Water Resiliency Leadership: One Water Solutions – Workshop Recap

By Elaine Connors, Contributing Writer and Holly Tichenor, Water Systems Consulting, Inc.

Imagine being the main representative of your communities’ water needs at a table of ambitious regional stakeholders with similar, yet competing water goals. Some have sat at this table before. For many there is an appreciation but only a vague understanding of how to navigate this critical and complex One Water collaboration.

CWEA 2017 Conference planners strived to provide an opportunity for attendees to gain a broader understanding of needed One Water leadership, aligned with the conference theme of “Celebrating the People of Water”.

Planners of this year’s conference in Palm Springs recognized an opportunity to provide a non-lecture, interactive workshop giving attendees tools, insights, strategies and practice in One Water collaboration. The three-hour workshop, Water Resiliency Leadership: One Water Solutions on California’s Central Coast, on the first day of the sessions, began with a view of One Water principles highlighted by facilitator Jeffery Szytel, Founder and CEO of Water Systems Consulting, Inc. (WSC), and Radhika Fox, CEO of US Water Alliance.

Radhika spoke to the principles of One Water, starting with the mindset shift around all water has value and emphasizing partnerships and inclusion of all in watershed-scale action. Her highlights, also outlined in US Water Alliances One Water Roadmap, were carried through the workshop discussion and addressed by a panel of Central Coast municipal and agency leaders greatly impacted from the record drought.

“We know that different cities face different water challenges and that the principles of One Water managements will look differently in those communities. As we can see from these shining examples from California’s Central Coast, taking a One Water approach to water management that incorporates regional collaboration, partnerships, and long-term planning at the watershed-scale is essential to securing our water future,” said Radhika.

Still recovering from drought impacts, and greatly driven by the experience of not achieving water resiliency in face of drought, many California Central Coast municipalities have quickly applied new thinking, technology and approaches that demonstrate One Water leadership.

“The Central Coast was the epicenter of the drought, and the decisions we are making today are still influenced by the drought. We are still recovering. We knew with this workshop there was an opportunity to show diversity and how competing interests could work together under the One Water concept,” said Carrie Mattingly, CWEA Program Committee leader, a key contributor to the workshop, and Utilities Director for the City of San Luis Obispo.

One Water is a complex concept to implement, and Carrie was among the workshop panel of utility leaders who shared stories about their journeys, lessons learned, and solutions. Additional panel members, each with a unique challenge and solution to share included: Rebecca Bjork of the City of Santa Barbara; Benjamin Fine of the City of Pismo Beach; Mike McCullough of Monterey Regional Water Pollution Control Agency; and Joe McDermott of Ventura Water.

The second part of the workshop put the One Water principles to the test. The workshop included facilitated round-table discussions where each person at the table acted the role on the card presented to them. The goal – share your respective roles’ water vision, find common ground with others at the table, identify compromises you can make, and determine the best One Water solution for your community. There was added fun in that Benjamin also served as the event reporter, capturing highlights and progress from each table, and posted to Twitter headlines throughout the discussion (#OneWaterCWEA). The reporter began to draw out a competitive spirit between the tables, striving for the most beneficial water solution.

“The departure from the lecturing approach made the session more meaningful for the participants. It was a judgement-free framework with no wrong answers.” Rebecca said.

“One Water is a concept that is long overdue. We all know that there is only one water because we learned about the water cycle in grade school. One Water is considered innovative, but shouldn’t be. We should have been adapting to this concept forty years ago. Water reuse is widely accepted in the industry and is becoming more of the norm in society. The drought really focused the public on the value of water. In my district people are asking ‘Why haven’t you done this before?” – Benjamin Fine

Around each table were seven roles who had to find balanced water solutions, sharing assets, considering inter-jurisdictional needs, understanding major constraints of each party, and ultimately arriving at a solution supported by as many at table as possible. Workshop participants were encouraged to choose a role unlike their current professional role, which promoted a broader understanding of varying interests.

The roles included: Water District, Agriculture / Private Interest, City, County, Investor Owned Water Utility, State Water Resources Control Board, and a Regional Wastewater Agency.

“Roleplaying required participants to think about aspects of One Water that they wouldn’t normally encounter in their day to day work,” said Jeffery, who helped to design the workshop approach with a team of WSC experts.

Eric Casares, of Carollo Engineers, was a participant and served as the Irrigation District lead at the table.

“It was a challenging role because I don’t have a ton of experience in that field. It took a lot of energy to try to think about how an irrigation district would approach a specific problem,” said Eric.

Jeffery outlined the additional session goals: “We wanted to have multiple beneficial outcomes from the session. We wanted to simulate different challenges, and create an exercise where people would have to put themselves in a different position. The water industry today is struggling with stratification and silos. We had to get people out of their comfort zones in order for them to be able to fully embrace the One Water concept.”

There were five tables formed, and each came up with a unique moniker that Benjamin, broadcast out in a Twitter feed. The groups were focusing on their challenges and solutions, with the reporter tweeting progress reports for the other groups to hear.

“Jeffery read the twitter feed out loud,” Benjamin recalls “Everyone in the groups were engaged and passionate, and really got into their roles. There was a lot of excitement in the room.”

The challenges presented in the game were not simple ones. They emulated the complex regional projects that water professionals encounter every day. The twist is that the participants had to approach the problems from a different perspective. They had to put aside their own experiences and background and think of the bigger picture.

“One Water is a concept that has been around a long time, but just didn’t have a good understanding. In engineering we call it ‘comprehensive planning’, with the goal of maximizing the efficiency of water planning. The One Water concept has taken on a whole new life. Integration plays a higher role in planning. Recycled water has come to be attainable, and now smaller communities are taking on these projects. Recycled water is the tie that binds all these projects together. It is all about the value of water.” – Eric Casares

“The number of different solutions people came up with within my group; especially seeing some biases exposed; and how many different solutions the other groups came up with for the same problems we were looking at was eye opening,” recalled Eric.

“One Water is how we interact with water. Our decisions, our planning, our investments, all can be perceived from the One Water perspective. We need to break down the silos and implement the concept.” -Jeffery Szytel

One Water is a complex concept to implement. But with the right vision, leadership and ability to bring all interests to the table, we achieve lasting One Water solutions demonstrating all water has value.

“There are so many competing interests for water right now. Water is essential to everything we do. In the past wastewater was something we just wanted to ignore. ‘Get it away’ was the goal. When I started in this industry a good day at the plant was when no one knew you’re there, and no one visited. Now, we don’t have to hide anymore. Our community engages with the entire process, and we can use One Water to encapsulate the knowledge based decisions we make. We are so proud of what we are doing. We don’t need to hide anymore.” – Carrie Mattingly


“Water professionals know all water has value. The branding provided by One Water makes the concept more accessible to those outside the industry. We are all facing the same issues, but have different solutions. Through my participation in the panel I learned the extent to which smaller communities are able to support larger projects, while the roleplaying game provided realistic conversations about the different aspects. The real take-away from the session was the ability to step out of your own interests to work with others to make a bigger, better solution.” – Rebecca Bjork

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