By Katy Lackey, Director of Climate Action, US Water Alliance

May 25, 2022

Good climate news is hard to find these days. Summer is heating up, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s latest forecast indicates all 50 states can expect record hot temperatures, with two-thirds of the US likely to experience rolling blackouts. More attribution studies confirm climate change is making heatwaves and storms more severe, linking billions of dollars in damage. Many of these changes are already locked in, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Meanwhile, our window to avert the worst of what’s to come is rapidly closing.
There is good news, however. It’s not too late if we act now, together. Local leaders are giving reason for hope, including in the water sector. Water is a key climate consideration, as climate impacts show up first and foremost through water. Yet water can also be part of the climate solution. Last month, the US Water Alliance released Water’s Net Zero Plus: A Call to Action for Climate Mitigation, which details a vision for Net Zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions across the US water sector no later than 2050. Representatives from over 35 organizations on the Imagination Team collaboratively developed this vision. More importantly, Net Zero Plus sets a collective sector-wide goal and calls for a transformation to Net Zero in equitable ways that benefit all peoples and the planet. Achieving this goal by 2050 means that we must act now, activating a decarbonized and equitable water culture to get there. The collective goal also means that many utilities and water institutions must reach Net Zero in the next decade and go beyond in the years following.
Water leaders are already stepping up to this challenge. This month, water and wastewater utilities in 10 US cities joined the US Water Alliance to launch a Utility GHG Reductions Cohort. Aimed at reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions at local water and wastewater utilities, the Cohort will build on the Net Zero Plus vision and learnings from the Imagination Team. This national effort marks the second phase of the Imagination Challenge, part of the Alliance’s Recovering Stronger initiative. Participants include:
  • DC Water
  • Denver Water
  • Houston Water
  • KC Water
  • Metropolitan Water District of Southern California
  • Miami-Dade Water and Sewer Department
  • Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District
  • New York City Department of Environmental Protection
  • Seattle Public Utilities
  • Valley Water
These 10 utilities will build teams of utility staff, other city agencies, and community partners to develop and implement climate mitigation plans. Teams will work locally, together, and with Alliance staff and partners to set and refine Net Zero goals and benchmark Scope 1, 2, and 3 GHG emissions in water. Additionally, they will develop pathways that reduce GHG emissions, deliver benefits back to the water sector, and advance water equity and climate justice along the way. Read more here.
As they tailor GHG reduction strategies in US cities, the Cohort will also leverage international progress and learnings as part of a new partnership between Denmark and the US Water Alliance. Denmark is one of the first countries to set a sector-wide goal for Net Zero Water and codify it in law. Further, the Danish water sector is on track to be climate positive by 2030.
The partnership kicked off in April during Water Week in Washington, DC, with a “Race to Zero Breakfast Roundtable” hosted at the Embassy of Denmark. Embassy staff were joined by the US Water Alliance, Danish Water Technology Alliance (WTA), Danish Water and Wastewater Association (DANVA), Houston Water, Buffalo Sewer Authority, Aarhus Water Utility, Kamstrup, Grundfos, and Rambøll. Claus Homan, Chief Operating Officer of Aarhus Water Utility, discussed successfully achieving energy neutrality, progress towards CO2 neutrality, and an exciting new sustainable resource recovery treatment plant expected online by 2028. Brenda Mallory, Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, was also present and highlighted opportunities to leverage the Administration’s priorities on climate and environmental justice for climate action through water.
Race to Zero Breakfast Roundtable
There is reason to hope, and there is reason to act. Our window to address the climate crisis is rapidly closing, but there is still an opening where change can be made. We need leaders across all demographics, regions, and sectors to join together. We can reach Net Zero Plus by accelerating the best available solutions and creatively filling the gaps. We hope you are inspired by the courageous and bold choices individuals, utilities, and water associations are making to do their part. There is no time to waste.