A city’s ability to effectively manage its primary resources define its ability to thrive. This is especially true of water resources, which are a precondition for every public and private function. It is important, then, to reflect on where city water managers from across the US think their utilities are going, and what the major obstacles are to their improvement. The US Water Alliance’s One Water Leadership Summit brings together leaders in municipal water management to collaborate on these issues. Here are some of the important takeaways from their August meeting in San Francisco:
View the urban water environment as a systemic whole. The concept of “one water” is meant to expose the ways in which the various aspects of water resources and management are connected. We know, for example, that treating water sources as entirely independent and not co-influential causes serious problems. But one water also includes taking a unified view of the urban water environment by treating a city’s drinking water management, wastewater, stormwater, and green spaces as a systemic whole. Such rethinking is crucial given the variety of challenges.
Share the costs for maintaining and improving water management. While some problems are unique to regions—managing a scarce supply is more important in the Southwestern United States, while flooding is more important in the East—many of them are shared. All regions face the prospect of adjusting their systems to the realities of climate change and protecting the quality of natural resources. And while there is wide variability in the way that municipalities charge rate payers for providing drinking water and handling wastewater, the consensus is that rates will have to rise to cover the costs of maintaining and improving efficiency as a component of the estimated $3.6 trillion necessary for infrastructure modernization in the US. Part of the case for this might be made by increasing the visibility of what water utilities actually do for ratepayers, or more to the point where ratepayers would find themselves on alternative systems.
Invest in innovations in the absence of a silver bullet. Many advocate an “all in” strategy of improving conservation, expanding green infrastructure, experimenting with on-site gray water systems, direct potable reuse, and desalination. Some of these are much more complex and expensive than others, however, and picking the right mix, let alone funding it, is a challenge. In the absence of major changes in funding, the cost of experimenting and piloting innovative solutions will have to be borne somehow by private businesses. This poses challenges for distributing these systems widely and equitably, as investment will be driven by profitability rather than need.
Managing increasingly stressed water resources presents a serious challenge. Global cities can begin to meet these challenges and serve as models for other municipalities by insisting on building regulations which treat urban water as a holistic system, and by encouraging a culture enthusiastic for change and prepared to pay for it.
The Chicago Council on Global Affairs is an independent, nonpartisan organization that provides insight – and influences the public discourse – on critical global issues. We convene leading global voices and conduct independent research to bring clarity and offer solutions to challenges and opportunities across the globe. The Council is committed to engaging the public and raising global awareness of issues that transcend borders and transform how people, business, and governments engage the world.
The Chicago Council on Global Affairs is an independent, nonpartisan organization. All statements of fact and expressions of opinion in blog posts are the sole responsibility of the individual author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Council.
BP’s Trine Mong and McDonald’s Francesca Debiase join Deep Dish to explain how their companies are making strides towards sustainability to support the SDGs and revolutionize their industries.
USAID’s Jim Barnhart joins Deep Dish to explain why there’s still hope for eradicating hunger within this generation.
Princeton University’s Laurence Ralph and the Council on Criminal Justice’s Thomas Abt join Deep Dish to explain why police brutality is not a uniquely American phenomenon and argue the strongest examples of successful police reform come from outside the United States.
Economist Thomas Piketty joins Deep Dish to examine the ideas that drive persistent global inequality and the solutions he believes will produce a more equitable future.
Political scientist Pavin Chachavalpongpun joins Deep Dish to explain how social media makes these Thailand's pro-democracy protests different than past movements and why the United States should see Thailand as a foreign policy priority when negotiating a rising China.
Carnegie Middle East Center Director Maha Yahya and the International Institute for Strategic Studies’ Emile Hokayem join Deep Dish to examine the ongoing protest movement in Lebanon, Hezbollah’s role in the crisis, and how a system built on sectarian politics could be rebuilt.
The Alliance for Security Democracy’s Laura Rosenberger and Stanford University’s Jacob Helberg join Deep Dish to discuss digital interference, misinformation, and data privacy within the lens of geopolitics.
Seventy-five years after Hiroshima, former deputy secretary of energy Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall and Stanford University’s Scott Sagan join Deep Dish to examine the threat of nuclear weapons today.
The Council on Foreign Relations’ Mira Rapp-Hooper joins Deep Dish to explain why the alliance system is still essential for America’s global leadership – but must be remade to meet the challenges of the 21st century.
Can an administration that up to this point has been belligerent towards traditional US democratic allies and has rejected many forms of multilateralism be able to turn the page and shift from "America First" to "American Led"?
The Council's Ian Klaus examines the importance of civil society in the urban response to COVID-19.
The Council on Foreign Relations’ Adam Segal joins Deep Dish to explain the battles between China and the US over products like Huawei and TikTok, their role in US foreign policy, and why US allies are choosing sides.
This week on Deep Dish, the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ Judd Devermont and the Financial Times’ Neil Munshi explain why Mali’s instability is a threat to Africa’s Sahel region — soon to be the West’s largest conflict zone.