Innovation

Metropolitan’s Foundational Actions Funding Program

On February 23, I was invited to present the keynote address at a technical conference organized by the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (Metropolitan) to present the results and accomplishments of 13 projects funded, in part, by Metropolitan’s Foundational Actions Funding Program (FAF). These projects represent an investment of approximately $3-million in research, technical studies, and pilot projects focused on reducing the barriers to future water supply innovations. More information on the FAF program can be found here. Below are some excerpts from my keynote. The entire address is available here.

It’s a pleasure to speak here today as part of Metropolitan’s Foundational Actions Funding Program and the 2015 update to its Integrated Resources Plan. As Deven [Upadhyay] mentioned, I worked on Metropolitan’s first IRP published in 1996. I checked, and that IRP had a planning horizon of 2020 – which seemed a long way off at the time. So frankly, I am grateful to be here at all.

Back in the 1990s, as a planner, I was enthusiastic about the chance to evaluate resource strategies that could reliably meet Southern California’s water demands, and be presented on so-called “exceedance curves” (still in use of course) that specifically quantified both the frequency and extent of future water supply shortages and surpluses. It offered board members information to make confident decisions regarding the level of service that Metropolitan would attain, and the amount of revenue that would be needed to do it.

Unfortunately, we can’t make those promises today with anything like the level of certainty we claimed in the 1990s; and we can’t deliver future water supplies without collaboration and partnerships that reach well beyond traditional institutional boundaries.

Why is this the case? Because, in my view, we’re confronted with the convergence of two forces that are game changers in our industry – one is the deep uncertainty of climate change, and the other is the extreme complexity of our radical transition to one-water-solutions – and all this while trying to maintain aging and outdated infrastructure.

When Metropolitan developed the concept of “foundational actions,” as part of its 2010 IRP update, I was genuinely impressed. It demonstrated a willingness to invest in research, technical studies, and pilot projects specifically focused on reducing the barriers to future water supply from all sources, at every scale.

That includes the renewal and repurposing of larger-scale centralized and decentralized infrastructure on one hand; and the micro-scale re-invention of urban landscape, stormwater management, and the built environment – one tiny change at a time – on the other. Helping bridge this apparent divide between the large-scale top-down and the micro-scale bottom-up worlds of innovation is one of the important reasons you’re here today.

We all need to rely a little more on creativity, imagination and a holistic sense of the continuity of all our efforts is essential to making change happen. We will never discover one optimal winning solution, because a single technological breakthrough will never emerge that can sustain us in a rapidly changing and unpredictable world.

We need to promote an adaptive culture of collaboration, supporting the efforts of everyone who is attempting to achieve the values and goals of a sustainable water future.

Let’s encourage and foster a growing multitude of good ideas at every scale, allowing them to co-exist and emerge from all directions and many diverse communities, as the best response to a future of rapid change and extreme uncertainty. I applaud Metropolitan on its commitment to spend resources on making that happen. And just as important, I congratulate you on your commitment and effort in support of Metropolitan’s foundational actions program. What we are observing here today is tangible proof that these innovative concepts and approaches can be made a reality.