Cities are facing formidable challenges to water quality and accessibility. Aging infrastructure requires expensive investments, as cities struggle to replace broken water pipes or fix leaks, let alone proactively upgrade the system. The magnitude and dire effects of these water management problems demand innovative, systemic interventions. Integrated water management (IWM) refers to system-level approaches that prioritize collaboration and require the “triple bottom line” of social, environmental and economic outcomes. Rather than viewing wastewater, stormwater, or groundwater sources as separate, “One Water” understands that all water flows are interconnected, and cities can identify water system solutions that offer broader benefits.
Both utility leaders and mayors can examine their departments and determine if priorities are in accord with IWM. They can also prioritize water management to achieve other goals, such as public health improvements, job creation, and economic development. At the largest scale, cities can work with other water authorities to identify a regional plan that serves all stakeholders. Integrated management can help provide safe drinking water to residents. Cities are innovating with water reclamation, conservation, and groundwater recharge to ensure there will be an adequate drinking water supply for decades. Surface water conservation can be a way to protect drinking water (and offer recreational and economic development benefits). Reclaiming wastewater for reuse increases water availability, and utilities can even make useful and profitable products out of the biosolids, too. Effective stormwater management protects water quality and reduces risks from flooding. IWM proposes additions to traditional infrastructure, from green infrastructure that filters and slows runoff, to rainwater harvest that reduces drinking water demand.