Tens of thousands of water systems provide drinking water to communities across all 50 states. 51,000 to be exact. Most serve only a few thousand people, many serve less than 500. By comparison, there are only 3,000 electricity providers in the US. This fragmentation leads to many of the problems in the water sector, and was at the root of many of the challenges we heard throughout the One Water for America Listening Sessions. This led to the creation of Big Idea 1: Advance regional collaboration on water management.
In January, the US Water Alliance launched the first of a seven-part webinar series to coincide with the release of each Big Idea. This webinar highlighted how local governments can find creative solutions to reduce fragmentation and how state governments can help from a top-down approach. Ted Henifin, General Manager of the Hampton Roads Sanitation District (HRSD), spoke about the challenges and successes of regional collaboration with his utility in Central and Eastern Virginia and Darrin Polhemus, Deputy Director for the California State Water Board, joined him to discuss his state’s consolidation regulations and incentives.
Hampton Roads is composed of many small cities but like most regions, is brought together by a shared watershed. Their regionalized structure allows them to effectively manage their watershed while creating open communication, strong relationships, and efficient operations in the region. In California, and across the country, the majority of drinking water violations are from very small water systems. In response to these challenges, the CA State Water Board has spearheaded major legislation allowing them to mandate systems consolidation, implement liability protection, and control when new water systems are created. In addition to top-down regulation on smaller water systems, they have also created major financial incentives for voluntary consolidation.
The US Water Alliance worked with more than 40 partner organizations to host 15 One Water for America Listening Sessions. These discussions, which took place all across the country, engaged more than 500 leaders inside and outside the water sector. What we heard from these diverse stakeholders was truly inspiring. Across the nation, people from all walks of life are working to advance sustainable water management. The insights from the Listening Sessions have been synthesized into seven big ideas for the sustainable management of water. Together we are calling these ideas and policy solutions the One Water for America Policy Framework.