General Sessions

Challenging the Status Quo: Visionary Water Utility Leaders Moderator: Sarah Rountree Schlessinger, Texas Water Foundation
Panelists: Yvonne W. Forrest, City of Houston; Joone Lopez, Moulton Niguel Water District

Visionary water utility leaders from around the country will come together to discuss what utilities must be doing now to prepare for the future and how their own utilities are taking proactive steps forward.

One-On-One with Speaker Dade Phelan and Evan Smith Keynote Speakers: Dade Phelan, Texas Speaker of the House; Evan Smith, The Texas Tribune

Texas House Speaker Phelan and Evan Smith, co-founder and CEO of The Texas Tribune, will sit down for a one-on-one to discuss Texas water policy and explore the past, present, and future of water in the state with a focus on flood.

Regional Flood Planning: Implementing Texas' First Regional Flood Planning Process(1 hour TFMA available, approved by the TFMA)
Moderator: Kathleen Jackson, P.E., Texas Water Development Board
Panelists: David Garza, Cameron County, Precinct 3; Floyd Hartman, City of Amarillo; Allison Strube, P.E., City of San Angelo; Brandon Wade, P.E., Gulf Coast Water Authority

Regional flood planning group chairs will discuss their progress so far, challenges, needs, next steps, and expectations.

Flood: Prevention and Planning for the Inevitable

Moving the Needle on Flood Data Visualization and Open Water Data(1 hour TFMA available, approved by the TFMA)
Moderator: Sam Marie Hermitte, Texas Water Development Board
Panelists: Robert Mace, Ph.D., P.G., Meadows Center for Water and the Environment; Will Mobley, Institute for a Disaster Resilient Texas; Michael Young, Ph.D., University of Texas, Bureau of Economic Geology

Improving access to data and enabling open exchange of water information are critical to identifying, understanding, and mitigating existing water resource and flood issues. This panel will discuss the current state and need for flood and open water data platforms, organizations moving the needle in this space, and the future of open data.

Planning for Disaster from the Ground Up(1 hour TFMA available, approved by the TFMA)
Moderator: Reem Zoun, P.E., Texas Water Development Board
Panelists: Matt Hollon, City of Austin, Watershed Protection Department; Edith Marvin, P.E., North Central Texas Council of Governments; Russ Poppe, P.E., HNTB

Safeguarding a community from flood requires city-wide preparation from the ground up. Panelists will discuss what can be done preemptively to mitigate flooding in Texas, such as land-use policies, codes, building standards, watershed protection planning, and other factors to consider as part of flood planning efforts.

Strategic Stormwater Financing: Challenges and Innovative Solutions(1 hour TFMA available, approved by the TFMA)
Moderator: Tom Entsminger, Texas Water Development Board
Panelists: Mark Evans, Freese and Nichols, Inc.; Eric Letsinger, Quantified Ventures; Gian Villarreal, P.E., Seagull PME

Managing stormwater is a concern for communities around the state. And at the top of the list of challenges is how to pay for new stormwater solutions. Panelists will discuss that concern and some of the innovative financial approaches being used in Texas and elsewhere.

Walking on Water: Nature-Based Flood Mitigation(1 hour TFMA available, approved by the TFMA)
Moderator: Saul Nuccitelli, P.E., Texas Water Development Board
Panelists: Michael Bloom, P.E., R.G. Miller Engineers, Inc.; Suzanne Scott, The Nature Conservancy; Melissa Bryant, San Antonio River Authority

Communities throughout the world are incorporating nonstructural solutions into their flood mitigation strategies. Panelists will discuss the pros and cons of green solutions as they relate to the environment, financial impact, and overall well-being of a community.

Science, Technology, and Innovation: Tools to Guide Our Future

Advanced Metering Infrastructure: Smart Meters, Smart Data, Smart Decisions Moderator: Kevin Kluge, City of Austin Water Utility
Panelists: Kelly Doyle, Fort Collins Utilities; Tommy McClung, Jacobs South Central; Abby Owens, City of Plano

In an age where everything is “smart,” from home appliances to self-driving cars, it makes sense that water utilities are jumping onboard to invest in smart metering systems. But what do utilities have to show for this investment? Panelists will share their implementation stories and how they’re using the data to drive decisions.

Artificial Intelligence: The Future of GIS(1 hour TFMA available, approved by the TFMA)
Moderator: Richard Wade, Texas Water Development Board
Panelists: Dean Djokic, Ph.D., Esri; Suzanne Pierce, Ph. D., Texas Disaster Information System; Sean Wohltman, Google

The next phase of GIS technology and artificial intelligence is always in development. Panelists will discuss what’s on the horizon for GIS in the coming years as it relates to flood, water planning, and disaster response.

Sink or Swim: Cybersecurity and the Water Industry(1 hour MCLE available, approved by the State Bar of Texas)
Moderator: Darrell Tompkins, Texas Water Development Board
Panelists: Amanda Crawford, Department of Information Resources and State of Texas Chief Information Officer; Clay Hodges, Cash Special Utility District; Lieutenant Colonel Chris Winnek, Texas Military Department

Panelists will share their expertise and experience as it relates to cybersecurity in the water industry. Attendees will learn about types of threats and how to protect against them, resources and tools available, and recent legislation’s impact on communities.

Talk Techy to Me: Wading Through Water Technology Options Moderator: Marc Santos, P.E., Isle Utilities
Panelists: Ali Abolmaali, Ph.D., P.E., University of Texas at Arlington; Rebekah Eggers, IBM; Richard Seline, ResilientH2O Partners

With myriad technologies on the market to help utilities with everything from data acquisition and integration to customer interaction and billing, what should utilities actually consider implementing? In this panel, technology leaders will share their insights into tools and resources that will benefit water utilities long beyond the next version update.

The Business of Water: Expanding Our Line of Sight

Alternate Viewpoints: How to Allocate Groundwater Permits(1 hour MCLE available, approved by the State Bar of Texas)
Moderator: John Dupnik, P.G., Texas Water Development Board
Panelists: Jim Bradbury, James D. Bradbury, PLLC; Lara Zent, Texas Rural Water Association; Leah Martinsson, Texas Alliance of Groundwater Districts

As is the case with everything, especially groundwater in Texas, there are two sides to every story. This session will feature panelists with differing viewpoints of how groundwater permits should be allocated and will also address ways in which these viewpoints impact other areas of groundwater in Texas.

Engineering the Future: Water Sustainability in the High-Technology Industry(1 hour MCLE available, approved by the State Bar of Texas)
Moderator: Brooke T. Paup, Texas Water Development Board
Panelists: Sam Katz, NXP Semiconductors; Anton Smith, Dell Technologies; Daniel Wilson, P.E., Samsung Austin Semiconductor

The technology industry in Texas drives innovation and economic expansion and, like all businesses, requires water. Representatives from high-tech companies will explore why water sustainability is important and what their companies are doing to conserve this resource.

Eyes on the Horizon: Building the Next Generation of Industry Leaders(1 hour MCLE available, approved by the State Bar of Texas)
Moderator: Kathleen Jackson, P.E., Texas Water Development Board
Panelists: Lonnie Howard, Ph.D., Lamar Institute of Technology; Julie Nahrgang, Water Environment Association of Texas; Lara Zent, Texas Rural Water Association

The water industry faces significant staffing challenges in years to come as much of its workforce enters into retirement. Promoting the water sector as a desirable career path must start now. Panelists will discuss academic, trade, and training avenues to meet this need.

Investing for Good: Environmental, Social, and Governance Bonds (1 hour MCLE available, approved by the State Bar of Texas)
Moderator: Anne Burger Entrekin, Hilltop Securities, Inc.
Panelists: Molly Carson, McCall, Parkhurst & Horton, L.L.P.; Ted Chapman, Hilltop Securities, Inc.; Kim Edwards, Piper Sandler

The growing interest in environmental, social, and governance bonds in recent years is impacting both investors and utilities. In this session, panelists will discuss their experiences investing in and issuing these bonds and provide insight into why more water providers are turning to green bonds to achieve their sustainable development strategies.

Produced Water: Can Oil and Water Mix? (1 hour MCLE available, approved by the State Bar of Texas)
Moderator: Larry French, P.G., Texas Water Development Board
Panelists: Bob Reedy, P.G., University of Texas at Austin, Bureau of Economic Geology; Nichole Saunders, Environmental Defense Fund

The fracking boom in Texas has served as a powerful economic engine for the state. It has also introduced complex issues about water transfers and storage. This panel will explore the challenges of the water needed and used in the oil and gas industry.

Understanding the True Value of Water(1 hour TFMA available, approved by the TFMA)
Moderator: Sharlene Leurig, Texas Water Trade
Panelists: Kevin Critendon, P.E., Austin Water; Roland Ruiz, Edwards Aquifer Authority

Thanks to ongoing cycles of drought and flood, Texas faces the perpetual contradiction of water scarcity and water surplus. Given these changing conditions, how do we ascertain the true value of water? Panelists will explore this question and discuss how that value changes over time and how it is recognized by various water stakeholders.

Water Communications: Shaping the Conversation

Cutting Through the Clutter: The Power of Strong Branding Moderator: Arianne Shipley, Rogue Water
Panelists: Chelsea Boozer, Central Arkansas Water; Laura Bright, Ph.D., University of Texas at Austin; Samantha Villegas, Raftelis

Water industry and public relations experts will discuss the importance of creating purposeful, trustworthy identities for water organizations. Panelists will share lessons learned, rebranding results, and why branding matters for customer relations.

Keep Calm and Communicate On: Crisis Communications in the Water Industry(1 hour MCLE available, approved by the State Bar of Texas)
Moderator: Stacey Steinbach, Texas Water Conservation Association
Panelists: Vanassa Joseph, Trinity River Authority of Texas; Jeff Lindner, Harris County Flood Control District; Mike McGill, WaterPIO

Sanitary sewer overflows, boil water notices, water main breaks, cybersecurity breaches, natural disasters—just a few types of crises that utilities must be prepared to deal with every day. In this panel, water utility representatives and crisis communications experts will discuss their experiences and best practices for successfully navigating a crisis.

Storytelling: It’s Not Neuroscience! Or Is It? Moderator: Stephanie Corso, Rogue Water
Panelists: Reagan Pugh,; Red Sanders, Red Productions; Jonathan Seefeldt, National Wildlife Federation

This panel will examine the science behind how our brains process information and why storytelling is an effective tool to capture your customers’ attention and drive behavior and attitude changes. Panelists will discuss how the water industry can benefit from these scientific findings and use them to drive more effective customer communications.

Taking It Online: Cultivating Community Through Social Media Moderator: Adeline Fox, Texas Water Conservation Association
Panelists: Eric Eckl, Water Words That Work, LLC; Katy Holloway, Fort Worth Water; Daniel Vargas, San Antonio Water System

Social media is always on and requires constant monitoring. It can be a utility’s best friend or biggest foe. This panel will focus on social media best practices, successful social media communication by utilities to stakeholders, and an overview of the current social media landscape as it relates to the water industry.