Why Cape Town and Miami are building resilient water systems
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Why Cape Town and Miami are building resilient water systems

Friday, 24 January 2020

The Water Resilience Profiles for the City of Cape Town and Greater Miami and the Beaches are now published, providing a framework for positive change.

Resilience for long-term answers

Cape Town had too little of it… while Greater Miami is surrounded by it.

For very different reasons both these major cities needed to find greater ‘resilience’ against water shocks and stresses. It is hoped that the City Water Resilience Approach (CWRA), a multi-stakeholder strategy, will provide the long-term answers needed.

Cape Town and Miami are the first two cities to commit to the CWRA. Cape Town recently endured its worst drought in recorded history but other challenges include the need to plan for future potential floods and other shocks.

Meanwhile, Miami and the Beaches is surrounded by water, even from below with the highly permeable Biscayne Aquifer, while facing hurricane risks, sea level rise and saltwater intrusion.

Improving water systems to fit unique cities

The CWRA is supported by Resilience Shift and the Rockefeller Foundation, and has been developed by Arup, the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI) and 100 Resilient Cities, along with eight city partners from around the world. Additional steering group partners include the World Bank, Resolute Development Solutions, the Global Commission on Adaptation, and the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

The aim of the CWRA is to embed urban water resilience into water systems in a way that best fits a city’s unique context.

This is designed to be a globally applicable, transparent, objective and evidence-based approach to create a shared understanding of water resilience of a city and collaboratively develop and implement a resilient action plan.

It can be used by public and private organisations, representatives from national and regional government, cities, utilities, catchment and basin authorities, the private sector and civil society groups.

Learning from Day Zero

Cape Town is emerging from the worst drought in its history, when recently it faced a ‘Day Zero scenario’, needing households and businesses to cut water consumption by 50 per cent to avoid critical shortages.

The city is using the CWRA to navigate present issues while assessing upcoming challenges and creating a “vision for the future” in the new Cape Town Water Strategy.

The recently published Cape Town Water Resilience Profile evaluates the wide-ranging factors that impact water management and service provision and assesses the impacts of water on all Capetonians.

It builds on other recent work initiated by the City, presented in the Cape Town Water Strategy of 2019, which captures “many lessons” from the drought, and makes a firm commitment to a ‘whole-of-society’ approach to make Cape Town a truly water sensitive city by 2040.

More than 40 water leaders from civil society, business, academia and government came together to contribute to the Profile, which has nine authors.

Next stages for Cape Town

The Profile has identified four main focus areas where leaders from across the water sector in Cape Town can work together to improve outcomes. These include:

  • Empowered communities – An ongoing effort is needed for improved and authentic engagement between government and communities.
  • Healthy urban spaces – There is significant potential for upscaling water-sensitive design features in buildings and urban spaces.
  • Protected natural environments – The expanding and densifying urban context of Cape Town poses risks to the city’s waterways and groundwater resources.
  • Effective disaster response and recovery – There is limited funding available for recovery from widespread water-related disasters in Cape Town. All three spheres of government should understand the risks of shock events, particularly in the context of a rapidly changing climate, and find ways to fund recovery when the need arises.

One conclusion of the Profile states: “There is momentum in Cape Town to continue building water resilience. Cape Town is a city which is thinking about water. Participants from a number of sectors that were present at the assessment workshops were engaged and knowledgeable. This is a strength of Cape Town which it can leverage off to further improve water resilience.”

Holistic water resource management in Miami

The Miami Water Resilience Profile mentions 60 major stakeholders playing a part – suggesting the two city projects cannot be accused of a lack of consultation with all interested parties.

Greater Miami and the Beaches (GM&B)— encompassing Miami-Dade County, the City of Miami, and the City of Miami Beach, is home to nearly three million people.

With much of its population living at or near to sea-level, GM&B faces serious water-related risks that are expected to increase over the coming decades due to climate change and sea-level rise.

As Miami developed its own Resilient305 Strategy, city leaders were aware of the need to address water resources and management in a more holistic way.

Seventeen of the 59 Resilient305 Actions are related to addressing water-related challenges including Action 54 of the Strategy to “Employ a One Water Approach”.

Establishing a One Water knowledge

Priority actions highlighted in the Profile include the need to:

  • Establish an open-data platform to improve data accessibility and sharing between key stakeholders to support sound decision-making.
  • Establish a One Water knowledge portal to improve capacity and knowledge sharing around water resilience including online training and seminars and case studies for water stakeholders.
  • Build collaboration pathways between governmental, community, academia, and other stakeholder groups to monitor advancement of actions addressing areas of lower scoring quantitative and qualitative indicators. This is to advance key joint projects to achieve social, environmental, and economic outcomes that benefit all.

“The insights generated from this approach will ultimately help to protect the lives and health and well-being of the region’s inhabitants and environmental assets,” said Hardeep Anand, deputy director, Miami-Dade County Water and Sewer Department.

Building resilience into decision making

Juliet Mian, technical director of Resilience Shift, said: “People need to know what to do differently, and the City Water Resilience Approach fills that gap, taking city water stakeholders through the key stages from system mapping, resilience assessment to option identification and prioritisation, whilst recognising all the complexities. The rigour and collaboration that sit behind it significantly enhance its value in practice.”

Resilience Shift provides knowledge and tools for those responsible for planning, financing, designing, delivering, operating and maintaining critical infrastructure systems.

Its aim is to ensure infrastructure systems are able to withstand, adapt to, and recover quickly from anticipated or unexpected shocks and stresses ¬now and in the future.

Supported by Lloyd’s Register Foundation and Arup and other partners, it receives independent technical advice from Cambridge University. It works with all those involved with critical infrastructure systems to accelerate a shift in thinking and practice that will result in more resilient infrastructure and a safer world.

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