Shedding Light on Sustainability

?Integrated watershed management now!? will never be a good bumper sticker, but it’s a great principle for driving sustainability and environmental progress.

Watershed partnerships are taking root from coast to coast, and all points in between, in response to complex and costly water quality and quantity challenges. These partnerships come in many shapes and sizes, reflecting the differing contexts, characters and obstacles involved in each watershed, or as some might say, ?problemshed.? But all partnerships share in common, certain aspects of innovation and collaboration. The innovation can range from technology to regulation, governance, finance, non-regulatory incentives, education and communication. As we?ve learned from the National Research Council?s Water Science and Technology Board, the collaboration typically runs sequentially through a process of communication, cooperation, coordination and finally, collaboration ? the highest degree of difficulty, necessarily including some amount of integrated and synchronized teamwork.

This type of teamwork for water is exactly what the U.S. Water Alliance, formerly known as Clean Water America Alliance, (www.uswateralliance.org) strives to achieve. Alliance members, reflecting all spectrums of the water world, convene, educate and explore to promote a ?one water? vision that unites people and policy for greater sustainability across the nation. The U.S. Water Alliance works to advance watershed protection partnerships in many ways. Here are three:
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U.S. Water Prize

Launched in 2011, the U.S. Water Prize is a unique platform for recognizing America?s water sustainability champions (www.uswateralliance/waterprize). Several of the winners excel in forming watershed partnerships, whether urban, rural, inland or coastal.

One example is the Salmon Falls Watershed Collaborative, a 2012 Water Prize winner.
The Salmon Falls River is fed by an ecologically diverse land area shared by Maine and New Hampshire, and drains into the Great Bay Estuary, a coastal ecosystem of national importance.?Approximately 28,000 people rely on public water systems in the watershed for drinking water, and many other households rely on private groundwater wells within this region.

The Salmon Falls Watershed Collaborative highlights the importance of inter-jurisdictional partnerships to protect and sustain drinking water supplies. This inter-state collaborative between Maine and New Hampshire unites local, state and federal partners to protect forests and reduce storm water pollution from anticipated development.

Two other U.S. Water Prize winners highlight integrated water management in the Great Lakes and along the Pacific coast in California. The Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District (MMSD) is a regional government agency that provides water reclamation and flood management services for about 1.1 million customers in 28 communities in the Greater Milwaukee area. The MMSD serves 411 square miles that cover all or segments of six watersheds.

The MMSD?s holistic approach to water management works on a watershed level. The MMSD?s cutting-edge pilot watershed-based permitting (WBP) focuses on a holistic, innovative geography-based approach to discharge permitting. Watershed-based permitting extends to the natural boundaries of watersheds rather than being confined to political jurisdictions or industries. The conditions and expected outcomes are designed to meet core program requirements of the Clean Water Act (CWA), while tailoring management measures to the needs and characteristics of specific Milwaukee-area watersheds.

Cooperating on this effort are state and federal regulators, non-governmental organizations and local units of government within the Menomonee and Kinnickinnic Rivers? Watersheds, intent on collaboration, work coordination and integrating and prioritizing implementation. Recommended actions in the WBPs can improve water quality and help reduce implementation costs.

Another Water Prize winner, The City of Los Angeles? Water Integrated Resources Plan (IRP), started with a simple yet ambitious vision: city departments working with the community to manage water resources holistically. This innovative approach led the city down a seven-year path toward a plan for Los Angeles? future. The IRP integrates supply, conservation, recycling and runoff management with wastewater facilities planning through a regional watershed approach, enlisting the public in the planning and design development process.

Departing from traditional single-purpose planning efforts, the IRP resulted in greater efficiency in water resource management and multiple citywide benefits, including energy and cost savings, reduced dependence on imported water, reusing storm water and conserving drinking water. Rainwater harvesting was foundational, identifying local solutions as pillars for sustainability ? resulting in a downspout program that will be expanded citywide.

Transforming the city?s water footprint is the Elmer Avenue green street project that includes an infiltration gallery that captures runoff and recharges it underground. Neighbors embrace the bioswales with drought-tolerant native plants and permeable surfaces that adorn this appealing green space.? The South Los Angeles Wetlands Park will convert an asphalt/concrete rail yard into a 4.5-acre storm water treatment wetland habitat that captures and treats pollutants and also will include a pocket park ? another win-win for the community.

The IRP also produced a far-reaching Low Impact Development ordinance and a 20 percent reduction in water use due to conservation incentives and education. Los Angeles? water consumption today is the same as it was 30 years ago despite one million more users. As implementation continues, the city keeps stakeholders engaged and involved ? putting Los Angeles on the path to becoming the greenest and cleanest big City in America while ensuring a water-wise and sustainable future.

Urban Water Sustainability Leadership Conference

The Urban Water Sustainability Leadership Conference allows U.S. Water Prize winners, spotlight cities, government agencies, private sector entrepreneurs, environmental advocacy groups and citizens and students from all backgrounds to come together. This an annual event presents opportunities to share and learn how to manage water, include more green infrastructure with gray, recover resources and balance growth with environmental protection.

The most recent conference, in Cincinnati, Ohio, offered the more than 250 participants a chance to hear and see, first hand, the strategies and practices used in green cities across the country, including: Cleveland (Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District), Kansas City, Syracuse (Onondaga County), and Tucson (Pima County). The City of Cincinnati and its Metropolitan Sewer District also debuted their Integrated Sustainable Watershed Management manual.

Cross disciplinary teams also featured their models of collaboration, illustrating how sustainable partnerships are worth much more than the sum total of their parts. The Sustainability Leadership Conference has become a focal point for urban leaders to identify obstacles, strategize solutions and look at the horizon of the shifting paradigm for utility management and urban sustainability.

One Water Network

The U.S. Water Alliance is building a network of leaders representing an array of research foundations, national trade associations, federal agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to unite for integrated water management. To date, 14 organizations have signed on to a Statement of Collaboration that commits them to consider next steps and implementation toward the ?One Water Management? vision, which is closely aligned with and builds upon the extensive national and global work on Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM). All 14 organizations recognize that breaking down barriers, entrenched ?silos,? inside and outside the water sector, will be a long process with policy, institutional and technical aspects. A network willing to lead and determined to stay on the path will be essential to its success.

The Alliance, supported by the Water Environment Research Foundation, organized a meeting last February that was note-worthy both for the diversity of organizations represented as well as for the enthusiasm that was expressed for OWM.?Flood and storm water managers in the East; water suppliers/recyclers in the West; efficiency/conservation gurus in the Midwest; and urban planners/smart growth advocates in the South, were all united in integrating for better water management.

In the coming months, the OWM network will consider next steps and chart a course for action, informed by ongoing research. Potential focus areas will most likely include information sharing, staff training, capacity building (e.g. exchange programs among different utilities and agencies in different levels of government) and identifying barriers and developing pilot projects to reduce or overcome barriers.?In addition, this action-oriented network will work hand-in-hand with research institutions to analyze best practices, support demonstrations and test decision-making tools for utilities.

America needs more collaboration, nationally as well as locally, to foster sustainable solutions. Integrated watershed planning and ?one water? management, can bring together public and private sector advocates for drinking water, wastewater, storm water, reuse water, cooling/heating water, water for food and water for health and safety to solve, rather than create problems for one another.

Ben Grumbles is president of the U.S. Water Alliance.

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