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.
What Cities Can Do
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Water Quality & Supply
Philadelphia, PA has led on integrating water quality work into other elements of city planning in its Green Streets, Clean Waters program, especially street design and building requirements that incorporate green infrastructure.
Clean Water Services of Hillsboro, OR has developed a comprehensive array of tools to improve water quality and supply, including educational outreach and selling fertilizer derived from the water reclamation process. Be sure to read about the agency’s innovative partnership with local brewers to supply reclaimed water used in beer, an innovative effort to help the public get over the “yuck” factor that impedes wider adoption of wastewater reclamation.
The City of Yakima, WA has led partners in the watershed to develop a collaborative integrated water management plan that accounts for the needs of farmers, fishers, and residential users. Rather than viewing these differing water demands as oppositional, Yakima instead planned at the watershed scale for collaborative and holistic water management that sustains each source.
Conservation & Efficiency
Tucson, AZ has been pairing water conservation and development of new regional partnerships with Phoenix to source water sustainably in a drought-stricken area.
San Antonio, TX adopted a Sustainable Buildings Ordinance in 2009, using changes in construction code to drive water efficiency in the city.
Stormwater & Wastewater
Onondaga County and the City of Syracuse, NY have been leading efforts to reduce combined sewer overflow events with comprehensive green and grey infrastructure investments, which focus on capturing and using rainfall to reduce demands on drinking water supply. The investments also provide additional benefits, such as job creation and improved recreational access to local waterways.
DC Water not only reclaims wastewater to produce biosolid-based fertilizer, but also generates electricity to power the plant through the “waste to energy” process. Smaller utilities such as Sheboygan, WI use wastewater byproducts to generate energy as well.