Growing up in Miami, Florida, my childhood was sprinkled with too many hurricanes to count, including a Category 5 storm whose eye rolled straight over our home. The same tropical waters of Biscayne Bay that make South Florida an alluring place to live, also pose a great danger for the area’s inhabitants. The threats Florida is facing in regards to climate change, severe weather events, and rising sea levels need to be addressed now more than ever.
That’s why I was especially excited to attend the Future of Water Summit 2022 in Miami hosted by SWAN Member, One Water Academy. The event was the first ever dedicated to operationalising an end-to-end, One Water framework for utilities in the US, with Miami-Dade County being the first county nationwide to have a fully funded strategy department developing a One Water Master Plan. Ultimately, the “One Water” approach seeks to disrupt siloed water systems management taking a holistic approach to water resources – including surface, ground, stormwater, and recycled. Miami-Dade’s plan aims to collaborate with the 34 municipalities in the county to protect water through an integrated watershed approach.
Recognising the value of cross agency collaboration, the Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact was born to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and build climate resilience across Southeast Florida. This alliance strives to create regional tools and standards across four Southeast Florida counties, while coordinating action in order to implement regional climate solutions and avoid duplicative efforts.
Additionally, through its “Connect 2 Protect” program, Miami-Dade County Water and Sewer Department is working to extend sanitary sewer services to residents with at-risk septic systems to protect public health and natural resources. As groundwater levels rise, even uncompromised septic systems can leach unwanted nutrients into our groundwater and discharge into Biscayne Bay. The county is currently investing $126 million in General Obligation Bond funds into this program. Of the 120,000 properties served by septic systems, 9,000 have been marked as compromised. The conversion order will be prioritised based on environmental, social and economic ranking criteria.
A key theme of the Conference was the value of Smart One Water, which aims to integrate research and technological advancement via digital infrastructure, analytics and automation technologies, and human-computer interfaces (See diagram below). As part of its Smart One Water journey, Miami-Dade is currently undergoing a four month long pilot program with Olea Edge Analytics. The innovative program uses AI-powered technology and blockchain architecture to locate meters undercharging large commercial and industrial water users. Locations are analysed for potential underbilling and water waste missed by traditional meters. Smart solutions like this ultimately provide multiple benefits by saving dollars and protecting the environment.
As the summit drew to a close, I reflected on how my hometown has really redirected the narrative. When faced with uncertainty, they chose to take the first step and write their own water future. The Future of Water Summit left me with a clear message: now is the time to elevate our awareness and inclusively innovate the future of water together.