Events / From New York to Philadelphia: Expert Perspectives on Climate Change Impacts to Water Systems in the Delaware River Basin

From New York to Philadelphia: Expert Perspectives on Climate Change Impacts to Water Systems in the Delaware River Basin

September 22, 2020
12:00 pm - 1:00 pm

This event is part of Climate Week at Penn.

The Delaware River flows from the Catskill Mountains in New York through New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware to the Delaware Bay.  It provides drinking water for over 13 million people, habitat for over 90 fish and 400 bird species, $21 billion in ecosystem services including carbon sequestration and water filtration, and over $25 billion of annual economic activity including water supply, transportation, fishing, and recreation.  In short, the Delaware River is essential to the Mid-Atlantic region’s environmental, economic and public health. 
The impacts of climate change on the Delaware River are significant and far reaching; from New York City which relies on the Delaware River for half of it’s drinking water, to Philadelphia which relies on the river for 100% of it’s drinking water, to the Bay Region where over 1 million people rely on the Delaware for drinking water.  Climate change impacts include flooding, decreased water quality, and sea-level rise, among others.  But these impacts are not felt equally among the communities that rely on the river for drinking water and recreation.
This expert panel will provide an overview of the top climate challenges facing the Delaware River (and the communities that rely on it) with a specific focus on how New York City and Philadelphia are responding to these challenges through changes in policy, planning and operations.  Importantly, the panel will discuss why underprivileged communities often experience water-related climate impacts more acutely and have fewer resources for recovery than other communities and what can be done to make climate change adaptation more equitable for all communities that call the Delaware River home.



Ms. Kristen Bowman Kavanagh, P.E. is the Deputy Executive Director of the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC), a federal-interstate agency created in 1961 by compact legislation signed into law by President Kennedy and the governors of the four basin states with land draining to the Delaware River. She is responsible for the Commission’s technical and managerial programs, as well as for developing and effectuating plans, policies, and projects relating to the water resources of the Delaware River Basin.  Ms. Bowman Kavanagh has more than 25 years of experience in water resources management, modeling, and engineering.  Prior to joining the DRBC in 2019, she worked as a consulting engineer leading hydraulic and transient analysis evaluations of raw, potable, recycled, and wastewater systems throughout the U.S.  She also performed hydrodynamic and water quality modeling studies to evaluate the fate of discharges into lakes and reservoirs, rivers, and coastal ocean areas.  Earlier in her career, she developed stormwater management plans for NPDES permitting on behalf of counties, cities, flood control districts, and industrial clients.

Ms. Bowman Kavanagh is a Past-Chair of the Southeast District Pennsylvania American Water Works Association, a former President of the Philadelphia Chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers, and a member of the North American Lake Management Society.  She holds a B.S. degree in Civil Engineering: Environmental and Water Resources, and an M.S. degree in Civil Engineering: Environmental Fluid Mechanics and Hydrology, both from Stanford University in Palo Alto, CA. She is a registered professional engineer in multiple states including Pennsylvania and New Jersey.


Alan Cohn is Managing Director of Integrated Water Management at the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, where he leads initiatives to prepare water systems for climate change and population growth. His team spearheads partnerships and programs to reduce system demand, protect critical infrastructure, and promote awareness and sustainable water measures in the built environment. These programs include a Water Demand Management Program to save 10 million gallons of water per day by 2022, a Water Conservation and Reuse Grant Pilot Program, and a Cloudburst Program and partnership with the City of Copenhagen focused on flood mitigation for extreme rain events. Alan served as a senior policy advisor for water, wastewater, and solid waste on the Mayor’s Special Initiative for Rebuilding and Resiliency after Superstorm Sandy, and managed development of the NYC Wastewater Resiliency Plan, a comprehensive strategy to protect critical infrastructure.  He currently represents New York City on the Water Utility Climate Alliance, a group of 12 large utilities which provide leadership and collaboration on climate change issues affecting the country’s water agencies.


Julia Rockwell is a water resources management professional with nearly a decade of experience working at the Philadelphia Water Department. PWD is a combined drinking water, wastewater and stormwater utility, serving approximately 1.7 million drinking water customers and providing wastewater services to over 2 million customers in the Philadelphia area. Julia has a diverse set of experiences at PWD that include serving as a project engineer on the nationally recognized Source Water Protection Program, leading development of a new, department-wide capital planning process, and initiating development and implementation of the Department’s Climate Change Adaptation Program (CCAP). A primary focus of Julia’s current work is to mainstream the use of actionable climate change science in the utility’s planning, design and decision-making processes. Julia is a Philadelphia representative in the Water Utility Climate Alliance (WUCA), a national group of utilities working collaboratively to advance water utility climate change adaptation, and she serves on the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) Advisory Committee on Climate Change. Julia holds a bachelor’s degree in Civil and Environmental Engineering from Bucknell University and a Master of Environmental Management Degree from Duke University. 



Howard Neukrug is a Professor of Practice in Water Leadership and Innovation at the University of Pennsylvania and is the Founding Director of The Water Center at Penn.  He has over 40 years of experience in the Water Industry, including serving as the Commissioner and CEO of Philadelphia Water where, and prior to that role, he was the Founding Director of Philadelphia’s Office of Watersheds and creator of the city’s Green Cities, Clean Waters Program.