News | February 25, 2014

How Can We Ensure The Future Resiliency Of Our Urban Water Supply?

That’s the question The Johnson Foundationat Wingspread posed to key water experts this week.

Cities in certain regions of the United States could be caught unprepared to meet water demands if they do not take proactive steps now to diversify their water supply. Getting out ahead of our water security challenges and achieving long-term sustainability of the nation’s water resources in the face of climate change, energy demands, diminishing groundwater supplies, financial challenges and other resource constraints is going to require a comprehensive and cross-sector approach.

So, to advance the conversation, we posed this question to six water experts across a range of sectors:

Ensuring a safe and reliable source of fresh water is fundamental to life.  This is increasingly challenging in growing urban areas where intense water demands from residential, commercial, industrial and energy sectors is the new norm. It poses a similar challenge to the large swaths of the country that are experiencing long-term drought or reaching the limits of their current supply.

From your vantage point, and drawing on your expertise and experience, what do you see as one of the major challenges to the future resiliency of our urban water supplies, and what corresponding opportunity or approach do you recommend to overcome that challenge?

Their answers have provocative and timely implications and can be viewed here:

The dialogue is part of Charting New Waters, a Johnson Foundation at Wingspread initiative dedicated to catalyzing new solutions to U.S. freshwater challenges. Charting New Waters brings together experts from across the public, private and NGO sectors, as well as other stakeholders to focus on the operational, institutional and market-related challenges that our water and wastewater utilities need to overcome.

Inspiring Solutions, an online forum, is a microcosm of what The Johnson Foundation at Wingspread is – a place to convene, share ideas, and find innovative solutions with sustained impact.

Key passages are below. To read the full articles, go to

Nancy Stoner, Acting Assistant Administrator for the Office of Water at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Jay Jensen, Associate Director of Land and Water at the White House Council on Environmental Quality:

Water scarcity in both urban and rural areas is a pressing concern for Americans, especially in light of a changing climate. One of the biggest challenges facing communities is the increasing severity of storms and weather events like drought. It’s time to modernize the policies underpinning the needed investment to tackle these challenges and to bring forth innovative solutions through partnerships between the public and private sectors. President Obama’s Administration is improving water resource management at the federal level through a number of initiatives grounded in principles that give communities a voice, make communities safer and generate economic opportunity.

Albert Cho, Vice President of Strategy and Business Development at Xylem Inc:

The biggest threat to the future resiliency of urban water supplies is not an external force, such as drought or climate change, though these are clearly fundamental challenges.  Nor is it a question of lacking technology or viable models for sustainable water management: Myriad solutions are available and tested at scale.  Rather, the biggest challenge is us – more specifically, our collective inability to mobilize an engaged and informed constituency capable of motivating decision-makers to invest in the infrastructure we need to prepare for a more water-scarce future.

Cynthia Lane, Director of Engineering & Technical Services at American Water Works Association:

Water utilities have historically relied upon water supplies that have always sustained them – such as lakes, groundwater basins, and rivers with many “straws” – and only recently do they need to look outside those traditional sources.  Wastewater and stormwater have not been viewed as viable options for drinking water sources, further restricting the ability of a water utility to supplement an existing water resource portfolio or supplant a currently unsustainable supply. 

Dick Luthy, Director of ReNUWIt:

In response to the challenge, an increasing number of cities are taking bold steps to increase water availability by developing local supplies from sources once thought to be undrinkable.  These urban pioneers are part of a quiet revolution that promises to create a water supply that will replace much of the expensive and increasingly unreliable infrastructure built during the 20th century.

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

Thirty years ago most of us would have laughed at the fact that we might run out of water in the United States, or that water shortages would affect more than 40 out of 50 states.  However, it is indeed happening. In California, 2013 was the driest in the state’s recorded history – and the third consecutive year of what Gov. Jerry Brown is calling a “mega drought.” Reservoirs serving major population centers are dwindling to 10 percent or less of their capacity. Aqueduct deliveries of water have been reduced to nearly zero. Seventeen California cities have less than 120 days left of water supply. And this is the rainy season. Beginning soon, it will not rain at all for months.

About The Johnson Foundation
The Johnson Foundation at Wingspread is dedicated to serving as a catalyst for change by bringing together leading thinkers and inspiring new solutions on major environmental and regional issues. For more informarion, visit

SOURCE: The Johnson Foundation at Wingspread