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Integrated Water Management

Cities are facing formidable and varied challenges to the quality, accessibility, and cost efficient management of their water. Aging infrastructure requires expensive investment to replace, as many cities struggle in a game of catch-up to replace even broken water pipes, let alone proactively upgrade the system. Cultures of water use (such as lawns in dry areas) and unintentional additions of pollutants (fertilizers and animal wastes) remain deeply entrenched beyond a water authority’s purview. Some cities are even running out of usable water altogether due to drought or contaminant concerns. The magnitude and dire effects of these water management problems demand innovative, systemic interventions.


Integrated water management (IWM) refers to system-level approaches that prioritize collaboration and require the “triple bottom line” consideration of social and environmental outcomes on the same level as economic balance. IWM emphasizes ecological understanding, often incorporating green infrastructure and other alternatives to traditional infrastructure to manage water with less environmental impact. This also necessitates high levels of collaboration between specialized departments or staff. Rather than viewing wastewater, stormwater, groundwater, or any particular water source as distinct types of resources, the “One Water” concept (frequently used in IWM programs) understands that all urban water flows are interconnected and can each be understood as a resource – even so-called wastewater.[1]


On a practical level, a city can move toward an IWM approach in several key ways. City water authorities can examine their own departments as a first step and determine if their staff and organizational priorities are in accord with IWM principles. Along with water authorities, mayors can help identify opportunities for collaboration between various departments. City leadership can also prioritize water management as a method to achieve other policy goals, such as public health improvements from more effective management of water quality concerns or sewer overflows, job creation for infrastructural workers, and economic development from improved recreational waterways. At the largest scale, cities can work with other water authorities in the watershed to identify a regional plan that serves all stakeholders best. Strong city leadership to adopt integrated water management can help ensure high quality water will remain available for all residents.


[1] Adapted from the Water Environment Research Foundation’s definition.

Integrated Water Management
Integrated Water Management, Mel Meder and Satya Rhodes-Conway, June 15th, 2016. Full report.

Integrated Water Management Resource Center, American Rivers, June 1st, 2016. Read more.

The City Upstream and Down: How Integrated Water Management Can Help Cities Thrive, American Rivers, April 18th, 2016. Read more.

Practicalities: What Does It Take to Get to One Water?, Steve Moddemeyer, October 29th, 2015. Read more.

What is “One Water”?, Theresa Connor, PE, October 28th, 2015. Read more.

Follow-up to the Board’s Annual Governance Policy Work Study Sessions, Santa Clara Valley Water District, August 27th, 2013. Read more.

Climate Adaption and Resilience: A Resource Guide for Local leaders, Institute for Sustainable Communities, January 16th, 2013. Read more.

Adaption Toolkit: Sea-level Rise and Coastal Land Use, Georgetown Climate Center, January 16th, 2013. Read more.

The Value of Green Infrastructure, American Rivers, American Rivers, December 31st, 1969. Read more.

  • Philadelphia has been leading on integrating water quality work into other elements of city planning, especially street design and building requirements that incorporate green infrastructure.
  • The City of Yakima has led partners in the watershed to develop a collaborative integrated water management plan.
  • Learn how Tucson has been pairing water conservation and development of new partnerships to source water sustainably in a drought-stricken region through their long-term plan and a 2015 update.
  • Onandaga County and the City of Syracuse have been leading efforts to reduce CSOs with comprehensive green and grey infrastructure investments, which provide additional benefits of job creation and water use reduction.
  • Clean Water Services of Hillsboro, OR has developed a comprehensive array of tools to improve water quality and supply, including educational outreach and selling products derived from the water reclamation process.

Mel Meder
(608) 262-5176

Learn more about integrated water management from The City Upstream and Down convening materials.



Introduction to Integrated Water Management for Cities


Watch this introductory webinar about IWM for cities from MIP, American Rivers, the Efficiency Cities Network, and the Water Environment Research Foundation. Hear Theresa Connor (Colorado State University's One Water Solutions Institute & WERF) and George Hawkins (CEO & GM of DC Water) make a case for the powerful opportunities IWM offers cities. Slides available for view here.


Integrated Water Management & the City Agenda


Watch the second webinar in our series to explore how cities are connecting IWM to broader agendas. Hosted by MIP, American Rivers, the Efficiency Cities Network, and the Water Environment Research Foundation. Hear Howard Neukrug (former Philadelphia Water Commissioner) and Tom Rhoads (Commissioner of the Onondaga County Department of Water Environment Protection) demonstrate the powerful benefits IWM offers, from clean water and beyond.



Integrated Water Management from City to Watershed

The final webinar in this co-hosted series addresses integrated water management approaches that coordinate across jurisdictions for best results, instead working along the natural boundaries of watersheds. Two leaders in the integrated approach - Mayor Jonathan Rothschild (Tucson, Arizona) and Kevin Shafer (Executive Director, Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District) - demonstrate that whether a city is arid or lakeside, integrated water management approaches help build thriving water supplies, resilient stormwater systems, and more.