Here's what we've been up to lately:

Helping California Public Agencies Create Effective Groundwater Sustainability Plans

CBI is assisting public agencies in California in implementing the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) and creating Groundwater Sustainability Plans for more than ten groundwater basins across the state. SGMA requires agencies to stop groundwater overdraft and bring groundwater basins into balanced pumping levels by 2042. CBI Senior Mediators Gina Bartlett, Bennett Brooks, and Tania Carlone; Senior Associate Ekow Edzie; and Associates Stephanie Horii and Mariana Rivera-Torres are working statewide to help establish effective groundwater governance structures. These projects involve mediating long-standing water conflicts; convening regional, transboundary technical coordination discussions;  and engaging a broad range of stakeholders in the development of the sustainability plans. In some basins CBI facilitates working groups that offer venues for agencies to coordinate planning efforts and resolve disputes. In others CBI facilitates advisory committees where those representing community interests provide input to agencies with groundwater management authority. CBI’s California groundwater work began in 2014 with the advent of SGMA and is anticipated to continue through January 2022, the deadline for agencies to submit Groundwater Sustainability Plans to the California Department of Water Resources.


Building Landlord-Tenant Consensus to Prevent a New York City Eviction Crisis

New York City has one of the country’s largest renter populations. Many renters are low-income working people who have lost hours or jobs during the COVID pandemic. Though the state of New York has an eviction moratorium in place, it will eventually be lifted, and hundreds of thousands of renters who have fallen behind on their rent could be evicted for non-payment. Recognizing the scale of the challenge, Enterprise Community Partners, a national nonprofit focused on affordable housing, convened representatives of landlords, tenant advocates, housing law, and housing finance experts to seek consensus on how to avert a massive wave of evictions. Enterprise asked CBI Managing Director David Fairman, who has worked on several New York City affordable housing challenges, to facilitate the group’s work. Over a series of four meetings in August, the group bridged differences in perspectives and values, clarified the scope of the problem, and explored options to address it. They have now agreed to advocate jointly for additional public funding and policy changes to meet the non-payment challenge. They have also agreed to develop an innovative pilot program where housing service providers will bring together all tenants in an apartment building with non-payment issues to work with the landlord and public agencies to resolve the problem, on the basis of shared contributions from all parties.


Facilitating Integrated Management Planning on Colorado Rivers

CBI Senior Mediator Ryan Golten is facilitating collaboration on several integrated management planning efforts on Colorado rivers, each in its own phase of planning, data-gathering, and decision making. The goal is to engage irrigators, cities, recreators, and environmental advocates in a voluntary, non-regulatory effort to address their own and one another’s needs related to a scarce and beloved community and regional resource. Each of these projects involves building trust, developing a sense of possibility, creating a well-structured process, integrating human needs and scientific data, evaluating options, and making collective decisions. On the Yampa in northwest Colorado, Ryan is working with a 25-person committee to review stakeholder input and narrow down opportunities to address concurrent agricultural, environmental, recreational, municipal, and industrial needs. On the highly-developed Big Thompson River, Ryan is working with a group of municipalities, watershed advocates, water managers, irrigators, and others to understand users’ priorities, current river conditions, and regulatory needs to make decisions about multi-purpose projects in 2021. In both efforts, the challenge of integrating human needs with scientific data is matched only by the challenge of building trust and collective action among people whose interests and uses have been historically at odds.

Photo: Rio Grande National Forest, southern Colorado, Zereshk, CC BY-SA 3.0


Helping Grievance Redress Mechanisms Resolve Concerns over Green Climate Fund Investments

Since 2010, the Green Climate Fund (GCF) has been the UN-designated lead organization for funding climate change mitigation and adaptation. With more than $10 billion in public funds invested in more than 140 public and private projects, the GCF is a major new player in global climate finance. The GCF seeks to make its funding more effective and responsive by entering long-term agreements with public and private organizations that act as national and regional intermediaries, re-investing GCF funds in national and local projects. Those intermediaries are required to set up grievance redress mechanisms (GRMs) for communities and other stakeholders who may be adversely affected by GCF investments. The GCF’s own Independent Redress Mechanism reached out to CBI to share our expertise in GRM design and capacity building with the new GRMs that GCF intermediaries are establishing. CBI Managing Director David Fairman, Associate Elizabeth Cooper, and Junior Associate Maggie Osthues developed an online training program for GRM staff in the GCF intermediary organizations around the world. This summer and fall, CBI has been delivering a blended virtual training program to intermediary GRM staff, through regional programs in Latin America, Africa, and Asia. Along with David Fairman, colleagues from CBI’s Global Network have been serving as co-instructors for each region. The training program integrates self-directed work on the online course with a series of six live, virtual discussions over a three-week period. Feedback has been very positive, and the GCF Independent Redress Mechanism plans to follow the program by creating a community of practice for intermediary GRMs in each region.


Supporting Portland Advisory Committee in Crafting Clean Air Recommendations

The coastal city of South Portland, Maine, has a growing population, more than 25,000, historic lighthouses, and a Greenbelt Walkway that meanders 5.6 miles across town with ocean views. The city also has more than 150 large storage tanks used by Citgo, Gulf Oil, and other companies to hold and distribute gasoline, heated asphalt, and related products. Residents living closest to the tanks, particularly the heated tanks, have for years complained of foul odors and health problems. In the wake of an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) enforcement action against two of the tank operators, South Portland’s City Council formed a Clean Air Advisory Committee and tasked the group with developing recommendations to improve air quality in the city. CBI’s Senior Mediator David Plumb has facilitated the five-member group since early 2020, guiding a process designed to promote high-quality dialogue, joint learning, and clear connections to residents’ underlying concerns. The committee has prepared detailed comments and recommendations to the agencies that are updating the companies’ licenses, and expects to finish its broader mandate in early 2021.

Photo: Flickr/ Wooden Pier, Paul VanDerWerf, CC BY 2.0


Facilitating Alliances for Climate Action’s Efforts to Build Local Climate Leadership

The World Wildlife Fund engaged CBI to facilitate a climate change dialogue with the Alliances for Climate Action (ACA) on how to build stronger carbon reduction ambitions at the municipal level. ACA aims to cultivate a new form of climate leadership and realized global ambition by bringing domestic constituencies of business, local government, academic, and civil society leaders in key countries into national multi-stakeholder coalitions committed to driving the zero-carbon transition in their countries. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, ACA staff, CBI Senior Mediator Merrick Hoben, and Junior Associate Maggie Osthues converted a five-day in-person engagement in Buenos Aires into a sequenced, multi-week series of highly participatory online discussions, reliant on virtual process design. Keys to success included crafting exercises that gave diverse stakeholders the experience of jointly visioning new options on climate issues of joint concern and co-creating the path ahead via experiments supported by virtual engagement technologies. Given this experience, hybrid meetings (in-person and virtual) are likely to be a new post-pandemic norm for the ACA 2021 Global Meeting.


Supporting Public Advisory Group in Providing Guidance on Water Level Regulatory Decisions

The International Joint Commission (IJC) – governing body responsible for overseeing the flow of waters that cut across the U.S.-Canadian boundary – engaged CBI to facilitate a Public Advisory Group (PAG) in assisting the expedited review of the Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River system regulation plan. This two-phase review of Plan 2014 is a response to public concerns raised after extreme high water and flooding events in 2017 and 2019. To help guide the Great Lakes Adaptive Management (GLAM) Committee – a committee that reports to the three Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River boards of control (Superior, Niagara, and St. Lawrence) – in the review process, the IJC appointed PAG members that represent shoreline associations, boating and tourism groups, environmental organizations, local governments, commercial navigation, First Nations, and hydropower. For phase one of the expedited review, CBI Senior Mediators Patrick Field and Michele Ferenz and Junior Associate Maggie Osthues are designing and facilitating a process to help the PAG inform the GLAM Committee about high-water-level impacts that should be assessed to determine tradeoffs of regulatory decisions and make recommendations on how best make these tradeoffs. The PAG will also contribute to discussions about a decision-making framework that could be applied when deviating from the regulation plan that the GLAM Committee could recommend to the regulatory body, the International Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River Board.