Natural Infrastructure and Investments in Watershed Services Entering the Mainstream

As with any project, the end of a grant period offers the opportunity to assess the progress made and the way to continue moving forward in the next phase.  Recently, I had the opportunity to sit down with Jan Cassin, Director of the Water Initiative, and discuss the changes that have gone on in the water arena over the past two years and the prospects for natural and green infrastructure approaches in the years to come.

First of all, congratulations are in order for getting approval for Phase 2 of the project.  The Phase 2 process 111011129_f63ef2f2ed_bwas quite intensive, and I know that the proposal framework in some ways changed quite a bit from the Phase 1 activities. What was some of the major feedback that this project got based on the peer review of Phase 1?

The thing that came out most strongly was that the excitement is building about the potential for mechanisms like IWS to really change the way we manage water. The idea of using natural infrastructure or green infrastructure has been around for a long time, but now the concept is starting to enter the mainstream. The idea is generating a lot of excitement now, because more people understand the importance of managing water more sustainably and the role that natural and green infrastructure can play in that.

Why do you think this change in focus is coming about?

To an extent, the public sector and the nonprofit sector have been working along these lines for quite a while, but in the last few years, the private sector and the development sector are gaining awareness of the importance of managing water at an ecosystem level, rather than a more focused approach on pipes and managing within factories or communities.  That’s one of the things that’s been really nice about working with the Swiss – they’ve been at the forefront of some of these issues.

How so?

cc04The Swiss are very focused on water and the sustainability agenda. They approach the issue holistically in the context of sustainable development – for both people and ecosystems.  In some ways, we are trying to shift the paradigm of water management and it’s been exciting, especially in the last few years, to see our partners get intrigued about the possibilities offered by investments in watershed services and continue their support of our project.

Do you think that this paradigm shift towards green and natural infrastructure is happening throughout the water sector?

I really do think that it’s starting to permeate the entire water sector. Last year at World Water Week, there were quite a few presentations on natural infrastructure, integrating gray and green infrastructure, and the role of nature-based solutions to support the water-food-energy nexus. The interest just seems to be growing, with a number of conferences incorporating these themes. The group that’s planning the 7th World Water Forum includes a number of people at the center of the NI approach to water management.

Many IWS projects struggle with finding long-term partners to pay for the ecosystem services being providers. Increasing partnerships with potential payers from the private sector is a target area for Phase 2. How are we moving forward on that front?

The collaboration that we’ve started with the CEO Water Mandate has been really exciting.  We’re actually working together with them to host a meeting in April (a few weeks before Katoomba Peru). It’s part of their own annual meeting, but we will be coming in to talk about how IWS can play a role in the corporate water stewardship initiatives that they promote.

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How will this meeting fit into Katoomba Peru?

The CEO Water Mandate is very interested in our work in Latin America, especially with the environmental laws, water funds, and investments in watershed services projects.  The organization is interested in engaging there, taking advantage of what we’re doing and then strengthening their own efforts.

Does the CEO Water Mandate or its constituent organizations have a particular interest in Peru?

A number of companies are active in the Lima watershed, including the Rimac, so they are particularly interested in the water fund that is being developed by Aquafondo, as well as the initiatives that are going on elsewhere in the basin.  These organizations have a significant interest in making sure that the disparate initiatives are aligned, that everyone is working together.  Greater alignment between initiatives obviously makes it easier for corporations, but it’s also part of the global focus areas of the Mandate, which is promoting collective action.

Collective action for managing water?

Yes. While constituent organizations are doing their individual water stewardship, looking at the water use within their supply chains and operations and figuring out how to reduce water usage, there is also an awareness that sustainable water management means engaging with other people in the watershed as well. This meeting in April is a great opportunity to explore a particular case where we can examine the impact of collective action and then how we can strengthen the management approaches within the Rimac basin.

Both the Swiss and the CEO Water Mandate have also been active in promoting and proposing water-specific ICSU paper on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) published by Naturegoals for the Post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals.  Will the SDGs be an important point of discussion at Katoomba Peru and the earlier meeting?

Definitely.  One of the themes of the Katoomba Peru is aligning policy in a number of different areas (forests, water, agriculture) in order to promote sustainable development. The Water Mandate is very interested in thinking about how the broader international establishment of these goals will trickle down and influence how water is managed on the ground.  A lot of the discussion during the April 9th meeting will be about what the proposed goals would look like on the ground in the Rimac.  There is a desire for the goals to be actionable and written in a way that moves the development community forward.

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