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The Water Bureau’s next chapter: Meet new director, Gabe Solmer

Gabe Solmer made history as the first woman to lead the Portland Water Bureau when she stepped into the Director’s role earlier this month. That fact alone is noteworthy, but it doesn’t tell Solmer’s full story or her vision about what’s possible for the bureau’s future. 

Solmer’s work experience, background, and education are primed to respond to how COVID-19 has shifted nearly everything in the world. What hasn’t changed is our mission of delivering excellent water every minute of every day, and the things it makes possible for Portlanders each day. 

Solmer demonstrated years of steady leadership while serving as the bureau’s Deputy Director. That experience coupled with her thoughtfulness, focus on relationships, and keen decision-making will help navigate the Water Bureau through the coming months of uncertainty.  

Solmer sat down with bureau Communications Specialist Reed Buterbaugh to discuss her vision and priorities for the bureau during this transition period.  

Here’s a snapshot of Solmer’s three key priorities: strategy, equity, and sustainability. 

Strategy and planning 
Our recently completed five-year Strategic Plan is a great place to start to when tackling big issues. Its really a risk-based document. We look at what those risks are and we kind of flip around that negative to look at the positive of what are the strategies were going to do to mitigate those risks. Right now because of COVID-19, there’s a lot of uncertainty. We have to use our flexibility, creativity, and adaptation to be ready to change and pivot. 

We have really grappled with equity. We are becoming an anti-racist organization, we have a lot of work to go. This is not a moment; it’s a movement. We need to think about how we do that work. How do we engage? What is the education that we each need to do and what are the systems that we need to change? 

I love the outdoors, it’s impossible to live in the Pacific Northwest and not have a deep respect for this beauty that we're surrounded by. I think that we can take a closer look and put a critical importance on the climate change work. It’s work we already do really well at the bureau, but we need to look at further actions we can take that have a real impact on the environment.