New Course – Innovative Water Partnerships

By: Lindsay Key

A new course offered by the Center for Leadership in Global Sustainability (CLIGS) will explore how alternative approaches to water management can increase efficiency and reduce costs in the public water sector.

NR 5884 Innovative Water Partnerships debuts in Spring 2018 and will encourage students to examine regulatory,  legislative, and financing issues and challenges in the water sector. It will be co-taught by Seth Brown, principal and founder of Storm and Stream Solutions, LLC., and Dominique Lueckenhoff, deputy director of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Region 3 Water Protection Division.

At least 40 states anticipate water shortages by 2024, according to the EPA. This is due in part to the fact that the United States’ population has doubled over the past 50 years, and water demand has tripled. Moreover, water quality continues to deteriorate due to nonpoint source pollution, or pollution that comes from many sources, such as rainfall or snowmelt moving over or through the ground.

More than forty percent of the country’s lakes, rivers and streams are impaired due to pathogens, sediments, nutrients and toxics. There is a great need to develop and deliver systems that serve clients and communities efficiently and inexpensively while also conserving precious water sources, and improving the health of all available fresh water resources, which are under increasing demands.

Brown and Lueckenhoff say these challenges are best addressed through innovative performance partnerships that leverage the best public and private resources to achieve multi-functional solutions, yielding multi-beneficial outcomes.

An example of a public-private partnership would be when a local government puts a bid out for a private company to build a number of bioretention facilities, and then the two entities work together through the entire process of design, finance, and build, with the interest of achieving the best value for the money.

“That’s the advantage of a public-private partnership approach,” said Brown, an engineer currently pursuing a Ph.D. focused on water policy, economics, and systems engineering. “If you design, finance and build multiple structure all at once, you can reduce costs.”

Brown continued, “This approach is an alternative to more traditional project delivery processes referred to as ‘design-bid-build,’ in which a local government will bid out services for the design of infrastructure projects followed by another bid for construction services—a process that leads to long project delivery schedules and unnecessarily inflated costs without performance accountability.”

One particular type of partnership that will be examined in the course is the emerging platform known as the Community-Based Public-Private Partnership (CBP3), an adaptive performance-based Partnership that can be applied to a variety of water resource infrastructure needs, such as drinking water, wastewater, stormwater and integrated water management, including that of green infrastructure for managing rain as a resource.

The course will also allow students to explore other non-traditional water management approaches, such as incentive-based programs and market-driven frameworks.

“As someone who has managed and experienced the increasing challenges of providing for safe and healthy water for a variety of communities locally and nationally, I am excited to share next generation partnership approaches and tools with inspired problem-solvers, who, in turn can provide and advance these solutions in more places that desperately need them,” said Lueckenhoff, a scientist by training, and seasoned environmental manager, who recently received the 2017 Excellence in Public Leadership Award from the National Council for Public-Private Partnerships.

Lueckenhoff also noted that stormwater is the fastest growing water quality problem in many parts of the country. National groups have assessed that over $271 billion will be needed to overhaul the infrastructure over the next 25 years.

“Given this highly compelling need, we will have to embrace innovative technologies and collaborative partnerships to maximize the efficiency of current systems to retrofit aging infrastructure, while ensuring resiliency for the years to come,” she said.

Bruce Hull, a senior fellow with CLIGS and professor of forest resources and environmental conservation in the College of Natural Resources and Environment at Virginia Tech, helped identify the need for a water partnerships course as part of the curriculum for both the Online and XMNR Master of Natural Resources (MNR) programs.

“Water already constrains community development,” said Hull. “Communities that address this constraint will prosper while those that don’t will struggle.  The tools and theory developed and taught by Brown and Lueckenhoff provide practical, innovative, and powerful responses communities and professionals can use to address water challenges.”

Seth Brown and Dominique Luekenhoff will co-teach a new course on Innovative Water Partnerships.

_____________________________

Dominique Luekenhoff and Seth Brown are new members of the Virginia Tech Master of Natural Resources faculty. For more than 12 years, Ms. Luekenhoff has been the USA EPA Region 3 lead management point of contact on the Green Infrastructure (GI) and Urban Waters/Federal Partnership Initiatives in the Mid-Atlantic.  Her leadership has helped garner national recognition for Region 3’s GI and sustainable community activities, including EPA’s James W. Craig Pollution Prevention Leadership Award for efforts related to alternative financing and innovative P3s,  and the agency’s National Honor Award for Outstanding Leadership in Collaborative Problem-Solving. Mr. Brown’s 20-year career in the water sector includes areas ranging from fluvial geomorphology to technical training to policy/legal aspects, but his passion is stormwater. He has focused on design, analysis, and modeling of natural water systems such as stream assessment and restoration, watershed management, GIS services, as well as development and delivery of technical training focused on erosion and sediment control.  He is currently a PhD candidate at George Mason University focusing on water policy, economics and systems engineering; more specifically, the area of research is on the use of agent-based modeling to simulate the adoption of green stormwater infrastructure on private property through the use of non-traditional approaches, such as incentive-based programs, market-based frameworks, and public-private partnerships (P3s).