Guest Editorial: National Water Policy for a Sustainable Future

Sept. 13, 2010
[WaterWorld Online, September 2010] A paradigm shift within the water sector is occurring. In response, the Clean Water America Alliance was created to elevate the conversation and draw a blueprint for sustainable water policy...

• Managing One Water | September 28 & 29, 2010, Los Angeles, California

By Dick Champion, Chair, Clean Water America Alliance
Dick Champion, Chair, Clean Water America Alliance[WaterWorld Online, September 2010] A paradigm shift within the water sector is occurring. In response, the Clean Water America Alliance was created to elevate the conversation and draw a blueprint for sustainable water policy.

Managing One Water is the third and last in a series of national dialogues the Alliance has organized to bring the nation's water leaders together to examine, in depth, the practical steps needed to ensure clean and safe water for future generations. Experts representing an expanded scope of stakeholders, including state water authorities, municipal water and wastewater agencies, engineering firms, academia, energy, industry, green infrastructure interests, agriculture, and conservation will look beyond their individual organization interests and consider the nation's overall needs. They will work together to identify the barriers, consider the solutions, and articulate a vision for Managing One Water. The national dialogue will take place September 28 & 29, in Los Angeles, California. To learn more visit www.CleanWaterAmericaAlliance.org.

As water leaders, we sit at the crossroads of transformational change. The use of 19th century platforms with 20th century laws won't solve 21st century problems. Challenges posed by growing populations, economic pressures and regulations require a more holistic approach. Managing drinking water, wastewater, stormwater, groundwater, and reused water as "One Water" is critical to ensuring water supply and quality. The resiliency of green infrastructure becomes essential as we adapt to climate change and its enhanced hydrologic cycle. Collaboration becomes imperative between stakeholders to implement integrated watershed management systems that balance our commitment to social, environmental, and economic needs.

A common thread throughout the Alliance's two previous national dialogues was the need to think holistically about the problem and the solutions to sustainable water management. Traditionally, fragmentation in water resource management has occurred as state and federal agencies developed separate views (and regulations) for what is, essentially, the same resource. Today, myriad and often disparate state approaches as well as federal laws and regulations exist, many of which treat the same resource differently, and some of which are in conflict with each other. The silo thinking of the past has kept clean water, drinking water, stormwater, water reuse, energy and agriculture interests segregated. Management structures that encourage comprehensive thinking, planning and management of our waters on the transformational scale are needed.

What's Water Worth
Price sends an important signal that, when set too low, discourages conservation and stewardship. That was the theme of the What's Water Worth national dialogue, where participants explored the underpinnings of a new water policy. They concluded that the artificially low price for water is frequently an impediment to realizing its full value. The research, development, and broader use of guidance manuals for effective pricing and water efficiency would be welcomed and is an appropriate area for federal assistance.

Public education is fundamental to building a new water ethic that will allow us to price it effectively, conserve, and protect it. People must be reconnected to their sources of water in tangible ways to realize its intrinsic value and the price they are willing to pay for water. In addition to informing ratepayers, education must be targeted to include elected officials, water managers, and leaders in the business, agricultural, and industrial sectors. It must foster a deeper appreciation, amongst all stakeholders, for its many uses -- economic, environmental, cultural and social.

The Need for an Integrated National Water Policy
The first national dialogue established the call for action. Significant progress has been achieved through the Clean Water Act, Safe Drinking Water Act, Endangered Species Act, etc., but in looking at the problems piecemeal, we've overlooked the whole. The silos created now constrain our ability to meet emerging challenges such as population growth, climate change, aging infrastructure, and new regulatory requirements. These complex and interwoven challenges demand an interconnected approach. The treatment of water must be harmonized as the one resource it truly is.

The Next Step
From the upcoming national dialogue Managing One Water a report of the discussion will seek to capture a plan with concrete steps and actions for breaking down the silos and working together to manage water as one resource. It will add to the thinking already developed in the previous two national dialogues, What's Water Worth and The Need for an Integrated National Water Policy. This combined body of work will position the Alliance to draft a national water policy blueprint in early 2011 for how the U.S. should move towards a sustainable and integrated national water policy. The blueprint will not necessarily be an appeal for a federal water policy, rather an effort to identify areas in which federal assistance, cooperation and encouragement would be productive, particularly in promoting better integration of water management and more effective partnerships.

About the Author: Dick Champion is chair of the Clean Water America Alliance and director of the Independence, Mo., Water Pollution Control Department.

[WaterWorld Online, September 2010]

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