Writing the Story of Texas Water: Highlights from the Water for Texas 2019 Conference February 2019
The Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) hosted our Water for Texas 2019 conference, "The Story of Texas Water," January 23–25, 2019, in Austin at the AT&T Executive Education and Conference Center. Approximately 600 attendees from around the state and country converged to discuss challenges and solutions to water issues in Texas.
The story of Texas water is the story of Texas. Water has always defined our state, and it will continue to shape our future. It's a story that affects all of us. At the Water for Texas 2019 conference, keynote speakers, moderators, and panelists shared their expertise and insights gained through their involvement in water at the local and state levels and through industry and beyond.
Newly elected Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives, Dennis Bonnen, delivered opening remarks on the first full day. He reinforced the fact that Texas must have a strategic water plan in place to ensure we have the necessary supplies to meet a growing demand and population. Speaker Bonnen said, "Water planning is the most forward-thinking planning that we can do for our state." We couldn't agree more.
Roy Spence, co-founder and chairman of GSD&M and co-founder and CEO of the Purpose Institute, gave an inspiring presentation during lunch about the power of purpose. He encouraged everyone not to spend your life trying to be average at what you're bad at—work to be great at things you are good at! Later that afternoon, William McKenzie, editorial director for the George W. Bush Institute, moderated a panel of three Texas journalists—Corrie MacLaggan with the Texas Tribune, Rich Oppel with Texas Monthly, and Asher Price with the Austin American-Statesman—and Stacy Chesney with Denver Water. The panel discussed how the media covers water issues and difficulties in telling industry-specific stories. Key takeaways included the importance of knowing your audience, telling stories about people, and avoiding jargon.
Rounding out the first day was a panel moderated by Evan Smith of the Texas Tribune. Evan led a discussion with Senator Charles Perry and Representative Tracy O. King regarding water policy in the 86th Legislative Session. Representative King emphasized, among other important points, that we must continue planning for drought, even if only 2 percent of the state is affected. Flood planning was also a hot topic, and Senator Perry identified flood planning as a key issue this legislative session.
George Hawkins, former CEO of DC Water, provided an energetic start to Friday morning. A natural storyteller, he focused on the importance of communication in the water industry and building trust with communities. "Communication isn't a sideline; it's the way you make your case to everyone," he said.
At the closing lunch, longtime Texas Capitol staff member and water activist Heather Harward led a panel of past Texas legislators who discussed historic water policy and the effects on today's water landscape. Senator Kip Averitt, Senator J.E. "Buster" Brown, Representative Robert Puente, and Representative Allan Ritter shared their insights into key water bills that impacted water planning for current and future Texans.
Between general sessions, attendees were able to choose which breakout sessions to attend. Breakout sessions were primarily moderated panels led by TWDB Board members, TWDB staff, and other industry experts. Sessions fell within three tracks: Drought and Flood—Ensuring a More Resilient Texas; Water Supply—Planning Now for Tomorrow; and Water Communications—Telling Our Story. Panels encouraged open dialogue among panelists and invited audience members to also engage through Q&A on these important topics shaping Texas water.
For example, the "Standing Tall in Our Rain Boots: Building a Resilient Texas" session moderated by Board Member Kathleen Jackson included representatives of communities affected by Hurricane Harvey who discussed lessons learned from the event, the path forward, and strategies for thriving in a flood-prone landscape. Chairman Peter Lake moderated the "Technology and the Water Industry: Has the Future Arrived?" panel, which included Texas-based and out-of-state panelists with experience using artificial intelligence, robotics, drones, and big data to improve efficiency and operations management in municipal and agricultural water use. Attendees also heard from corporate representatives from Wrangler, Dow Chemical, Cargill, and Toyota Motor North America during the "Companies Investing in a Sustainable Water Future" panel moderated by Board Member Brooke Paup.
We were actively tweeting throughout the conference using #WaterforTX2019. If you weren't able to follow along, you can still view all of our posts and those of other attendees, speakers, and sponsors. Also, photos from the conference and videos of the general sessions will be available on the Water for Texas 2019 conference website soon.
Looking ahead, mark your calendars for Water for Texas 2020, which will be held September 28–30, 2020, in Austin. Sign up for conference-related emails so you don't miss any upcoming announcements and important dates.