By 2060, the United States will experience population growth of about 95 million people. This rapid growth will also add 30-40 million people to the workforce. In many urban communities, the development triggered by this population increase will stress current water infrastructure beyond its capacity to support residential and economic growth. With water scarcity already plaguing America’s dry climate regions and areas with overused supplies, how will we meet the water needs of 2060 and beyond?
Urban planners wrestle with the opportunities and challenges of growth every day, but water is being increasingly recognized as one of the most critical components in the planning process. In July 2016, the American Planning Association (APA) ratified a new Water Policy Guide, based on the proposition that water is an essential organizing element in healthy urban environments. As APA’s new Water Policy Guide states, “an urban water cycle [is] a single, integrated system, in which all urban water flows are recognized as potential resources, and the interconnectedness of water supply, groundwater, stormwater and wastewater is optimized, and their combined impact on flooding, water quality, wetlands, watercourses, estuaries and coastal waters is recognized.” This premise is addressed through the discipline of integrated water resource management, and is best encapsulated by the emerging term “One Water.”
The One Water approach is modern, yet embodies basic principles of water and hydrology. It integrates all aspects of water resource management and infrastructure in a way that works in harmony with nature, not against it. Water management has evolved over thousands of years, with innovations simply added to existing infrastructure systems as they became available. The result has left many cities with approaches to water that exist in “silos”, and do not produce sustainable outcomes. Viewing water as one resource, however, urges planners to employ sustainable practices that will safeguard our future. For example, wastewater discharged to a river from one facility becomes part of the water supply for downstream drinking water utilities. A One Water approach provides benefits in myriad ways, including more resilient potable and non-potable water resources, better management of wastewater and stormwater, stronger ecologies, greater drought resistance, and better quality of life for all citizens.