“It’s Our Time” – George Hawkins Inspires CRC Supporters

Monday, May 13th, Mr. George Hawkins spoke to Clean Rivers Campaign supporters for our Beyond Tunnel Vision speaker series at Phipps Conservatory’s Botany Hall. Hawkins is the General Manager of the District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority and has extensive experience in water management. He gave an energetic and passionate talk about the problems cities like Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C. face when trying to address their stormwater.

George Hawkins talks to the crowd on Monday, May 13, 2013. (Photo by Tom Hoffman)

George Hawkins talks to the crowd on Monday, May 13, 2013. (Photo by Tom Hoffman)

Hawkins said, “Right now, the world around us, the legal world around us, the landscape around us, the manner in which we organize ourselves as people, is changing… and the question is: are we going to grasp the opportunity it gives us or not? It’s our time.”

Hawkins outlined the solutions for fixing old and aging combined sewer systems, and explained that each approach has positive elements but we have to be sure we are clear about the answer before we make the investment.

First, there is the grey option. This would be to fix and replace aging pipes and is technology oriented. There are clear benefits to this approach, for instance the performance of this technique is known and it can be managed by one authority. However, there are also challenges, such as the inability of customers to interact with the approach even though they still must endure the costs.

Second, the green infrastructure approach uses the landscape to address stormwater. With green infrastructure, the responsibility of managing stormwater is dispersed because every roof, street, median strip, alley, and parking garage is an opportunity to manage stormwater. The benefits to this approach are meaningful as it is happening on the public level. Every citizen can see it happen and can be an integral part of manifesting it. The jobs that come from the green infrastructure approach are accessible to everyone.

Members of the audience listen to George Hawkins.

Members of the audience listen to George Hawkins speak. (Photo by Tom Hoffman)

Finally, Hawkins explained the approach Washington, D.C. is taking. D.C. will be addressing their pipes with maintenance and updates but they are also implementing a full scale green infrastructure pilot project to manage stormwater at the source. Hawkins has spear-headed this effort with engineers and city officials to see who could build green infrastructure in D.C., who could maintain it, and who can perform the jobs associated with it. The pilot project is a big investment but, Hawkins and his colleagues believe it is worthwhile as the results could change their city forever.

Here is a link to a brochure with more details about DC’s green infrastructure pilot program: http://www.dcen.net/dc/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/green_infrastructure_brochure.pdf

In the city of Pittsburgh and the surrounding communities, we will be making the largest public infrastructure investment in our lifetimes in order to fix our combined sewer system. Hawkins stressed that as citizens, we can decide what is done with that money.

We really appreciate Mr. Hawkins taking the time to share his knowledge and experience with us in Pittsburgh. Did you attend the talk on Monday? What did you take away from his talk?

If you were unable to attend the presentation, please stay tuned – we will have a video of the talk available soon!