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World Water Day 2021 – Valuing Water Today, and Every Day

Recognizing how water both affects us and connects us.

It is an exciting time to be in Water. As the Global Water Director for Jacobs, I have visibility into what is happening across the world in the water market. I witness first-hand how our teams are locally and globally collaborating to solve our clients’ complex challenges related to safe, sustainable, and equitable water management. From my vantage point, I am pleased to see a heightened focus on water as a resource and today, on World Water Day, we have yet another opportunity to celebrate the value of water.

This year’s theme is “Valuing Water”, and it extends beyond thinking about water as an economic-based commodity. It recognizes water’s role in the global cycles of our planet; its connections to land, food, and energy; and perhaps most importantly, its influence on our cities, our societies, and our cultures. Stated simply, this year we recognize how water both affects us and connects us.

At Jacobs our appreciation for the value of water is linked to the three foundational elements of our OneWater approach. First, we recognize that all water has value. As a global organization, Jacobs’ greatest strength lies in understanding what makes each watershed, each community, and each water-related challenge unique. This understanding provides our teams with a vision for the true value of water - a vision that is shared with our clients and our communities.

Second, we understand that all water challenges are interconnected. Our teams recognize the interconnections among elements of the water cycle and water users and, perhaps most importantly, the synergies with non-water markets like transportation, energy, and the built environment. Our ability to integrate across disciplines allows us to deliver solutions that coincide with the multi-faceted objectives of OneWater approaches that consider environmental, economic, and social impacts and benefits from how we manage water across the water landscape.

Third, we’re committed to developing water solutions that are sustainable, inclusive, and equitable. Our local teams have a global focus, leveraging an integrated network of knowledge and experience to question and reimagine water-related challenges, and breaking apart assumptions and presumptions, so we can shape sustainable and equitable solutions for the future.

With Jacobs’ OneWater approach, we help our clients implement the most effective and efficient solutions to solve the most pressing water management challenges. Two recent projects that highlight how we work with clients in “Valuing Water” are the Cutter Lateral Reach 21 Water Treatment Plant in New Mexico, and the St. Petersburg, Florida, Integrated Water Resources Master Plan.

Cutter Lateral Reach 21 Water Treatment Plant: Supporting the Navajo Nation and southwest Jicarilla Apache Nation with providing safe, reliable, and clean water

In the southwest U.S., climate change poses challenges for a region that is projected to get hotter and dryer. Parts of New Mexico rely on rapidly depleting groundwater resources that aren’t meeting existing demand. In fact, a 2009 Final Environmental Impact Statement found that groundwater levels for the city of Gallup, New Mexico, dropped approximately 200 feet over the previous 10 years. Today more than 40% of Navajo Nation households depend on hauling water to meet their daily needs.

Inadequate water supply also impacts the ability of the Jicarilla Apache people to live and work outside the reservation town of Dulce. In addition, many improvements are needed for water for irrigation, livestock, commercial, businesses, health care, schools and other facilities. 

To address this critical adaption, resilience and environmental justice issue, Congress authorized the $1.5 billion Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project, as part of the Navajo Nation San Juan River Basin NM Water Rights Settlement Agreement. The project achieved a major milestone in 2020 with the substantial completion and plant acceptance of the new Cutter Lateral Reach 21 Water Treatment Plant, including four miles of raw and finished water transmission mains.  With Jacobs as the design-build lead, the 3.5-million-gallons-per-day greenfield project – which involves the treatment and conveyance of water from the Cutter Reservoir – will provide a clean, reliable and long-term water source for the Navajo and Jicarilla Apache communities along the Cutter Lateral, in a phased rollout.

While Jacobs’ Operations and Maintenance (O&M) team continues with six months of plant operations under our Design-Build Contract, the owner/operator for the downstream consecutive water systems (Navajo Tribal Utility Authority [NTUA]) will continue to introduce plant water into multiple distribution systems this spring. After spring 2021, Jacobs will achieve final completion, and will continue to operate the plant under a contract with Reclamation for another year before O&M responsibilities are transferred to NTUA.

St. Petersburg, Florida: Applying a watershed-based approach to define water management solutions and strengthen partnerships with stakeholders

St. Petersburg, Florida, is situated on a peninsula between the Gulf of Mexico and Tampa Bay. Recreational water quality is a vital component of the local economy.  As such, it is imperative the city ensure wastewater effluent and stormwater discharges to surface waters surpass water quality standards. Additionally, the city experienced sewer overflows during tropical storm events in 2015 and 2016.  These extreme rain events impaired the city’s collection system, caused widespread flooding, and overloaded the capacity of treatment facilities. The intensity and duration of storm events also prompted concerns about climate science and the forecasted sea-level rise for the Tampa Bay area. 

City leadership requested a long-term strategy that addresses all community and infrastructure needs including: protecting human health, improving water quality, managing stormwater as a resource, supporting economic benefits, supporting quality of life attributes, enhancing the vitality of communities, mitigating potential climate change impacts, and developing integrated water resources solutions. Jacobs supported the city with applying a OneWater approach and developed the city’s Integrated Water Resources Master Plan (IWRMP). 

The IWRMP includes plans and recommendations that overlap with transportation, water supply, drinking water, wastewater, biosolids, reclaimed water, stormwater, and surface waters, while also considering the following topics related to sustainability and resiliency:

  1. Potential community enhancements (such as lighting, drainage, and tree canopy).
  2. Adjacent infrastructure warranting repair or replacement (piping, manholes, hydrants, valves, etc).
  3. Construction coordination with other investments (transit, roadway improvements, utilities, parks, greenways, blueways, and urban redevelopment corridors).
  4. Long-term benefit with respect to urban heat islands, energy conservation, sea-level rise, microburst weather and extreme tropical events.

These projects are two of many that demonstrate how, when all stakeholders work together under a OneWater approach, we can address complex challenges in a way that values water for all. The OneWater approach provides our communities the foundations they need to flourish and grow and, most importantly, to value water.

Susan Moisio is Jacobs’ Global Water Director, leading our team of more than 6,000 visionaries and doers to develop innovative, sustainable and comprehensive solutions for tomorrow. She is an advocate for the OneWater approach; with no new water on Earth, communities cannot afford to waste this precious resource.

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