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How US Cities Can Improve Water Management before It’s Too Late

My two teenage sons are like the current state of U.S. cities. They continue growing and growing, sometimes taking natural resources for granted and consuming more and more water. Like many communities, they don’t think about the tap water they’ll require years down the road, or from where that water will come. And they certainly don’t experience the global tragedy well documented on this World Water Day such as inadequate access to drinking water or proper sanitation for millions of people.Of the many benefits we experience in the United States, access to clean water is one we take for granted. And that’s exactly what many US cities have done, lulled into complacency by decades of largely reliable, safe and inexpensive water. But US water supplies are under much greater pressure now than in the past. From coast to coast, and even in Hawaii, stress on water resources is further amplified by population growth, consumption, aging infrastructure and climate change.We’ve reached a point that is tough to ignore:

  • The US population is growing, and often in regions where water is scarce. Already, parts of nine states – Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Nebraska, Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia, Florida and South Carolina – are in Stage 3 or Stage 4 drought events. Last year, the worst-ever drought in Texas history, along with record heat, cost the local economy an estimated $5.2 billion.
  • Our water infrastructure is in bad shape. We lose six billion gallons of clean drinking water every day because of leaky pipes, according to the US Geological Survey. That’s enough to supply 60 million people with their daily needs. And a new study by the American Water Works Association estimates the cost of repairing and expanding our underground drinking water infrastructure at $1 trillion over the next 25 years.
  • US water disputes continue to draw attention. One notable example is in the southeast, where Alabama, Georgia and Florida are fighting a legal battle over access to water in two river basins. At stake is supplying both people and businesses with the water they have come to expect.
  • As the United States becomes increasingly urbanized, stress on local water resources will only intensify. We must manage our water more effectively to deal with these challenges. Fortunately, there are many steps that cities can take to address water supply and management issues. Here are a few:
  • Manage water at a watershed level, not according to political boundaries. Water knows no man-made boundaries. Watersheds are devoid of jurisdictions and political maps. This means that good water management requires accountability and cooperation among all users of water available within the watershed. The Great Lakes Compact is a great example of regional governing bodies and other essential stakeholder groups working together to progressively manage an area’s water resources.
  • Adopt a long-term, sustainable view of water management. Far too often, water is managed on a short-term, as-needed basis. The smartest decisions are long-term and consider the three facets of sustainability – people, the environment and the economy. When regional water agency Tampa Bay Water needed a sustainable water solution to address rapid population growth, they turned to a cost-effective design-build-operate (DBO) model. This generated $80 million of savings on the project’s initial $200 million budget, while reducing the project’s environmental footprint and using sustainable river harvesting techniques.
  • Use technology for public good. Already, water technology enables us to use wastewater to produce ultra-pure process water (far beyond drinking water standards) for the manufacture of computer chips. Cutting-edge technology enabled safe treatment of highly radioactive wastewater from the Fukushima nuclear plant following the terrible earthquake in Japan. As the public better understands water technology and gets over the “yuck” factor, cities will be able to reduce water stress, especially during drought cycles.

Just as my own sons need more water as they grow, so do cities. While current public perception is shaped by the seemingly never-ending stream of water that comes from the tap, poorly managed water resources represent a serious threat to the well-being of our society – our people, our environment and our economy. On this World Water Day as you turn on the faucet, think about where that water comes from and how we can act on a personal and at a city or company level to better manage our water resources for generations to come.

Laurent Auguste was appointed president and CEO for Veolia Water Americas in 2008. In this role Mr. Auguste leads Veolia Water’s activities in North and South America and is a member of the Executive Committee for Veolia Water, the world’s leading water company. Additionally, he serves on the boards of the Milwaukee Water Council and the Clean Water America Alliance.

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2 thoughts on “How US Cities Can Improve Water Management before It’s Too Late

  1. [Because the article discussed states much more than cities]: the Top Ten “Dirtiest American Cities” listed by TRAVEL+LEISURE include New Orleans, Philadelphia, Memphis, Baltimore and Atlanta. Three of these cities are in states currently deemed “worst” in the American State Litter Scorecard. Littering and dumping breeds diseases and is injurous to humans. The listed cities could be targets for life-threatening, water-borne health epidemics, and are thus prime candidates for major water quality upgrades for serving large established populations.

  2. We don’t need to take fewer showers or use stinky eco toilets. We don’t need subsidized, big government water pipes that leak. We need tried and tested, market supplied, bottled water that is trucked or barged from the Great Lakes down to to Southern states that need it. The liberals don’t want to share the great lakes with people that need them, but they want US to pay for THEIR environmental entitlement programs! As a Christan and a Conservative, I have the right to demand accountability from people who want to spend my money to deny me my resources!

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