Rome seeks collaborators to confront its water woes

Rome seeks collaborators to confront its water woes

Rome urban water management resilience
Rome's Saint Angel Castle and bridge over the Tiber river. Like many urban areas, the city faces a multitute of challenges related to water management.

This article originally was published by 100 Resilient Cities. Its Associate Director of City Relations, Scott Rosenstein, shares lessons that he and Rome Chief Resilience Officer Alessandro Coppola identified in an urban water workshop.

At the height of the Roman Empire, Rome’s water management infrastructure was the envy of civilizations the world over. Today, while the city still enjoys abundant high-quality water sources, rainstorms of increasing intensity cause flooding that can hinder the city's ability to function.

Exploring holistic, systems-based approaches to urban water challenges is an essential component of Resilient Rome’s strategy process. To learn from other cities with similar challenges, Rome invited 100RC cities New Orleans and Rotterdam, as well as Copenhagen, to present at an "Urban Water Cycle" workshop in March, promoted by Roma Resiliente.

roma resiliente urban water
Roma Resiliente
<p>A session at the recent Roma Resiliente event.</p>
As urban water management issues in Rome grow in complexity and magnitude, they present opportunities for the city to adapt, and this type of knowledge-sharing represents a crucial building block for success. Attendees ranged from municipal and regional administrations, the academic sector, civil society, local activist organizations and water-management teams.

We emphasized thinking about collaborative approaches that holistically address a wide range of water management risks and opportunities — for example, infrastructure that controls floodwaters during heavy rain and acts as public gathering space while dry.

Facilitators encouraged groups to expand the avenues and organizations they considered when prototyping potential solutions, and to approach Rome's water challenges by viewing every organization in the city as part of a one system.

The group agreed that urban water needs represent a unique opportunity for Rome to increase governance coordination to holistically manage its large, complex water system, thereby fostering urban spaces and lifestyles that are more resilient.

They also expressed the sense that Rome’s water management approach too often has been reactive and focused on emergency flood response — it could benefit from being more proactive, looking to invest in water management infrastructure as it tackles other needs and challenges in the city.

Jeff Hebert, chief resilience officer of New Orleans; Jorg Pieneman, Rotterdam’s water program manager and Jeppe Tolstrup, project manager of Copenhagen’s Climate Adaptation, presented some of their cities’ approaches to water. Four themes emerged:

1. Urban planning and sustainable water use are closely linked

By thinking holistically about water sustainability, Rotterdam identified flexible pro-active water management strategies that also provide community benefits.

2. Strong leadership is vital

Each city could point to a high-profile leader as the focal point for innovation, accountability, coordination and public support. A disaggregated approach to innovative water management leadership makes it difficult to organize and demonstrate the value of these ideas.

3. Cities should leverage water challenges to improve quality of life through a shift from traditional grey approaches to innovative  green and blue approaches

Rotterdam designed sunken parks to act as community assets that also collect and direct floodwater during heavy rain.

4. Major shocks can act as a catalyst for public awareness and support

New Orleans has rallied around the importance of holistic water management, as well as forward-looking and integrated planning in the wake of Hurricane Katrina flooding, where before they couldn't get important stakeholders to the table.

Rome is taking this opportunity to use a more proactive approach managing its unique water assets more proactively, for example, by looking at integrated planning for and management of the TIber River as it pertains to flooding.

To continue and expand these efforts, Rome's governance and planning culture needs to evolve. Engaging a broad set of stakeholders is the first step in this process. From there, diagnosing the interconnected nature of the issues, identifying approaches that provide multiple benefits to the city, and articulating these results properly can generate the political will to drive implementation of innovative approaches.

This event was one in a series of participatory events that will help Resilient Rome gather the perceptions, ideas, and support from our citizens and the 100RC Network to guide our resilience strategy.

For pictures, recordings and PowerPoint presentations from the event, please visit the Roma Resiliente event summary (Italian).