has taken Lake Pontchartrain from a lifeless, dirty body of water with an EPA declared ‘no swim zone’ and turned into a resource with a healthy water quality and abundant supply of fish.  The Ponchartrain swim serves to remind us of the limitless possibilities when a vision is accompanied by careful planning, dedication and endurance.

For more information on Matt Mosley and his swim across lake Pontchartrain, click here.