Water is an essential element in our lives, but population growth and climate change are forcing us to re-evaluate how we manage water resources to maintain sustainable access to clean water.

Population growth, combined with increasingly severe droughts and floods, are straining our rivers and water supplies like never before. These extremes mean that communities need to manage and use water in a smarter, more economical way that benefits both communities and nature.

Cities face tough water challenges

In 2010, the percentage of the U.S. population living in cities or suburbs surpassed 80 percent. Urban areas are facing a number of challenges when it comes to water, and grappling with questions including:

  • How do we face a future with too much water, too little water, and water at the wrong time?
  • In the context of our country’s aging infrastructure failing to the tune of $1 trillion in costs over the next 25 years, how do we as water stewards, water managers and civic leaders plan for, and pay for, the upgrading/upsizing/flexing of infrastructure?
  • How do we address heightened concerns over water quality and regulatory compliance that force difficult choices between water investments?
  • How do our communities continue to develop and grow in population and have confidence that the water our communities and ecosystems need will be there?
  • How do we sustain our source waters – our rivers – that are often shared beyond political and water management boundaries?

Solutions for people and rivers

The solution to our water challenges lies in successfully managing water as a single resource and adopting proven technology, tools and policies that promote the natural water cycle.

Integrating the management of water in all its forms – drinking water, stormwater, wastewater and source water– is the only way to solve our current and future water challenges. This approach is called “integrated water management.”

American Rivers is helping communities use integrated water management solutions – including green infrastructure, water conservation and efficiency-and maintaining strong water quality and flow regulations and standards.

These solutions are helping cities minimize their impact on rivers and the natural environment, maximize their contribution to social and economic vitality, and improve overall quality of life. 

What is integrated water management?

An integrated water management approach produces “triple bottom line” benefits (social, economic and environmental) in an equitable and sustainable manner and creates flexible, resilient water infrastructure that can respond to a range of scenarios.

Integrated water management considers the urban water cycle as a single integrated system, in which all urban water flows are recognized as potential resources. Integrated water management is practiced through inclusive and jointly planned management of all water systems– where all waters are resources and are valued and put to use.

What does this look like?

  • Waste water is recycled to become drinking water.
  • Stormwater is allowed to soak into the ground, supporting healthy river flows that provide drinking water and assimilate waste.
  • Drinking water supplies are optimized through efficiency and conservation leaving more water in the river.

How does it work?

Collaboration is critical as some tasks cannot be accomplished by one organization or one sector. For example, green stormwater infrastructure means rethinking how we design our cities and communities. This requires stormwater utilities, transportation engineers, urban planners, city government, architects, neighborhood advocates, and many others to work together.

How does integrated water management help rivers?

Healthy rivers depend on enough clean water. Healthy rivers require flows, water quality, connectivity, and habitat and are directly and indirectly affected by how we manage water resources.

Integrated Water Management presents opportunities for environmental benefits to be compared and achieved alongside social and economic benefits.

This approach avoids the false choice of working for the economy or environment or society – and recognizes the critical importance of sustaining the resource – the river – for the good of all.

Learn more about the IWM process and find resources to help water managers implement IWM in their communities here.