When Jeri Muoio became Mayor of West Palm Beach, Florida, March 2011, “we only had a couple of weeks of water supply left,” she recalls.
It was the early stage of the severe 2010-2013 drought that stretched across the entire southern United States. In California, it would extend into 2017. Texas exited 2015. For the rest of the South, including the Sunshine State, the hardship was more short lived, but no less challenging.
“When people think of [resilience in] Florida,” Muoio told The Resilience Journal in The Interview II below, “they think of hurricanes, but our main concern of late has been water.”
After moving swiftly to escape the scare with such measures as redirecting stormwater runoff, digging wells, reducing loss and lowering the intake at the city’s lake reservoir, “we now have a water plan in place, so that if we had that drought this year, it wouldn’t even be a blip on the radar.”
The significance of that story, and others that emerged from that moment, must not be lost on the rest of us, or on them.
Perhaps it is the brutal weight of 2017 and the $400 billion-or-so in disaster costs it delivered — and that was just in the U.S.
Or perhaps it is the growing chorus of serious scientists guaranteeing this will only get worse, with zero chance of relenting, as far into the future as their data can see.
Whatever may be the cause, every EarthX-like conference these days, no matter where it is held, evidences a grand shift accelerating.
It is the growing realization by city, corporate and NGO leaders that worst-case climate change, with all its catastrophic projections, might very well be stirring right in front of us, and that the smartest path forward has become making resilience an integral part of our lives and policies, as urgently as possible, or else.
Resilience, that is, is on ever more radars. For this Journal entry, we interviewed a selection of Symposium panelists in the three video calls you can see below. Do see them. They’re only about a half hour each, and all quite revealing.
Not just, or so much, for the plans and policies they tell, as lesson-valuable as they are, but precisely for the new role of resilience they bring to the foreground.
A profile of cities in a hurry
Dallas itself was in the house. James McGuire, Managing Director of the city’s Office of Environmental Quality, was a fellow panelist, along with Muoio and others, focused on how a whole-systems approach and stakeholder collaboration can be deployed to boost resilience.
McGuire was joined by Dallas Chief Resilience Officer Theresa O’Donnell in The Interview III below, and they both detail the extensive collaboration web the city has developed to manage any climate change coming its way: multiple city departments, the business community, NGOs, academia and surrounding cities.
Dallas’ story is particularly instructive to other jurisdictions around the world that are low-reg, or where stringent codes and regulations are not the preferred way of managing climate impacts.
“Because we work in this conservative environment, we have to take a more entrepreneurial approach,” O’Donnell said. “So this engagement of the private and non-profit sectors is a triple-win and insulates us from the barriers we would otherwise have.”
Another panel at the Symposium focused on the role of both business and Smart City technology in boosting the resilience of a metro area. Moderated by Bob Perciasepe, President of the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES), the discussion highlighted the imperative of including the business community in any city resilience plan, as well as having companies themselves develop their own plans.
Smart City technology, along with green infrastructure, which was also covered by the panel, have long been deployed as sustainability measures, or to slash carbon emissions and preserve natural resources.
Today, Perciasepe emphasized, they are also fundamental in climate adaptation. Smart City tech, for example, facilitates the movement of people and goods to accelerate disaster recovery and, more critically, save lives.
The Interview I: C2ES
Shooting for the stars
Mayor Muoio and West Palm Beach Sustainability Manager Penni Redford, for their part, shared the city’s drive to go from today’s four stars to five in the next two years, under the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Resilience STAR rating program.
STAR helps cities track seven resilience silos:
- Built environment
- Climate and energy
- Economy and jobs
- Education, arts and the community
- Equity and empowerment
- Health and safety
- Natural systems
“That is a systems approach, and we’ve taken the areas in STAR and incorporated them into our strategic plan,” the Mayor said. “We’re doing our strategic planning around those seven topic areas. All of us here in the city are [now] working on resilience.”
Palm Beach County is part of a four-county South Florida collaborative sharing science, teams and policies to build climate resilience — the others being Broward, Miami-Dade and Monroe — and that includes a cutting-edge future-risk modeling initiative with the help of the University of North Carolina’s National Environmental Modeling and Analysis Center and partner firms FernLeaf and Esri.
The Interview II: West Palm Beach
The future? Bring it on
If there is one city on constant drought footing, it is Dallas. Intense, multiyear droughts have been part of the landscape, said Environmental Quality’s McGuire, for decades, moving the entire North Texas region to become drought resilient for decades more.
As droughts are generally followed by heavy rains, the O’Donnell-McGuire team works with Dallas Water Utilities and neighboring cities and towns up and down Trinity River, which stretches into downtown Dallas, to guard against an epic flood event that would paralyze life and business in the city.
The city is also guarding against food shortages with an emphasis on inner-city vulnerable communities. Today, food deserts are being tackled as an equity-policy concern that would be exacerbated by a severe weather event, so that any progress motivated by equity doubles as a resilience step forward.
The Interview III: Dallas