Adam Rix ’98

Adam RixDEGREES: B.A., political science; J.D., international water law (University of Denver); M.A., international development (University of Denver)

JOB TITLE: Founder, managing partner, TurningPoint Capital Partners; founder and president of Watermark Initiative, LLC; author of Hydro Perspective; vice chair of the board of directors of Compatible Technology International; member of the Council on Foreign Relations (MN chapter).

REPORTER: What are Watermark Initiative and TurningPoint?
RIX: Watermark is a water project and policy consulting firm that I started in 2002 in my basement in Denver, Colorado. Most of our clients early on were located in Africa and Asia. We built up a pool of experts around the world —everyone from engineers to anthropologists —who serve as international consultants on water projects. These “hydro diplomats” understand a wide range of subject matter and have the capacity to be sensitive to multiple stakeholder groups and understand the needs of different cultures. My experience with Watermark Initiative made me realize that we were merely recommending a particular product, system, or service that could be implemented in a project, but that over time I could accomplish more as a catalyst for change if I became an investor in water technologies. Because of this, TurningPoint was launched about two years ago to focus on the critical gaps that we saw in the water industry between the investment community and the innovation needed to address worldwide water issues. We hunt for innovations in the water sector and identify companies that would benefit from our funding, networking, and “nurturing” resources.

REPORTER: What do you see as important areas in which to invest, both locally and globally?
RIX: The United States has critical challenges with regard to our infrastructure for the delivery of clean water and processing wastewater. Numerous municipalities still use a Roman-era system of central processing and distribution points serving residential, commercial, and industrial water users. This system wastes a lot of energy and takes a lot of raw materials to build and maintain. Our methods of water distribution and wastewater collection have been exported to the mega cities of the developing world. We see the same problems in places like Rio de Janeiro or Jakarta as we have in Detroit and Philadelphia. Addressing infrastructure sustainability and security in these urban areas should be a high priority, and it would be wise for us to adopt technologies that are compatible and appropriate with urban growth. At the same time, there simply isn’t enough water to meet the demands of agriculture and other industries in developing nations. Economic growth in Africa and Asia is highly reliant on mining and extractive industries, and in these places clean drinking water is going to uranium, copper, and gold mining before it goes to growing food or to cities for people to drink. Because of this, we are at a turning point where people must prioritize what uses of water are critical and take advantage of the water-quality and water-quantity innovations that are available to help meet demand.

REPORTER: Can you explain the Hydro Perspective?
RIX: The origins of the Hydro Perspective go all the way back to my days at Trinity. It is basically a research analysis tool used by consultants to assess water issues. When I was a student at Trinity, I was exposed to the idea of interconnected systems through courses in political science and cultural studies. Being a student of systems, I started to look at water and water conservation from more than just a scientifi c or legislative angle, but by systematically assessing political, social, economic, and cultural capital within a water project. This four-tiered perspective on water resources and development has added value to international and domestic projects, by providing solutions to water issues related to food, security, energy, and economic growth.

REPORTER: How did Trinity shape your career interests?
RIX: My passion for systems came from being a student of Renny Fulco, who currently directs the Public Policy and Law Program, and Michael Neimann, who taught international politics and international relations at Trinity for many years. Professor Fulco nurtured my understanding of political affairs and how power is exercised, while Neimann communicated a nuanced and sophisticated understanding of how global systems are developed. My experiences in those courses were enhanced through Trinity’s urban setting. In Hartford, issues related to poverty such as access to health care, grocery stores, and other resources are evident. I studied abroad in London where I interned in the oil and gas sector; this exposed me to how the energy sector uses and often abuses a country’s water resources. Even though I hadn’t zeroed in on water while I was at Trinity, I developed a general interest in how communities are shaped by resource poverty. If I had gone to college in a rural location, maybe none of this would have come to the surface for me.

REPORTER: What is the most rewarding part of your work?
RIX: The most rewarding aspect of my job is the hope that I have been able to give clients. For example, about five years ago I was working in the country of Namibia. The country was running out of potable water, and local engineers had an idea to run a pipeline through the Okavango Delta, which is a unique ecosystem in southern Africa. The people of Namibia were furious that they would have to in essence drain this one-of-a-kind place of water, but they did not think that there were any other options available to them. Watermark was brought in to assess the water conditions in Namibia, and by overlaying our Hydro Perspective we came up with a solution that was not previously considered: aquifer storage and recovery. This involves capturing “used” water, purifying it, and injecting it underground in a water bank to minimize evaporation. This solution facilitated a dialogue between the people and government agencies in a way that the local stakeholders thought could no longer happen. By holistically assessing water resources and catalyzing innovation to meet water demands, we can decrease water scarcity and pollution, while increasing food production and energy security worldwide.