The first national dialogue – The Need for an Integrated National Water Policy – resulted in a call for a flexible framework policy based on water resource sustainability. It considered the details of how such a policy would address pressing issues as the energy/water nexus, water quality and water quantity, green infrastructure, and watershed management. The second dialogue – What’s Water Worth? – examined the economic, environmental and social consequences of significantly undervaluing this precious natural resource. The third dialogue – Managing One Water – focused on breaking down “silos” within the water community to better integrate drinking water, wastewater, ground water, reuse and stormwater management; to improve stakeholder relations; and to advance regional water sustainability.
All three dialogues embraced the need for an integrated national water policy framework. While each had a unique focus, many common elements were identified, including the urgency of the problem, the need to shift the water paradigm from a culture of conflict to one of collaboration, and the importance of bringing more voices and viewpoints into the discussion. All three reports are available at www.cleanwateramericaalliance.org.
Following the dialogues, the Alliance drafted a set of principles to articulate a possible direction forward. The Alliance convened a meeting of over a dozen large water-related trade associations in January in Washington, D.C., to review and receive feedback on the draft. The resulting principles are set forth below.
Valuing WaterClean, safe water is undervalued, and the current water pricing system does not reflect its true cost or value. There is a tremendous need for a better understanding of and appreciation for the worth of clean and safe water. True water valuation will capture the treatment and transmission costs of water, water’s essential role in human and ecosystem health and survival, its economic contributions to recreation and tourism, and the cultural, spiritual and aesthetic elements of water.
Properly valuing water goes beyond pricing and financing. It includes recognition that this is finite resource needs an ethic to ensure water and watersheds are used and protected more effectively, efficiently and equitably.
Sustaining WaterSustainability of water resources and aquatic ecosystems is another critical building block, and one that will become all the more critical given a changing climate.
Clean and reliable water will continue to have a profound impact on the development of domestic energy sources and greenhouse gas emissions in the 21st century – and vice versa. Two of the country’s most important physical resources, energy and water, must be used wisely and efficiently, particularly in the context of climate change and clean air policy.
One of the toughest water challenges is coordinating water quality laws, regulations and organizations with their water-quantity counterparts. Water quality traditionally has been guided by federal and state laws, while water quantity has been the domain of the states. Bridging long-established interests to integrate management of water quality and water quantity to ensure clean and reliable water for people and the environment will require significant discussion and negotiation among stakeholders. Better data sharing and collaboration are needed as well as investments in tools that integrate water quality and quantity.
Water efficiency, as well as conservation, should play a key role in our water policy. This is particularly true given the high per capita use of water in the United States when compared to other nations. Water efficiency helps communities stretch existing water supplies, lessen the demand on infrastructure, save money, reduce pollution and protect wildlife and ecosystems. When combined with wise policies on conservation and reuse, efficiency reduces water waste (such as leakage and disposal) without sacrificing performance or customer satisfaction.
Today, many areas of the country recognize they must do a better job of managing their stormwater, wastewater and water supplies to ensure safe, healthy and sustainable communities and a clean environment. Many states and municipalities are exploring and adopting more holistic approaches to watershed management and stormwater control, including non-traditional, “green infrastructure” approaches such as vegetated swales, rain gardens, porous concrete and rain barrels.
Watersheds connect people, organizations and communities. Water is the unifying element in a watershed, and helps to define our sense of place. Local citizens have a stake in the health of their watershed, and are positioned to take a more holistic approach to its use and protection. One of the biggest challenges – political boundaries and watersheds don’t often coincide. In many cases, federal leadership has been a part of reaching solutions between jurisdictions. Federal leadership should appropriately recognize the inherent differences that exist in watersheds, respect the roles of local and state water managers, and consider the existing legal framework governing the watershed.
Water resources are affected by climate change in a variety of ways. As communities prepare for climate change, water should be at the forefront of their planning efforts. Climate variability should be factored into management decisions for water and water infrastructure.