June 14, 2021 - From the June, 2021 issue

New MWD GM Adel Hagekhalil Commits To “One Water” Agenda

 TPR is proud to share this timely interview with Metropolitan Water District's newly confirmed General Manager, Adel Hagekhalil. Throughout his career, from his time as president of the National Association of Clean Water Agencies to overseeing LA City’s wastewater, stormwater, and watershed programs as Assistant Director of City of LA's Bureau of Sanitation (LA SAN), and most recently by delivering integrated multibenefit infrastructure as General Manager of LA's Bureau of Streets Services, (StreetsLA), Adel has championed a holistic approach to water and infrastructure. In this VX Interview, Hagekhalil shares his One Water agenda for securing water resilience through integration, innovation, and inclusion and emphasizes his commitment to bringing all of Met's member agencies and stakeholders to the table to enhance local supplies and deliver on Met's mission to provide reliable, affordable water to the region. 

"I will bring people together through compromise, transparency, integrity, and listening...As we move forward, I am determined to focus on what unites us.”

“We need to invest in infrastructure, but the infrastructure we're investing in today is not going to look like the infrastructure that was done in the last 100 years. It's not going to be focused on piping water from across the state or across the region. There will be new ways to reduce demand, reduce water loss, harness local water supply, recycle water, capture rainwater, recharge our groundwater aquifers, and create storage.—Adel Hagekhalil

Adel, yesterday the MWD Board approved your contract as its new GM. It was also a day when national and global media reported the significant challenges the West and California face with respect to drought.  Share with our readers both your vision for MWD and agenda going forward to address this and related challenges?

Adel Hagekhalil: I want to first thank the Board of Directors for their trust and expressed support at the board meeting, but also all the political, water agency, environmental, labor and community leaders from across our region for testifying and submitting letters of support.

This is a critical moment in MWD’s history and a critical moment in our future. We all know life is anchored in water. Without water there is no life, no economy, and no environment. 

Following a competitive selection process with many highly accomplished candidates, it is now time to focus on what unites us. What brings us together is serving our communities and providing a future of resilient, affordable, reliable water supply for everyone. None of us want to turn on the faucet one day and not have water come out. Everyone should be able to afford their water bill, no matter where you are.

We need to deal with the supply shortages we're facing. We're seeing a changing climate with drier, hotter days. Whether it's Lake Mead or the amount of water we have to put in the State Water Project, our supply is shrinking. All the metrics confirm that climate change is happening.

As leaders, we all need to adapt, adjust, and think differently.  I use the three 'I's as the pillars of any transformation: integration, innovation, and inclusion.

 Every water drop that we're losing, is a water drop that we need. Whether it’s lost to leaky pipes or evaporation, we need to double down on our local water supply and demand management, reduce our consumption, and address the loss of water.

We need to integrate smart water management into our infrastructure. Working with our partners in agriculture and in communities, how can we increase access to local water supplies by recycling water and groundwater remediation and also by investing in technologies that reduce the loss of water and make our water use more resilient?

We need to prioritize investments in our underserved communities to uplift communities while addressing water loss and reducing water consumption.

We need innovation. The conveyance canals from the Colorado River or from the State Water Project show that we are losing 30 to 35 percent of our water to evaporation. Can we think about covering the canals with solar panels to reduce evaporation? Imagine if we can reduce evaporation by 10 percent, that’s 10 percent more water that we can store and use—increasing our supply while producing renewable energy.  Maybe it's a crazy idea, but we need ideas that will move us forward.

At the end of the day, the biggest "I" of all of them is inclusion. Without people coming together, we cannot move forward. We are a diverse region, and we may not agree on everything, but one thing we agree on is making sure we have an accessible, affordable, reliable water supply for all of us. I want to bring all voices including our member agencies, environmental groups, businesses, and community groups, in creating our water future together – resilient, sustainable, reliable and affordable for all .

I want to focus on this common agenda and develop a plan to move us forward working with the governor and the federal government to ensure that we are investing in our community’s resilience. I want to demonstrate to the state and the federal government how every investment in our local water supply is an investment that's going to help resolve issues in the Bay Delta and the Colorado River as we're negotiating new agreements. If we are reducing our dependence on imported water, it helps everybody else resolve this conflict. So, invest in us; your investment in Southern California and our water future is an investment in our state and in our country.

I want to empower staff to reach and go beyond their grasp. We are committed to partnering with our labor partners and staff to create a Metropolitan that is inclusive.  We have the best people, so I want to really create a culture of inclusion, respect, empowerment, and motivation to get us to move in partnership with our communities. As I always say, my office door is open to ensure that everybody can come in and be part of this journey to the future.

It’s common knowledge in the West that water is fractious, but your nomination brought together both the San Diego and the LA MWD delegations—who have been warring with each other for decades—to support you for GM.  Speak to what your acknowledged ability to bring disparate interests together portends for your agenda going forward?

I am going to be a Met General Manager for every member agency, small or large. They trusted me not because I would agree with their views or needs, what they recognized is that I'm someone who can bring people together through compromise, transparency, integrity, and listening. As we move forward, I am determined to focus on what unities us. My goal is to soon meet with every member agency to understand their needs, issues, and priorities and integrate that into our long term plan. Whether we call it an IRP or One Water Metropolitan, these are things I want to work on.

In this month's VX News interview with outgoing MWD GM Jeff Kightlinger, he said of California's current water challenges, "We're going to have to capture rainwater and move it into reservoirs in days not months...which means bigger pipes that sit empty for long stretches and bigger, stronger, higher dams and reservoirs.... we’ve got to start with serious backbone infrastructure investment in seawalls, in our coastline, and in how we move and store our water supply.” What are your thoughts on his observations and the challenge that he leaves for you now to address?

Jeff has been a great leader for Metropolitan for the last 16 years as General Manager. I applaud and thank him for the work he has done. A big reason we're able to deal with the drought challenges that we're seeing today is because of his vision and this agency's vision on storage and the work that he has done across the board.

I agree that we need to think differently. We need to invest in infrastructure, but the infrastructure we're investing in today is not going to necessarily look like the infrastructure that was done in the last 100 years. There will be new ways to harness local water supply, recharge our groundwater aquifers, and to create storage.

Stormwater capture is still huge for me, because every time it rains in Southern California, large volumes of water are washed out into the ocean. How can we harness that? Through our work with Measure W, alongside partners in LA County and Director of Public Works Mark Pestrella, we have introduced that idea. I want to see how Met can play a bigger role. They're partnering on groundwater recharge, but there are opportunities to invest in stormwater capture at a Metropolitan scale. We've talked in the past about creating water storage in the LA River for emergencies. We've talked about different ideas that we can build on. I agree that we need to invest in infrastructure, not just demand management.

We need to figure out the challenges we have. Whatever the gap is in our water supply we need to sit down and figure out how we can meet that gap in the most cost effective, efficient, and environmentally sound way; that's what's called integrated planning. We're going to do that through stakeholder process and in collaboration with scientists, the state, and the federal government.

We need to invest but that investment cannot only burden our ratepayers. It's something that's meeting the needs of the entire state and entire country. The California economy is the fifth largest economy in the world, and Southern California is the eighth. We deserve to protect that investment without forgetting our underserved communities because that's critical.

How do you envision collaborating with California Governor Newsom & his administration to achieve your Metropolitan One Water agenda?


I'm grateful for the Governor, he called last night to congratulate me, and I look forward to working with him. What we need is a coordinated water strategy for California. Southern California cannot do their own water strategy, independent of California's water strategy. We need to have a balance between science, environment, and water supply.

We do that with help from our stakeholders and our partners in the farming community, working with Wade Crowfoot at Natural Resources, Karla Nemeth at Water Resources and others to be part of this collaborative effort.

Throughout my career I’ve worked to build consensus, diffuse conflict, and find common ground, and that's what I'm going to do, and that's what I think the Governor wants us to do. We can't fight; we need to come together. There needs to be a balance. Between the environment, science, water supply, water consumption, and funding, all of it needs to be figured out and we can't do it alone. There has to be collaboration, and everybody has to pay for their share. I'm excited and grateful for the opportunity to work together with the Governor and Wade and all of the stakeholders in developing a coordinated, integrated water strategy for California—all of California, not just one part.

You have been chair of National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA) and contributed to the Obama Administration’s Homeland Security’s report on infrastructure and resiliency. What could / ought the federal government— the Biden administration and Congress—do to help Metropolitan’s One Water agenda?

During the Obama administration, I worked with more than 50 experts to help develop the water resilience report for the US. Homeland Security saw water as a security threat to the US—a threat to our future and our economy. They recommended collaboration, coordination, efficiency and stormwater capture and what came out of it was One Water.

I’m proud that I was able to be at the national level working with leaders at NACWA and at the U.S. Water Alliance to create excitement and commitment from communities across the US about One Water. There's One Water in Miami, Kansas City, Louisville - there's One Water everywhere, and that started here in California, in Los Angeles.

We need to look at all water as one whether it’s wastewater, stormwater, recycled water, rain, potable water, groundwater – it’s all water. What people sometimes forget is that the “One” in One Water is people. We are one. It's not just the water that is one. We, as a collective, are one.

I'm excited that we have a federal administration that is talking about investment in water and infrastructure. We have a federal government that's willing to invest in local communities on the low-income white water and wastewater subsidy and support. My friend Radhika Fox, now Assistant Administrator of Water at US EPA, former CEO of the US water Alliance—we were partners on One Water and also worked together at San Francisco PUC. I'm looking forward to our partnership, and helping the administration’s infrastructure planning, investing and building in any way I can.

I talk about One Water but also about One Infrastructure. I really want to move the envelope on this nexus between transportation and water. We always build roads, highways, airports, but we don't always think about the water component of it, and I want to challenge everyone to start thinking differently; every time we build anything, let's figure out how we can integrate water components.

 When I was at StreetsLA, one of the projects we had was an active transportation corridor on Broadway and Manchester with a focus on equity and Vision Zero. We added a component to provide shade and shelter, but also, by integrating elements for stormwater capture and reuse we were able to secure Measure W funding and leverage LA’s systematic investments in water capture to deliver a multibenefit project. That is One Infrastructure and should be how we approach everything we build.

 I want to make sure that Met expands collaboration in that area and figure out how we can partner with Caltrans, regional, county and municipal transportation agencies to create more stormwater capture and reduce our dependence on imported water and reuse.

Everyone understands water is a critical element of our future and as a critical infrastructure. I want to continue advocating with our members of Congress to really put in the money and investments now because every dollar invested here, is a dollar that's going to save many times over for our ratepayers and is going to make all of us more resilient and sustainable

In VX News’ interview with Jeff Kightlinger, he addresses MWD’s relationships with seven western states and the drought each confronts—Colorado, Arizona, Nevada, and the others.  Elaborate on your plans to continue and build on these important water policy relationships.

We’re all in this together. Seven states, the tribal nations, and Mexico are all a part of the Colorado River discussion. We have a finite amount of water that's shrinking and also increased demand. I would applaud Jeff for his work on getting the agreements on the drought contingency plans and bringing people together to start cutting down as the water levels go down in Lake Mead and Lake Powell and the different reservoirs.

 But I think we need to come together to figure out how we can manage this conflict between water demand, water supply, and rights. That's the coordinated strategy that I talk about. California has to come to the table united as we negotiate with the federal government and the other states. We also need to talk about how our investments here and ideas that we are using to reduce our demand on imported water are going to help defuse that tension and the fight. We can do it in a good way, and Jeff started that discussion with the Southern Nevada Water Authority to invest and partner with us on the Regional Recycled Water Recharge project. That partnership is great because they see what our investments here in recycled water means for their water supply. That is the formula I want to apply, but also addressing evaporation.

The science and technology have evolved over time. I still think there's so much we're losing in terms of water by evaporation that we need to think a little bit differently. There are smart people around the world, and we can challenge them to come up with solutions. There are a lot of ways to do it without taking the risk with performance-based contracting, where you pay with a share of the savings, whether it's revenue from renewable energy or savings from reducing evaporation. There's a lot of water being lost, and we need to harness it.

I think by us coming together and including our investments locally in negotiations, you make the pie bigger. And I think we need to make the pie bigger. If people see that the investments here a benefit to them, then I think we can work something out.

In January 2022, VerdeXchange Institute hopes you again will personally participate in the 15th annual VerdeXchange Conference & Water Charrette. What might you share, six months into your tenure, re MWD’s accomplishments?

In six months, I want to assure everyone that we're working together. As Henry Ford said, “Coming together is a beginning, staying together is progress, working together is success.” I'm going to tell you that in six months, we have succeeded, we're working together. We will have issued a holistic Integrated Resource Plan for Met that is anchored in integration, innovation and inclusion.

We're going to have partnership and investments from the federal government and the state already committed to us. We’ll be on the way to negotiating agreements for the Colorado River.  People will believe and trust that we will be transparent and will use science to drive us. We're going to be come together and balance the environment and our water supply future in a very sustainable way. I look forward to it. Six months is not far, but there's a lot of work ahead of me. And the first thing is coming together, staying together, and hopefully in six months, we're going to be working collaboratively together.


© 2024 The Planning Report | David Abel, Publisher, ABL, Inc.