One Water for America
One Water is a way to manage all water in an integrated, inclusive, and sustainable manner that will allow future generations to prosper. The way we currently manage water is very compartmentalized with stormwater engineers handling the runoff, water utility departments focusing on the supply, and solid waste departments undertaking the waste. Their are non-profits dedicated to protecting lakes and streams, others concerned with reducing consumption, and yet others working on the health of water supply. Hundreds of groups are all approaching water from a different angle.
In recent years, the industry has come to understand that working together will more efficiently and quickly solve the growing problems with managing water in today’s climate. The One Water approach has six main focuses—reliable and resilient water utilities, thriving cities, competitive business and industry, sustainable agricultural systems, social and economic inclusion, and healthy waterway. The U.S. Water Alliance identifies five primary hallmarks of the One Water Approach:
All water has value
Focus on achieving multiple benefits
Approach decisions with a systems mindset
Utilize watershed-scale thinking and action
Rely on partnerships and inclusion
The US Water Alliance is big on lists, so in addition to the six main focuses, there are 7 big ideas for the sustainable management of water:
Advance regional collaboration on water management
Accelerate agriculture-utility partnerships to improve water quality
Sustain adequate funding for water infrastructure
Blend public and private expertise and investment to address water infrastructure needs
Redefine affordability for the 21st century
Reduce lead risks, and embrace the mission of protecting public health
Accelerate technology adoption to build efficiency and improve water service
These lofty ideas cannot be achieved in the current silo format of water management. Various groups need to work together to advance these concepts and fix our aging water infrastructure, increasing supply shortage, and contamination of drinking water. One step to uniting the diverse professionals is through the One Water Summit which I attended last summer. I met people in a variety of fields, but all were focused on managing and improving water.
One idea I came away with from the conference was non-potable water reuse. Basically reusing the dirty water from a building. The National Blue Ribbon Commission was established in 2016 with the charge to advance best management practices for the use of onsite non-potable water systems in buildings or at a local scale. Water reuse is already being implemented in a number of ways, for example harvesting rainwater to irrigate the landscaping. A major non-potable opportunity that would replace 25 percent of the total water demand in residential buildings and up to 75 percent in commercial buildings comes from toilet and urinal flushing.
As with all new ideas however, it will take time, coordination, and a mutual understanding of where we are headed. Leadership is needed, like what the US Water Alliance and its partners is providing to bring everyone together to see the big picture. As a master water steward, my focus was on keeping pollution out of the lakes and streams and retaining as much stormwater runoff on site. While beyond the skill set of a water steward, the bigger picture would be to work with another professional to see how that water could be reused in the building to help lower overall water consumption, instead of just captured in rain gardens and rain barrels. That would in turn lower the amount of water needed to be supplied by the water utility company who could then avoid building more costly infrastructure that would require maintenance down the line. When everyone works on their own small piece of the puzzle without considering how it fits into the whole, not a lot of progress is made. But if everyone works on their own projects with a common goal in mind, great feats can be accomplished.