Transformative Water Leadership Academy

Transformative Water Leadership Academy

Great water utility leaders aren’t born; they're developed.

transformative leadership academy

The Transformative Water Leadership Academy (TWLA) is where the next generation of water utility leaders focus on the foundations of sustainable community leadership: how to integrate social, environmental, and financial concerns into important decisions about water utilities.

This 10-month program addresses leadership for drinking water, wastewater, stormwater management, and water reuse. Participants will learn to balance short- and long-term priorities while creating value for all water stakeholders.

We will be accepting applications for the 2025 Cohort from August 1 through September 15, 2024.


TWLA Group

Transformative Graphic

AWWA has partnered with the WaterNow Alliance, and obtained grant funding from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, to offer this uniquely valuable opportunity. The program plan for TWLA was developed in response to goals outlined in EPA’s Strategic Plan. For more detail, see this EPA information:

TWLA will prepare tomorrow’s utility executives to address emerging water issues and opportunities and to guide utilities through positive transformation. In the 21st century, all organizations (including utilities) must deliver on the triple bottom line: social, environmental, and financial performance. TWLA graduates will be empowered to meet this challenge.

Diverse Leadership & Expanding the Water Workforce

Water utilities must reflect the communities they serve. Also, as The Brookings Institution observed, many U.S. communities struggle to create more equitable and inclusive employment opportunities. Meanwhile, much of the nation’s water infrastructure is in urgent need of repair, maintenance, and replacement. The skilled leadership and talent needed to complete this crucial work have been in short supply. It’s time to broaden the talent pipeline for the water community.

TWLA seeks participants representing a wide range of regions, races/ethnicities, career experiences, and socioeconomic backgrounds. Together at TWLA, this cohort of future leaders will learn to seek and value diverse perspectives when strategizing to serve community needs.

TWLA will cultivate purpose-driven water leadership by:

  • Expanding diversity in the pool of qualified utility staff and leadership, to build a stronger water workforce.
  • Fostering community-first utilities by instilling in leaders an awareness of, and abiding commitment to, everything it really takes to help communities thrive, by supporting a healthy environment.
  • Clarifying a future vision. Participants will find and define their leadership objectives and turn them into actionable plans.

Measurable Outcomes

TWLA is designed to yield meaningful and measurable outcomes.

volunteer icon Participant outcomes:

  • New responsibilities and/or new opportunities to demonstrate leadership
  • Professional advancement by increasing chances for promotion to a higher position
  • Enhanced sense of empowerment to help create change

utility icon Utility outcomes:

  • Increased leadership capacity in areas essential to improvement at the utility
  • Innovative approaches to solving community problems
  • Cultural shift that encourages change and community building

community icon Community outcomes:

  • Enhanced resilience and sustainability of utility systems
  • Better relationship between the community, the utility, and other stakeholders
  • Improved management and protection of water and environmental resources


TWLA Group

The TWLA Experience

TWLA will take place from January 2024 through October 2024. It will include a cohort of approximately 50 participants.

TWLA Students

TWLA requires a commitment to attend:

  • Two in-person sessions, each lasting two days
  • Six virtual sessions (three hours each), scattered throughout the term
  • Four virtual facilitated small-group meetings

Who should apply: Professionals with 3-10 years of work experience, including at least two years working in water (preferably at a utility or related field). You must currently have responsibilities (on the job or in volunteer roles) for managing projects and/or supervising people, as well as support from your employer to attend TWLA.

How it works: Each cohort of TWLA participants will learn together by doing. Learning experiences will include:

  • Lectures and instructor-led discussion
  • Small-group discussion and sharing
  • Capstone project or activity implementation
  • Report-out on experience, leadership knowledge, and skills gained
  • Engaging with mentors
TWLA 2024 Cohort Schedule
  TWLA Course Topic Type *Session Details Dates
1 Leadership vs Management Virtual 2 Sessions (2.5 hrs) January 16 and 23
2 Small Group - Networking & Preliminary Capstone Project Plan Virtual 1 Session (1.5 hrs) Week of February 5-9
3 Advance Diversity, Equity, And Inclusion In-Person Workshop 2.5 days (not including travel time) Feb 28 - March 1, Atlanta, GA
4 Protecting Public Health Virtual 2 Sessions (2.5 hrs) March 19 and 26
5 Small Group Virtual 1 Session (1.5 hrs) Week of April 8-12
6 Safeguarding The Environment Virtual 2 Sessions (2.5 hrs) May 14 and 21
7 Strengthening Public Trust Virtual 2 Sessions (2.5 hrs) June 19 and 26
8 Small Group Virtual 1 Session (1.5 hrs) Week of July 15-19
9 Inspiring Innovation Virtual 2 Sessions (2.5 hrs) August 13 and 20
10 Climate Change: Thinking Globally And Acting Locally Virtual 2 Sessions (2.5 hrs) September 10 and 17
11 Small Group – Capstone Presentations & Wrap Up Virtual 1 Session (1.5 hrs) Week of Sept 23-27
12 Bringing It All Together In-Person Workshop 2.5 days (not including travel time) Oct 16 – Oct 18, Denver, CO

*All Sessions will be held during the following blocks of time: 7:00am-9:30am HT | 10:00am-12:30pm PT | 11:00am-1:30pm MT | 12:00pm-2:30pm CT | 1:00pm-3:30pm ET

Pillars Infographic

Pillars of TWLA

These concepts form the foundation of TWLA:

  • Diversity. Expanding the pool of utility talent and leadership to be inclusive of all parts of the communities that utilities serve. Diversity by race, gender, ethnicity, region, and age benefits all utilities that provide drinking water, wastewater, stormwater management, and water reuse.
  • Commitment. Participants will develop a deep awareness of (and abiding commitment to) a thriving, just society that is supported by a healthy environment. Their guiding mission will be to create sustainable, community-centered utilities of the future.
  • Action. Leadership objectives must be well defined in order to be actionable. Each participant will identify a challenge or issue facing their utility or community. Then, they will develop practical, community-centered solutions. The capstone project presenting these solutions will then be shared within their utility, at a local conference, and/or at a national forum.
  • Network. Expanding beyond their TWLA cohort, participants will also connect with a Community Cooperative Alliance (CCA): a body of nationally, regionally, and locally influential organizations representing marginalized or underserved populations. The CCA will facilitate outreach to potential applicants, provide a resource network to participants, expand awareness of water utility jobs, and help share TWLA results and insights.
  • Community engagement. Participants are strongly encouraged to get directly involved in their community — by working on community projects, joining nonprofit boards, supporting school programs, or other activities. This will anchor participants more strongly to the community they serve and foster deeper understanding and empathy for all parts of their community. Mentors, instructors, and CCA members will set examples for this involvement.

Eligibility Criteria & Program Requirements

TWLA 2024 Pricing Structure
Utility Population Served Tuition
> 10,000 Free
10,001 - 50,000 Free
50,001 - 100,000 $1,000
100,001 - 1,000,000 $1,500
> 1,000,000 $2,500
Not a Utility? More Options:
• For-Profit Non-Utility = $5,000
• NGO/Government Agency (same pricing tier
   as utilities)

To qualify for TWLA, at this point in your career you must have:

  • 3-10 years of full-time work experience, including at least two years of water-related work (preferably at a water utility or a related field).
  • Supervisory and/or Management Experience. Past experience supervising people in your current professional, volunteer, or community work. Or your experience may include management of projects, programs, committees, and contractors.
  • Availability to attend TWLA sessions and events. During this 10-month program, participants must attend 90% of the following in-person and online events. (Preliminary schedule below. Dates and times may change.)
    • 2 in-person sessions, each lasting 3 days. These will require travel. Costs for travel, lodging, and food costs must be covered by participants or their employers — but some financial assistance may become available.
    • 6 virtual sessions. Each 3-hour session will include 2 lessons, each lasting 90 minutes.
    • 4 small-group virtual meetings. Each 90-minute online meeting will be facilitated by a coach/mentor.
  • Access to a computer and broadband internet. TWLA includes online sessions and online coursework that require a reliable, robust broadband connection.

Other Utility Leadership Opportunities:

  • Interested in additional utility leadership development? Current and up-and-coming water and wastewater utility CEOs, general managers, senior managers, and upper-level management may be interested in the Water & Wastewater Leadership Center, a collaboration between AMWA, AWWA, NACWA, WEF, and NAWC.
    Learn more and apply.


Every participant in each TWLA cohort must deliver:

  • Capstone project. You will design and complete a project based on sustainable community leadership principles learned at TWLA. This project should address a problem, need, or opportunity in your organization or community. Estimated work time: 40-60 hours.
  • Presentation. Each participant must present what they learned from TWLA. This can happen at an event/conference, or by writing an article for a publication. Your presentation or article need not focus on TWLA, but it should clarify the value of what you learned from the TWLA experience.

Information Needed for Your Application

When completing the TWLA application, you’ll be asked to provide the following information:

Your resume. Please prepare/update your resume and upload that file (Microsoft Word or pdf) as directed when completing your online application. Your resume should include this information:

  • Education. Where did you attend school, and during which years? List diplomas, degrees, or certificates received. (Note: a college degree is not required to participate in TWLA. Online education programs should be included.)
  • Work experience. List organizations, job titles, and dates each position began/ended. Please include full-time jobs as well as temporary or internship positions. You must show at least three but no more than 10 years of full-time work experience, including at least two years doing work related to water.
  • Volunteer/community experience. List work you’ve done on a volunteer basis, either for a nonprofit or community organization or program, or informally (such as pitching in to help with grassroots community efforts).
  • Leadership experience. For your current job or volunteer/community work, describe your responsibilities for supervising or leading people. You may also describe other life experiences where you’ve led or supervised others.

Personal information. To assess the diversity served by TWLA, you’ll be asked to supply information about your race/ethnicity and preferred personal pronouns, as well as other basic personal information.

  • Confidentiality: Individual personal data will not be shared outside the program. Only aggregate information about participants will be supplied to meet federal grant requirements.

Questions to answer. Please write a brief answer (150 words or less) to each of these questions:

  • How did you learn about TWLA?
  • Who has been a transformational leader in your life? What qualities did they have, and how did they influence you?
  • How do you hope TWLA will support your career path and goals?
  • What positive change would you like to see (or help make happen) in your organization or community?
  • What does this quote by futurist and author Charlene Li mean to you? “Leaders create change. If you are not creating change, you are not a leader; you are a manager.”

What’s Next After You’re Accepted

If your application to participate in TWLA is accepted, you must register for the program. You’ll be asked to provide the following information and documentation to fully enroll in TWLA.

  • Letter of support from your employer. Since TWLA represents a substantial time commitment, we’ll need to know that your employer is aware of and supports your involvement in this program. This letter must come from either a senior manager/executive in your organization or from your direct supervisor. This person must be willing to complete two brief online surveys about your progress at work: before starting TWLA, and after completing the program.
  • Professional or personal reference. Please supply contact information (name, title, email, phone) for someone who can speak to your past performance or accomplishments — either on the job, or in your volunteer/community roles. Your reference cannot be a relative. They must complete two brief online surveys about your progress (before starting TWLA, and after completing the program).
    • IMPORTANT: An email will be sent to your reference person with instructions to complete the recommendation and surveys on your behalf. However, it is YOUR responsibility to follow up with this person to ensure that they submit their reference and complete both surveys. If your reference does not use email, we will contact them by phone — and it is your responsibility to ensure that they respond.
  • Signed agreement. You must agree, in writing, to honor the time commitment, attendance expectations, and other TWLA program participation requirements.

Become a TWLA Sponsor 

AWWA and the WaterNow Alliance are grateful for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency grant which has funded a two-year curriculum development period, as well as the first year of TWLA program operations.

While this initial grant is getting TWLA off the ground, additional support is needed to cover all program needs and ensure that TWLA continues.

Help us keep the TWLA mission alive! Your generous contributions will support essential parts of TWLA and allow the expansion of this unique program.  

Sponsorship Opportunities

Download Sponsorship Prospectus

By sponsoring TWLA, your organization will signal a firm commitment to the positive evolution of the water community. TWLA sponsorship also offers opportunities to showcase your organization’s thought leadership on how to achieve a sustainable, community-focused water future. This can directly support your organization’s environmental, social, and governance (ESG) goals and commitments.

TWLA sponsorships help fund: 

  • Travel and per diem scholarships for program participants who lack resources to attend required in-person events. Diversity is essential to TWLA’s success. Participants from marginalized communities may lack the resources to support necessary travel. 
  • Stipends to attract keynote speakers in leadership, the environment, business, operations, management, diversity, equity, and inclusion. 
  • Expanding networking opportunities for an even more inclusive agenda 
  • Technology, connectivity, and software to support the interaction, instruction, exchange of ideas, and information gathering/analysis that are essential to TWLA. 
  • The future of TWLA. To keep TWLA going and growing, additional support is needed.

Volunteer for TWLA

Volunteers are essential to the success of TWLA. We offer many volunteer opportunities:

  • Identify potential TWLA applicants on your staff and in your community. You may already know some future leaders or key talent for the water community.
  • Instruction. Do you have special expertise in a core topic of TWLA? Volunteer to teach a virtual or in-person lesson.
  • Mentor or coach TWLA participants. Help guide tomorrow’s water leaders via direct engagement.
  • Expand our network of community/nonprofit groups. Help build TWLA’s Community Cooperative Alliance (CCA) by introducing groups doing good work in your community or region to TWLA.
  • Donate to support TWLA, individually or through your organization (tax-deductible).
  • Facilitate small-group discussions within a TWLA cohort.
  • Tell water utilities about TWLA, especially how getting involved can benefit utilities and their communities.
  • Connect TWLA with funders. Introduce us to foundations or other funding organizations whose goals might align with TWLA.

Mentor & Coach

Are You Interested in Working Directly with the 2024 TWLA Cohort?

Speakers Volunteers

You can personally get involved with the inaugural session of the TWLA Cohort by being a Small Group Mentor or a Capstone Project Coach.

Small Group Mentor

The TWLA is looking for a number of dedicated Small Group Mentors (Mentors) who are committed to investing their time to assist in the growth and development of Academy participants. The Mentors must be willing to share their knowledge, experience, and wisdom and act as a guide and role model.

There are two main responsibilities in this position:

  • Provide one-on-one mentoring to two or three Academy participants.
  • Lead two 90-minute small group sessions.

Download the complete Small Group Mentor Role Description


Hear from the TWLA23 Inaugural Cohort

Participants share:

  1. What have TWLA cohort participants learned?
  2. How will they apply those insights to their community?
  3. What makes the TWLA experience unique?
  4. What would you say to someone considering applying?

Through this academy…we're doing transformative work to help leaders all around the country emerge. I'm excited that the academy will provide me with the tools and resources to grow as a leader, and then to give that back to my community through our programs and resources, as well as to my colleagues who are young professionals, as well.


Lily LopezDirector of External Affairs and Sustainability, Walnut Valley Water District

Help a Utility Leader. Donate to support a TWLA travel scholarship through the Water Equation.

Thank you to the 2023 Cohort Sponsors