One Water Summit 2019

Austin, Texas

Austin, Texas

Last week the Water Main visited Austin, Texas for the 2019 One Water Summit, hosted by the U.S. Water Alliance. We returned with a spiffy award for our Great Lakes Water Equity project with APM Reports. We also returned with stories of utilities, NGOs, activists and others around the country striving for clean, abundant, accessible water. Later this week, you’ll hear some of those stories in a series of mini-profiles. To set the stage, read on for a summary of the One Water Summit’s opening plenary, moderated by Marketplace’s Scott Tong.

‘Water equity is the future of water’: Texas’ One Water Journey
Earthea Nance, Texas Southern University
Kathleen Jackson, Texas Water Development Board
Spencer Cronk, Austin City Manager
Emily Warren, Mitchell Foundation
Scott Tong (moderator), Marketplace

As the climate crisis unfolds across Texas, floods and droughts will continue to hit the most vulnerable communities hardest. Last week’s inundation from Tropical Depression Imelda was yet another deadly example. That’s why the panelists called for a focus on equity in resilience planning.

“Water equity is the future of water,” said Nance, who holds a doctorate in Civil & Environmental Engineering. She added that recovery efforts following 2017’s Hurricane Harvey disproportionately helped wealthier residents, even though “the flood waters affected everybody.”

Nance pointed toward provisions in last year’s Houston bonding bill as progress. Before the bill, the distribution of aid money for flood damage was largely tied to property value, meaning those with more expensive homes would receive more money. But Nance said that community activists helped ensure that, in the new bill, flood aid would be distributed more equitably.

The panelists also pointed to international examples of resilience planning that the U.S. could learn from. Nance said that a coalition partnership among engineers, researchers, architects and others brought water and sewer service to residents of northeastern Brazil for the first time in the 1980’s. Warren, who is working toward a doctorate in geography, added that the water crisis known as Day Zero in Cape Town, South Africa, “should serve as a cautionary tale.” She said the city’s water supply was within a month of running dry, but an effective public education campaign caused residents to conserve enough water to avert disaster.

The panelists agreed that coalition-building, public education, and setting the right price structure for water will be key to building an equitable water future. Check this blog in the coming days to hear directly from One Water Conference attendees on all these topics. In the meantime, check out Austin’s innovative 100-year Water Forward plan, which Cronk highlighted as a potential model for other cities in Texas and across the U.S.

CommunityDaniel Ackerman