Shared vision key to One Water success

One Water is a passion of mine. There is so much opportunity for advancement in the water sector by working together and taking a collaborative approach. I’ve led an integrated water approach at the local government level and the ability to do this at the national and international level with WERF is a dream come true.

Solving the problems that lie ahead is going to take creativity and resourcefulness. I think there is no doubt that most of us will not be able to meet our community’s water challenges without working in partnerships. The complexity of the issues is just becoming too great.

Years ago, when I held community meetings as the utility director in Sarasota County, Fla., the audience would always ask about water supply and flood protection and wetland issues because they wanted to know how it related. They didn’t see it as something different. At times, the speaker and the audience left frustrated. Our communities don’t respect the artificial boundaries that the industry has made. So for us to be successful, we need to start responding to that, and actually look at integrated approaches.

Also, I think there is great opportunity to work with community planners, who have a strong understanding of the transportation industry issues, but not always the water issues. Integrating water systems into urban and community design so that the water features bring high value and add to the livability of communities will be important to building community support for funding our programs.  One Water will make the most progress where there are the largest water crises and a sense of urgency.

As the dry areas get drier, the need to break down the barriers for adequate supplies is vitally important. There is a need to find novel solutions, which will take an integrated approach. Honestly, discharges from our water reclamation plants are one of the largest sources of high-quality water in the United States for potential potable and non-potable uses. In some areas, we can’t afford to overlook this resource as a waste discharge.

We need to shift our thinking from this being a disposal issue. As an industry, what if we could imagine a world without waste? Would we approach our work differently? Would we approach our system planning and design differently? Looking at how the natural systems work, we need to see wastewater and stormwater as important resources for our communities and our ecosystem.

A shared vision is essential for One Water to succeed.

About the experts
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Theresa Connor is the Research Program Director for the Water Environment Research Foundation. She joined WERF after 13 years at Sarasota County, Fla., where she served as the Water Resources General Manager and Utility Director managing the water, wastewater, reclaimed water, stormwater, and solid waste utilities and natural resources program.
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