Input from water utility managers on the term “Resilience”

“I take resilience to mean you have a system that through adaptive management will continue functioning, which is how I think of the term sustainability.” (North Pacific)

“I think in my mind it means long-lasting, strength, the ability to survive, kind of thing. A word that is more common in my field is reliability – having that back-up plan or piece of equipment available. If one pump dies, we have another to throw on immediately. More common buzzword than resilience.” (Great Lakes)

“When I was speaking earlier about redundancy, I think of resilience as similar term. Whole idea of asset management and what we’re doing with our assessment study is a form of addressing the need for resilience, absolutely.” (Mid-Atlantic)

Resilient communities are defined as having the ability to maintain desired outcomes in the face of adversity. While the concept of resilient communities has emerged largely in response to sudden environmental shocks and fears of future crises, it has important implications for understanding the various forms of steady, gradual deterioration in environmental conditions that threaten sustainability, such as threats to public water supply and water infrastructure. Public recognition of the importance of a sustainable water supply for the health and safety, environmental integrity, and economic viability has grown (Federation of Canadian Municipalities, 2002), largely through the realization of the unsustainability of past practice and management (Bakker, 2003).

The goal of this research study is to contribute to our understanding about which features of governance capacity are important for building resilience in cities from 8 coastal regions, including 1) New England, 2) Mid-Atlantic, 3) Southeast, 4) Great Lakes, 5) Gulf of Mexico, 6) North Pacific 7) Mid-Pacific and 8) South Pacific. Coastal areas offer a highly relevant setting for conducting this research given their rapidly increasing share of the world’s population and the socio-economic pressures confronting governance systems, as well as their particular vulnerability to climate change and water resource concerns.

This study begins the process of addressing that larger question by asking utility managers around the coastal areas of the US what they are most concerned about and where their priorities lay. In response to a series of semi-structured questions, these utility managers confirmed some of the themes that dominate the literature on resilience and adaptive capacity, but also introduced additional themes and provided a decidedly practical spin on core concepts such as public participation and democratization, collaboration, and innovation. We have more work to do to explore possible association between the themes that the interviewees raised and the governance structures of the agencies that they lead.