“One Water” provides focus on water resources protection
Posted in: Water
In my nearly three decades in the water industry, there have been a few occasions where the collective “we” re-branded an old way of doing things, maybe redefined that concept, and believed we had come to some earth-shattering revelation. “Sustainability” immediately comes to mind. Good engineers have always considered sustainability principles—people, the environment, and economics—in their designs. They just hadn’t branded it as sustainable. While preparing for a recent training related to emerging issues in the one water cycle, it struck me: is all the hype about “One Water” really a new philosophy, or are we just re-branding an old way of thinking?
From a water quality perspective, we’ve recognized the influence different water sectors have on one another for decades. For example, administrative controls under the Clean Water Act certainly recognize that one sector does have the potential to impact another.
Consider harmful algal blooms (HABs). We have known for decades that elevated nitrogen and phosphorus concentrations contribute to algal blooms and can have devastating environmental impacts. As a result, we have taken steps to minimize nutrient discharges to those water bodies. Where those water bodies are used for water supply, we’ve been concerned about the aesthetic impacts (i.e. taste and odor) for decades, but recent blooms and the emergence of algal toxins as a public health concern have renewed the focus on HABs. This has facilitated their evolution as a priority “One Water” issue.
While it seems like a simple shift in thinking, that’s really the essence of the renewed focus on “One Water.” Nearly every regulatory agency, professional association, municipal utility, and consulting firm has always acknowledged that what they do has the potential to impact someone “downstream,” if you will. Like HABs, we’ve long been concerned about the potential impacts of discharges of pharmaceuticals on aquatic life. What has really changed is we’ve realized that it’s more than just an environmental concern. What’s changed is the realization that there is no new water. What we have is all we have, and every source of water is a potential future water supply.
“One Water” is not a new realization that the water cycle exists; it’s a better understanding of why we need to protect the water resources we have.
So, is “One Water” a new concept? Certainly not. However, there is still value in adding to our existing understanding of the subject. Renewed focus on “One Water” reminds us that the water we have now is all we’ll ever have—so we must take steps to protect it. Not just for environmental reasons, but because someday that river or stream, that ocean, that aquifer may be part of our water supply.
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