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Strategic Visioning of Urban Water Management 2050 - Workshop Report

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According to the UN (2014) "Globally, more people live in urban areas than in rural areas, with 54 per cent of the world’s population residing in urban areas in 2014. Today, the most urbanized regions include Northern America (82 per cent living in urban areas in 2014), Latin America and the Caribbean (80 per cent), and Europe (73 per cent).  As described in the OECD (2015)  report, ‘Cities are major contributors to national economies and play a key role as nodes in global markets. But cities can only develop sustainably when they provide reliable water supply and sanitation services to city dwellers and manage risks of too much, too little or too polluted water. Cities in OECD countries have not solved water management. While they currently enjoy relatively high levels of protection against water risks, they face disquieting challenges, including the proven difficulty of upgrading and renewing existing infrastructures, and heightened uncertainty about future water availability and quality."

The OECD report described several emerging future challenges that threaten urban water security: These include:
  • Infrastructures, which underlie water security cities in OECD countries, are aging and require upgrading. The prevailing business models for urban water management fail to attract needed financial sources.
  • Urban water management faces emerging pressures, such as more-stringent health and environmental standards, diffuse pollution, competition to access the resource, increased intensity and frequency of extreme weather (affecting precipitation and evaporation) and more generally, higher uncertainty about future water availability and demand. Cities in OECD countries, however, are locked-in technical trajectories, and retrofitting existing infrastructure is particularly challenging.
  • Water governance in cities is hindered by several gaps, such as information asymmetries, sectoral fragmentation and limited capacities. Moreover, institutional structures are changing, driven by national and international laws and regulations, territorial reforms, decentralisation and the reallocation of competences across jurisdictions. These changes affect the capacity of cities and other actors to manage water at the appropriate scale. (OECD, 2015:18) 
During the CWWA Window in Ottawa (2017) workshop: ‘Strategic Visioning of Urban Water Management 2050’ the challenges associated with Urban Water Management were explored. The participative and creative workshop identified 4 interrelated topics: SMART Cities, Security, Sustainability and Resilience as key areas that will shape the future of Urban Water Management.

Discussion of Results

Participative strategic visioning and planning can clarify vision and direction, prioritize strategic goals and inspire stakeholders to work together to create the ideal future. The traditional process of planning typically involves internal and external environmental scans, analysis of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats and the identification of strategies and changes required to deal with them. As a high engagement, strengths based approach; this workshop applied Appreciative Inquiry (AI) as an exciting alternative to traditional strategic planning. The planning process engaged everyone in aligning strengths of the water sector with opportunities, aspirations and desired results, and the energy and commitment required to turn goals into action is generated.
 
A systems thinking approach using rich pictures captured the insights generated and facilitated the conversation during the workshop. 
 

 

Of note, findings regarding structural/technical/organizational/policy factors associated with urban water security highlighted the importance of a holistic strategic perspective. What emerged from the workshop was that matters pertaining to safety and security of the urban water must permeate the belief system and mental models of the water sector. 
From the rich pictures and the ensuing discussion on strategic vision 4 interrelated topics emerged: SMART Cities; Security; Sustainability and Resilience as key areas that will shape the future urban water management. 

SMART City
It was recognized from the discussions that future cities will evolve into complex ‘ecosystems’ comprising systems-of-system human-physical-cyber environments (or ecosytems). The increasing size of urban populations creates significant challenges and demands on water management for future cities. Critical will be the complex interactions between Human-Cyber–Physical Systems that will aim to improve the quality of life and to proactively manage water. This brings with it new and complex cascading failure modes that may arise out of unforeseen or emergent system characteristics and will challenge how we deal with already ageing physical infrastructure and the integration of new technologies.
Innovation for the future urban water management will consider the following:
SMART Grids
Integrated sensors, communications and networking systems
Water network modelling and visualization
Technology, policy and innovation development

Security
Water systems are vulnerable to a variety of natural and human-caused threats. Growing concerns about critical infrastructure becoming potential targets by terrorist attacks have contributed to a new dimension of security threats to utilities. The water sector is by no means immune to such threats. Natural disaster such as Hurricane Katrina highlighted the vulnerabilities across all critical infrastructures including the water sector. Events like Walkerton and Flint Michigan contribute to the security threat landscape. Future cities will not be immune to such security threats. With an interconnected society, cyber threats that affect the water sector in a SMART city environment will have significant impact.
The results from the workshop highlighted the requirement to integrate security and safety concerns into future water sector development plans. New ways of doing business in the water sector do not eliminate threats but often change them.   

Sustainability: availability, accessibility, affordability, acceptability. 
A sustainable urban water system needs to develop effective strategies to ensure availability, accessibility, affordability, and acceptability of water over time. 
 
With consideration of the Urban water challenges of 2050, sustainability includes:
  •  Availability focuses on the existence of adequate supplies of water resources and reserves, and effective infrastructure to support water distribution. 
  • Accessibility refers to the spatial implications of water supply and demand. It also entails equitable distribution of water services to all community members.
  • Affordability means that the share of income that households must spend to meet their basic water needs should not exceed a certain threshold
  • Acceptability refers to efficiency of water distribution. This also includes minimizing environmental impacts of water systems and preventing disproportionate exposure of environmental risks. 
Resilience
The crisis in Flint, Michigan revealed how a loss of safe drinking water in a compromised water infrastructure can devastate a community. The loss of water services can have significant effects on other critical infrastructures and trigger cascading events. A major theme that emerged from the workshop is the requirement for understanding the interdependencies across the critical infrastructure sectors and through that building resilience within and across the sectors. Future Urban water management must be designed with resilience in mind. Stakeholder and community engagement with scenario planning play a significant role in designing resilience. 
 

Conclusion
The strategic visioning highlighted how cities can make the best use of innovative approaches and technologies to support future urban water management. Smart technologies, distributed systems and green technologies will define the future urban water landscape. Coupled with this will be the requirement for SMART non-technical innovation along the lines of creative financing, policy development and governance of the water sector. 
 
Following the workshop, it was recommended that a national urban water technical committee be established to support the insights from the workshop. Further, a white paper will be developed that focuses on Urban Water Management in Canada and will leverage the insights from CSSP-2015-CP-2095 Strengthening the Resilience of the Water Sector, scheduled to be completed Dec 2017. Further, international collaboration with OECD and other countries will be fostered to support global urban water management. 

 
 

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