One Water: Integrating Water Resource Services to Improve Sustainability

Flickr CC - Brad Hagan

Photo by Brad Hagan/Flickr Creative Commons License

Water supply, wastewater, stormwater, and land use management decisions are very often made by separate governing agencies with little coordination between them. This disconnect can lead to poor planning and infrastructure decisions that do not serve communities holistically. Municipalities require, and residents deserve, a more integrated planning and management approach to ensure sustainable water service.

CNT’s Danielle Gallet, with the Institute for Sustainable Futures (Australia) and ForEvaSolutions (USA), is working to identify opportunities for communities and the agencies involved in urban water systems to move toward a more integrated and sustainable path: the One Water approach.

Funded by the Water Environment Research Foundation (WERF), the Water Research Foundation and Water Research Australia, this research project aims to understand what institutional challenges agencies face in attempting to transition to a more integrated approach to water resource management.

So far, we’ve identified five major categories of institutional barriers:

  1. Economics + Finance:  Appropriate economic and financial tools to value integrated water services are lacking, and there is limited access to funding for non-traditional gray infrastructure build-out, such as green infrastructure and other small-scale solutions.
  2. Legislation + Regulations: Inconsistent and overlapping laws and policies, prescriptive vs. performance-based regulations, and an aversion to risks given current regulatory environments stymie innovation and potential new solutions to current challenges.
  3. Culture, Knowledge + Capacity: Organizational and professional cultures are often siloed, inflexible, and lack incentives, resources and interdisciplinary industry experts to help achieve appropriate culture change and innovation.
  4. Citizen Engagement: Water service agencies have historically been “out of sight, out of mind” for the general public. Engaging the community, being transparent and creating new interactions with ratepayers is  necessary in today’s water service sector.
  5. Planning + Collaboration: Conventional approaches to water service and land use planning tend to address problems through large investments in a limited range of long-established technologies. The move towards holistic water cycle planning will require these industries to partner with one another in a more collaborative way, better define responsibilities and overcome the general lack of flexibility in thinking outside the box.

Our project team is also looking at what strategies and actions are being adopted to overcome these challenges in the US and Australia. This includes decisions made at different scales of government and institutional structures.

By defining the current barriers, highlighting existing case studies that demonstrate viable solutions and developing a framework for institutions to reference and learn from, this project intends to help move agencies toward a more integrated One Water approach to managing water resources for urban communities now and into the future.

Learn more
Integrated “One Water” Management: Institutional Issues for Green-Grey Infrastructure
What’s Getting in the Way of a “One Water” Approach to Water Services Planning and Management? (Courtesy of Australian Water Association. First published Water Journal, May 2014.)