Sailing New Waters with Strangers


Recently, around our office, we have been discussing strangers.  Not the kind that you were taught about in grade school (remember those Stranger Danger posters?) – but people with different perspectives that we might learn from – and connect and collaborate with.  Collaboration has been a key tenet of NACWA for years, and reaching out to “strangers” is an opportunity we have come to embrace. 

Sailing New Waters with the Johnson Foundation

NACWA members and staff joined over 600 policy experts from over 260 organizations in the Johnson Foundation’s six year effort, Charting New Waters. The diverse group, including friends like DC Water, Hampton Roads Sanitation District, and New York City Department of Environmental Protection, joined together with new collaborators like The Gates Family Foundation, Honeywell, and the Colorado School of Mines, to examine challenges and develop recommendations related to freshwater resources in the U.S.  The capstone report, Navigating to New Shores: Seizing the Future for Sustainable and Resilient U.S. Freshwater Resources was released last week.  The report offers a set of principles to help guide future efforts, many of which are already part of NACWA’s culture:

  • Forge partnerships and collaborate to solve problems 
  • Develop integrated solutions 
  • Incentivize and promote innovation 
  • Highlight multiple benefits
  • Recognize the value of water 
  • Plan for adaptation to and mitigation of climate change impacts 
  • Balance human and environmental needs 
  • Design infrastructure to restore ecosystem function
  • Prioritize local water sources 
  • Redefine “waste” as valuable resources 
  • Right-size water systems and services 
  • Tap into sustainable financing streams 
  • Ensure accountability 

While the policy recommendations outlined in the capstone report are the recommendations of the Johnson Foundation and do not necessarily reflect the views of the participating organizations and experts, this report brought together individuals from the water sector and beyond to discuss critical issues and transformative solutions. 

Initiatives on Shore – The Green Infrastructure Collaborative 

Also taking place last week, NACWA joined representatives of over 25 partner organizations, the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), and eight federal agencies to support the launch of The Green Infrastructure Collaborative, part of the federal government’s broader obligation to the President’s Climate Action Plan.  NACWA is no stranger to working with federal agencies and NGO Collaborative members, but public lands groups and academic institutions are examples of new partnerships.   

As part of the launch, EPA released a statement of support outlining specific commitments from NACWA and other Collaborative members to advance cooperation and coordination around green infrastructure initiatives.  This statement is the culmination of NACWA’s effort to re-sign the 2007 GI Statement of Intent, which reiterate the Association’s continued promotion of green infrastructure and watershed-based approaches under the Water Resources Utility of the Future (UOTF) initiative and through its advocacy, outreach, and educational efforts.  Our commitment includes:

  • Identifying collaborative partners for integrated planning and green infrastructure program implementation; 
  • Ensuring key decision makers in the federal government are aware of the benefits of hybrid sustainable (gray and green) infrastructure; and, 
  • Supporting funding and legislation for innovative approaches to wet weather management.

By joining the Collaborative, we joined friends and “strangers” to work together to highlight the benefits of green infrastructure, including improved air quality, reduced energy use, mitigated climate change effects, and enhanced economic and social impacts. The end result being a stronger voice on an important issue that effects everyone.

While getting out of our comfort zone is a challenge, the end result can be one of added benefit on a multitude of levels – maybe collaborations with “strangers” isn’t that dangerous after all.

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