'One Water': Concept for the future?

The concept of "one water" has been around for several years in the water and wastewater industry, but what does it mean?

By John Dyson

The concept of “one water” has been around for several years in the water and wastewater industry, but what does it mean? I am sure if you gathered top industry professionals together to define the term, it would take days of discussions and still would vary greatly depending on the person. As a general rule, our industry has kept drinking water and wastewater separate. Now, due to water shortages in some areas of North America and throughout the world, we’ve added reuse to the mix, which further complicates the issues. Should we change our entire approach to water use in North America and throughout the world by considering it a single resource?

Taking a very simplistic approach, we realize that water is recycled through the natural water cycle and we are continuously reusing this water - directly or indirectly. Consider the following example of water as one resource: We take water from a source (out of the ground, a lake, stream, river, or ocean). We then treat the water for consumption for drinking water or industrial use. After use, the water is contaminated and needs to be treated. We treat the contaminated water before discharging it back into the sources noted above. In some cases, we reuse the water again before discharge. Typically, we withdraw water downstream from the original location (indirect reuse) for use again before it evaporates according to the natural water cycle. The amount of dilution depends on the local situation. Ultimately, the water reaches our oceans and is recycled via the natural water cycle for use again.

Anytime we want to reuse the water, we must realize that contaminants, such as nutrients, pharmaceutical products, oils, greases, etc., have an impact on the treatment required and how it can be used again. But, man’s impact on water sources and quality is not limited to those described above. Stormwater runoff from farms, roads and structures greatly impacts the source water quality, which means treatment is needed to be able to use the water again. A lot of work has been done in Virginia and Maryland to reduce the municipal discharge of nutrients into the Chesapeake Bay, but we are still experiencing Red Tides, which affect the aquatic life and health of the bay. This is due to the fact that we are not successfully addressing the overall impact of nutrients and other contaminants from stormwater flows and runoff.

So, is our industry’s strategy for handling the most essential resource for life correct? It is our duty and honor to provide clean drinking water, safe water for public recreational use, clean source water, and clean waters for aquatic ecosystems. I suggest we consider the following when thinking about a “one water” concept:

  • Develop water planning for countries, states, cities, counties, etc., looking at water usage and treatment with a view of the complete water cycle and how people and aquatic ecosystems are impacted downstream.
  • Develop a single voice and message. Our industry must come together to speak with one voice to governmental and regulatory bodies.
  • Involve other industries that have an impact on source water quality, such as agriculture, and develop plans to handle runoff and stormwater flows to achieve major reductions in contaminant loads to our waters.
  • Develop a plan to pay for the work that is required to provide clean, safe water for people and the aquatic ecosystem.
  • Develop industry standards for water quality without the lead of governmental or regulatory bodies.
  • Develop a plan to educate the public on the “value of water” and how we must price it to meet the operational and capital investment needs of the industry. We cannot allow a lack of financial resources to result in unsafe drinking water, contaminated source waters, etc. For those who cannot afford to pay, programs should be developed to assist customers with payment, as they have in the power and natural gas industries.

This is just the beginning of a long list of items to consider as we explore the “one water” concept. But if we come to together under “one water,” we can achieve achieve things never done before in the industry by leveraging the technology and vast knowledge already in place.


About the Author: John Dyson recently joined Aqua-Aerobic Systems Inc. He is on the Executive Board of the Water and Wastewater Equipment Manufacturers Association (WWEMA) and serves as the organization’s Treasurer and Regulatory Committee Chair. Since 1908, WWEMA has been the voice of the technology provider in the water and wastewater industry. More information about WWEMA can be found at www.wwema.org.

More in Drinking Water