This content was originally published on The Resilience Shift website. The Resilience Shift, a 5-year programme supported by Lloyd’s Register Foundation and hosted by Arup, transitioned at the end of 2021 to become Resilience Rising. You can read more about The Resilience Shift’s journey and the transition to Resilience Rising here.

City Action Plan findings to be shared at World Water Week as the City Water Resilience Approach goes live in Cape Town and Miami.

In March 2019, the City Water Resilience Approach was published as an innovative approach to help cities and utilities build water resilience at the urban scale. Louise Ellis, Water Engineer and Associate at Arup, has been involved with the Approach since the start. She tells us about the implementation of the approach in the first two cities: Cape Town and Miami.


The City Water Resilience Approach at World Water Week 2019

To find out more about the City Water Resilience Approach and the findings from Cape Town and Greater Miami and the Beaches, join us at World Water Week in Stockholm at these sessions:

  • Improving water resilience: From diagnosis to delivery (Wednesday 28th August, 14:00-15:30)
  • High Level Dialogue: Building a resilient future through water (Thursday 29th August, 11:00-12:30)


The City Water Resilience Approach from theory to practice

In 2018, as drought affected South Africa’s Western Cape, the city of Cape Town hit international headlines. It was approaching Day Zero, the day in which the city government would shut off piped water supply to 4 million citizens and ask them to collect water at points of distribution throughout the city. Over 12,000 km away in Greater Miami and the Beaches, headlines warn that sea-level rise would put Miami underwater and threaten the delicate balance of the Biscayne Aquifer, the main source of the city’s drinking water. These cities are not alone: nearly every mega-city in the world has faced water challenges in the last decade whether it be too little, like Mexico City, too much, like Dhaka or too polluted, like New Delhi.

The CWRA is supported by the Rockefeller Foundation and the Resilience Shift and has been developed in collaboration with eight cities from across the globe that are facing a range of water shocks and stresses: Cape Town, Greater Miami and the Beaches, Kingston-upon-Hull, Mexico City, Amman, Rotterdam, Greater Manchester and Thessaloniki. It has been developed by Arup in partnership with the Stockholm International Water Institute and 100 Resilient Cities.

The Approach holds two principles at its core:

Firstly, the water system, including the upstream and downstream catchment, is fundamental to the operation of a city. Shocks and stresses on the water system can have cascading impacts on a range of other city systems and, consequently, a systems-based approach is needed to improve the resilience of the water system. The Approach that incorporates an awareness of the cascading effects of shocks and stresses through the mapping of the water system and its interdependencies with other urban systems and the stakeholders involved. It also has a wider focus than operational resilience, looking at resilience in the round and incorporating the social value of water with the four dimensions of the City Water Resilience Framework: Leadership and Strategy; Planning and Finance; Infrastructure and Ecosystems and Health and Wellbeing.

Secondly, there are many stakeholders involved in a city’s water basin(s) and resilience can only be achieved if they work in partnership. By bringing together diverse stakeholders from the outset, the approach builds a shared understanding of the resilience of the water system as a foundation for the development of a co-owned action plan. The CWRA uses a five-stage approach to bring multiple stakeholders together to diagnose the strengths and weaknesses of the water system using quantitative and qualitative indicators and develop a collective action plan to address them.

In summer 2019, we implemented the approach in Cape Town and Greater Miami and the Beaches. Across workshops involving more than 130 stakeholders representing government, private sector, academia and communities with different perspectives in the two cities, the evidence has been collected to inform the baseline assessment of their water resilience of Cape Town and Miami.


Common water challenges for Cape Town and Miami

Although, the baseline assessments are specific for each city, there are clear similarities between the challenges that the two cities face which provide key learnings for cities facing water challenges:

  • Coordination between water stakeholders, especially those upstream, is challenging. Catchment-level partnerships or water management district organisations have a large role to play in facilitating resilient water management.
  • Cities’ urban systems (e.g. water, energy and transportation) are all connected and improved collection and sharing of data and information and collaboration between infrastructure operators will help them ensure informed decisions are made to prepare for, respond during, and recover after disaster, allowing critical infrastructure to continue to operate.
  • At all levels of decision-making across all organisations, data, technical knowledge and information needs to drive actions taken to improve resilience including in times of disaster and in long-term planning to ensure that future plans are robust, and leaders make “˜no regrets or least regrets’ decisions.
  • City governments and utilities need to engage their communities on how to be responsible water-citizens and how to prepare for water-related disasters by ensuring consistent core messages, networks of community champions and inclusive community engagement events that are multi-lingual and accessible. It is also important that cities and utilities build trust with communities and engage with them on water-related policies and programmes.
  • It is challenging for city governments and utilities to make the case for investment in resilience when they face current asset failures. Approaches such as the “˜Resilience Dividend‘ and multiple capitals approach highlight the co-benefits to resilience investment, strengthening the case.
  • City governments can improve their water resilience by incorporating the principles of water sensitive urban design and sustainable urban drainage into existing and new developments. While much focus has been given to the contribution of citizens to the reduction in water demand, a wider focus on sustainable commercial and industrial water use is needed.
  • Our water resources are essential to the functioning of cities. Adequate source water protection including regulation and enforcement is necessary to prevent the pollution and over-abstraction of water resources.

Based on a shared understanding of their strengths and weaknesses, water stakeholders in each city have collectively developed and prioritised a series of actions through workshops, which form their resilience action plan. The action plans identify lead and supporting stakeholders, a programme of activity for the next year, the approximate cost, the resilience value and measures of success. Capitalising on the momentum of the CWRA workshops, the owners of these mitigations have set up working groups to progress them through detailed scoping and feasibility to implementation.

With cities facing a more uncertain future, there is a need for knowledge, approaches and tools and the sharing of best practice on how to tackle the water challenges cities face. The cities of Cape Town and Miami have recognised the water challenges that they face and are tackling them head-on. Approaches like the CWRA offer the opportunity for other cities to join them.

The CWRA is supported by the Resilience Shift and The Rockefeller Foundation. It has been developed in partnership with Arup, the Stockholm International Water Institute and 100 Resilient Cities. The steering group includes the World Bank, 100 Resilient Cities, Arup, University of Massachusetts Amherst, Resolute Development Solutions and the Resilience Shift.

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