Portland Water Bureau Climate Expert to Join Upcoming White House Climate Resilience Summit

Press Release
Headshot of Kavita Heyn in front of a tree
Today, Thursday, Sept. 28, 2023, the Portland Water Bureau’s lead climate expert Kavita Heyn will be participating in the first-ever White House Summit on Building Climate Resilient Communities.
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Today, Thursday, Sept. 28, 2023, the Portland Water Bureau’s lead climate expert Kavita Heyn will be participating in the first-ever White House Summit on Building Climate Resilient Communities, representing the climate resilience work of water agencies, including the Water Utility Climate Alliance (WUCA).  

The summit, announced by President Biden earlier this summer, will convene approximately 70 climate resilience practitioners from local, state, Tribal and other entities who are demonstrating leadership in their respective fields.

“The Portland Water Bureau is proud to be a national leader in centering climate resilience in water utility work, thanks to the work of our climate experts and our partners at the Water Utility Climate Alliance,” said Portland Water Bureau Commissioner-in-Charge Mingus Mapps. “The leadership and expertise of climate staff like Kavita Heyn are helping us invest in a sustainable, more resilient future.” 

United States Senator for Oregon Jeff Merkley said, “In order to effectively work to address climate chaos, we must bring many voices to the table. The Portland Water Bureau’s work to reduce systemic inequalities and research climate resilience has made an impact in Portland, and it’s exciting that Oregon will be represented at this national opportunity to learn and share best practices.” 

The Water Bureau’s Five-Year Strategic Plan and Plan to Advance Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion identify climate change as a key risk and priority action area in accomplishing the bureau’s mission of providing excellent water to Portlanders and other local water providers for generations to come.  

For over twenty-five years, the Water Bureau has been studying climate resilience and making critical investments to address risks from extreme heat, wildfire, and severe weather. Here’s how:

  • The bureau is developing a Net Zero Decarbonization Strategy to actively reduce the carbon emissions of the water system and meet the goals of the City of Portland Climate Emergency.
  • Investing in ongoing maintenance of Portland’s secondary water source, the Columbia South Shore Well Field groundwater system, is a critical supply resilience tool that supports the bureau’s ability to continue serving water if there are service disruptions to the Bull Run Watershed.
  • The Portland Water Bureau is actively preparing to respond to wildfires. While the bureau does not have a direct firefighting role, staff work closely with local fire departments, the US Forest Service, and the Oregon Department of Forestry to provide critical information about our facilities and operations to help support first responders.
  • The bureau prioritizes the health and safety of employees who work outside in extreme weather by updating policies to limit exposure to wildfire smoke and extreme heat.   

“The Camp Creek fire still burning mere miles away from the Bull Run Watershed makes it more important than ever that we recognize our responsibility to be leaders in climate action,” said Portland Water Bureau Director Gabriel Solmer.

“Climate change directly impacts our core mission of serving high-quality drinking water,” Solmer said. “We’re building climate resilience into our infrastructure and processes in many ways, including investing in a new water filtration facility to reduce the impacts of wildfire and severe storms in the Bull Run Watershed, and by simultaneously developing a decarbonization roadmap to reduce the footprint of our water system.”

Nationwide collaboration

The invitation to share best practices at the summit is a testament to the work of Water Bureau climate experts like Heyn to bring climate change work into organization-wide planning, communications and operations. 

Heyn is well-placed to represent the insights of water stakeholders as she serves as staff chair of the WUCA, a national coalition of 12 large water utilities that collectively serve drinking water to 50 million Americans.

WUCA leverages its nationwide network to collaborate with federal agencies and national partners to advance water sector climate change adaptation, greenhouse gas mitigation and climate-equity efforts.  Recent WUCA publications include a library of Leading Practices in Climate Adaptation, recommendations for adaptation to sea level rise, and engineering design and extreme heat case studies to reduce water utility climate risk exposure. Through its leadership and engagement in WUCA, the Portland Water Bureau has partnered with peer utilities to develop leading-edge practices in climate adaptation that are actionable, equitable and serve as a model for others. 

Summit details

The Summit will entail a plenary session including leadership of White House offices and federal agencies, a series of breakout sessions during which invitees will discuss topics related to their areas of expertise, and a reception for invitees to make connections and engage in dialogue. Attendees will include Chief Resilience Officers from several cities, climate science academic leaders, finance and insurance leaders, youth leaders and Tribal leaders. 

The livestream of the event will be viewable here. The livestream will run from 9:45 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. PT. That includes the plenary session (9:45 to 11:15 a.m.) as well as a select roundtable discussion that will also be livestreamed (from 11:30 a.m. to 12:15 p.m.).

About the Portland Water Bureau

The Portland Water Bureau serves water to almost a million people in the Portland area. Portland’s water system includes two great water sources, 53 tanks and reservoirs, and 2,200 miles of pipes. With 600 employees working on everything from water treatment to customer service, the Water Bureau is committed to serving excellent water every minute of every day.