By Alex King, Climate Action Program Manager; Mikelle Benfield, Climate Action Program Coordinator

March 28, 2024

When it comes to solving our climate crisis, bold leadership and collective action are key. In the face of this urgent and necessary work, we convened a One Water Leadership Institute on climate action, bringing together over 45 water sector leaders from across the country. The Institute provided a space for utility executives and staff, community organizations, engineers, and climate experts to gather and commit to supporting one another to further climate resilience and promote collaborative, innovative, and equitable solutions to the climate crisis.

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Local Leaders inspired attendees by telling the story of Miami’s climate action journey

Co-hosted alongside the Miami-Dade Water and Sewer Department, we grounded our conversations in the story of Miami-Dade County. Stories from local leaders, advocates, and utility staff from the Miami region highlighted how their efforts to reduce carbon pollution, advance climate justice, and bolster resilience hinged on leadership and collaboration. They also shared how centering the community’s identity as a water-based place helped them more effectively communicate climate challenges and build consensus and partnerships to not only adapt but also address the root causes of climate change.

“A community that is better prepared and informed is a community that can thrive.” – Yoca Arditi-Rocha, Executive Director, The CLEO Institute

Attendees dove into their climate action efforts and engaged in a poster walk and journey mapping exercise to develop an understanding of the way forward in their own work. This kickoff session reminded us that:

  • Action starts by knowing where you are before determining where you want to go. Considerations of partnerships, communication, financing, and regulations all impact pathways forward.
  • A transformative climate action journey will not be linear—it will require us to think differently, move past our fear of failure, and try new things.
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Attendees reflect on their progress, areas of strength, and opportunities within their own climate journeys

Common themes emerged across our two days together in Miami, which highlighted the critical role of One Water approaches for climate action. The Institute emphasized the importance of understanding present challenges, building collaborative partnerships, and ensuring solutions that center community needs.

“When we think about meaningful community engagement, it’s because there’s an [Environmental Justice] community in every state and every city. Please prioritize those. We’re talking about human lives. Pipes and infrastructure are important—but we’re talking about families and children.” – Paulina Lopez, Executive Director, Duwamish River Community Coalition

To implement these approaches, sessions highlighted the following key takeaways for action:

  • To break down silos and build partnerships, we need to focus on communication, education, and storytelling to help others understand the impact and meet people where they are—particularly decision-makers. Storytelling can help get people, partners, funders, and community members to a new place to make change, and it can help people visualize the implementation of ideas and see the path forward.
  • Opportunities for education and deep listening are multi-directional. If you can’t understand the issues, you can’t prioritize them.
  • Equitable engagement requires a movement from community collaboration to community empowerment. Strategies that are grounded in community decision-making can align investments and policies with people and incorporate community knowledge for improved solutions.

This Institute was a reminder that there is action through partnership and problem-solving through collaboration. When combined with community-led solutions, One Water approaches such as nature-based solutions, energy recovery, and resource circularity create opportunities for the water sector to extend our impact and contribute to addressing the climate crisis and achieving the ambitious climate goals across our communities.

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Making Connections; Making Commitments

Interested in collaborating with peers and identifying strategies to inform your organization’s climate journey? Connect with us by emailing You can also find out more about the US Water Alliance’s climate work on our program webpage.