Media Contacts: 
WEF: Lori Harrison, 703.216.8565,
WBC: Wendi Taylor Nations, 312.553.4938,  
July 30, 2014

Collaboration, Vision and Leadership on All Levels Linked to the Success of Great Water Cities
Successful summit is the latest in a series of planned dialogues to share knowledge, connect experts 

ALEXANDRIA, Va. – Leadership, vision and collaboration emerged as the umbrella takeaways from last week’s well-received Chicago Water Summit 2014: Global Lessons from Great Water Cities. The high-profile event brought together an impressive group of national and international leaders from the public, non-profit and private sectors who engaged in a set of diverse and interlinked discussions about how the world’s Great Water Cities can help communities of all sizes adapt to rapidly changing water management challenges.

Organized by the Water Environment Federation (WEF) and World Business Chicago (WBC), with support from the City of Chicago, the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago, and Chicago Sisters Cities International, the summit was the latest in a series of dialogues intended to distill sustainable approaches and lessons learned from the world’s leading water cities to help direct the agenda for other communities facing similar challenges.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel opened the program and welcomed the more than 200 participants by examining the interdependent and complicated relationship that Chicago has with water and the vital importance of responsible stewardship. “A quarter of the world’s fresh water is right here [in the Great Lakes],” said Emanuel. “It is our Grand Canyon, our Yellowstone, how we deal with it, how we manage it and how we are stewards of it will define our future.”

He further noted that in his experience, water and related issues is a shared challenge that connects people from every type of community, both at home and abroad. “Every mayor I’ve met from around the world, the moment you discuss water, you are shocked at how this is a challenge for every city leader, whether in the developed world or developing world. As one of the world’s great water cities, he hopes that Chicago can be at the forefront by “being a leader in water technology, water infrastructure and how to appreciate the importance of fresh water to our daily lives.”

The ideas of collaboration and creating a culture of water were central themes to the special luncheon keynote from Henk Ovink, Principal with Rebuild by Design (RBD) and Sr. Advisor to the Secretary of U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development. Ovink talked specifically about his work in supporting the HUD’s efforts to rebuild communities devastated by Hurricane Sandy and shared his ideas about the importance of “creating living with water cities.”

He echoed the Mayor’s statements about the complicated relationship with water by talking about the life-giving benefits but also the threats of water such scarcity, quality and safety. According to Ovink, “it’s those three aspects that make it very hard because water is key to our lives. Water connects our economy and ecology – it’s the one thing that bridges everything together.” Because of that, he believes that we must institute a cultural change toward water and view it with a different perspective, which means learning to embrace it rather than fighting against it.

From Ovink’s perspective, the most important step in making this change and addressing water challenges is “not exclusively through engineering, design and planning. The most important part is collaboration. Because that’s the only way to deal with water.” He further contended that a resilient approach to water management also relied on embracing the new, “to rebuild in a resilient way you have to be more innovative. Societal emotion makes us rely on the science of yesterday. It actually drives us back, which is very narrow-minded.” To avoid this he encouraged the water sector and its partners to take time to think because failing to do so results in de-solutions rather than innovation. For Ovink, “rebuilding by design is not about a plan, it’s about changing a culture.”

The diversity of the panel, which included consultants, NGOs, utility directors, and public officials, opened the discussion to include a range of specific topics such as impacts from climate change; extreme events such as storm surges, drought, and sea level rise; urbanization and population growth; water reuse and resource recovery; the need for investments in resilient water infrastructure systems and its direct correlation to job creation and a strong financial future; and the vital need to communicate more effectively about the value of water to the public.

“In our world, we often see water as a challenge but it is also a solution,” said WEF President Sandra Ralston. “As evidenced by today’s discussions, we’re seeing that these same challenges are actually spurring collaboration and potential synergy that we normally do not see among public agencies and private organizations.”

That’s a concept that WEF hopes to build on with future events, including a special Great Water Cities Summit at WEFTEC 2014 in New Orleans and a second summit to be held in the same city next spring. The goal of these meetings is to promote a continuing conversation among public and private sector water leaders about sustainability, resilience and the other attributes of great water cities; and to obtain greater engagement between the public and private sector leaders.

“As Henk Ovink said, water connects and does not make the distinctions that we do. It flows where it flows so we must work together to manage it,” continued Ralston. “WEF couldn’t agree more and hopes to maximize our unique position as a leading water quality organization to bring everyone together, both the traditional and non-traditional voices in water, so that we can learn from each other and find solutions that will benefit us all and lead to a successful and secure future.”

“[Water] is a strategic sector for the city of Chicago and many others around the world,” added WBC President & CEO Jeff Malehorn. “Leadership and collaboration is what it’s going to take to address the many challenges. Let’s keep sharing ideas and more importantly, take action.”

For complete summit details, including the full list of panelists, visit For more information about WEFTEC and the Great Water Cities session, please visit

About WEF
Founded in 1928, the Water Environment Federation (WEF) is a not-for-profit technical and educational organization of 36,000 individual members and 75 affiliated Member Associations representing water quality professionals around the world. WEF members, Member Associations and staff proudly work to achieve our mission to provide bold leadership, champion innovation, connect water professionals, and leverage knowledge to support clean and safe water worldwide. To learn more, visit

About World Business Chicago
Chaired by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, World Business Chicago (WBC) fosters private sector growth and jobs through the advancement of a business-friendly environment that attracts world-class talent. WBC leads the city's business retention, attraction and expansion efforts, raises Chicago's position as a premier global business destination, and guides implementation of the Plan for Economic Growth & Jobs. To learn more, visit