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AWRA Policy Statements


Integrated Water Resources Management in the US
Approved by The Board of Directors of the American Water Resources Association at their January 21-22, 2011 meeting, as proposed by the Policy Technical Committee of AWRA

Position Statement: The American Water Resources Association recommends that water management goals, policies, programs, and plans be organized around the concept of Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM), the coordinated planning, development, protection, and management of water, land and related resources in a manner that fosters sustainable economic activity, improves or sustains environmental quality, ensures public health and safety, and provides for the sustainability of communities and ecosystems.[ i ]  [ ii ]  The American Water Resources Association calls on policy makers, planners and managers at national, tribal, interstate, state and local levels to encourage collaborations, policies, programs and plans that embrace Integrated Water Resources Management.

This effort will take a national commitment to:

  • Clean water as a basic human right, and as an economic  and ecological necessity;
  • Planning for long term sustainability;
  • Participatory decision making;
  • Management based on sound science and hydrologic units;
  • Realistic measurement of outcomes; and
  • Continuous improvement of institutional capacity at all levels.

The American Water Resources Association is committed to helping organizations throughout the nation further the implementation of Integrated Water Resources Management.

Issue: The Fourth National Water Policy Dialogue, co-sponsored by AWRA, described the state of the nation's water this way:

The United States faces severe water resource challenges today and in the decades ahead. The Nation must deal with significant drought, floods, growing threats to its water quality, continuing loss of wetlands and the impact of these losses on the natural and beneficial functions of floodplains and estuaries, and a water resources infrastructure that is aging, in need of revitalization and whose collapse would threaten our economic vitality. The potential impacts of climate change that could increase the intensity of floods, severity of droughts and change or weaken the health and stability of many ecosystems only add to the challenge.   [ iii ] 

Most striking about these challenges is the clear and intimate way in which they interconnect. Today, we understand that water quality cannot be managed separately from water quantity, and that water management cannot be divorced from our stewardship of the land. We realize we cannot protect or restore ecosystems or enjoy the services they provide if we do not safeguard the flow regimes and quality of water on which these systems depend. We know we cannot improve quality of life or ensure sustainability of communities if we ignore the water resources on which they rely. In short, we recognize that water resources cannot be managed sustainably without active and purposeful recognition of their many linkages and varied interconnections. This recognition, in fact, requires a holistic approach to water and the practice of integrated water resources management.

Rationale: The water resources issues we face as a nation and as tribes, states and communities are complex, costly and challenging. At least since the 1992 International Conference on Water and the Environment and its Dublin Statement, which called upon governments to assess their capacity to implement integrated water resources management, the water resources community has argued for the active and purposeful recognition of water's interconnections. [ iv ]  In 2002, the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg went beyond calls for the assessment of capacity by asking all countries to establish Integrated Water Resources Management plans.[ v ] And in 2010, the national collaboration spearheaded by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers identified Integrated Water Resources Management as a key part of a national agenda for sustainable water resources management. [ vi ]

The national collaboration identified Integrated Water Resources Management as a preferred way to plan and manage public water and related water resources planning and management. Among other things, it suggested:

  • Appropriate federal support to help states and regions tackle America's water problems through collaborative planning, a robust support toolbox, and an Integrated Water Resources Management framework;
  • Efforts to make Integrated Water Resources Management more understandable and a preferred way to plan and manage public water and related water resources planning and management;
  • Revitalizing and reshaping the capability of all levels of government to improve water resources management and build the public will to act for Integrated Water Resources Management.

Still, Integrated Water Resources Management suffers from a lack of clear definition, the lack of standard measures to track the success of Integrated Water Resources Management plans and projects, and the absence of guidance for those involved in planning and project development. With this position statement, the American Water Resources Association signals its commitment to addressing these issues in furthering Integrated Water Resources Management.


[ i ]   Participants in the national collaboration process spearheaded by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers defined IWRM in this manner: “IWRM aims to develop and manage water, land, and related resources, while considering multiple viewpoints of how water should be managed (i.e. planned, designed and constructed, managed, evaluated, and regulated). It is a goal-directed process for controlling the development and use of river, lake, ocean, wetland, and other water assets in ways that integrate and balance stakeholder interests, objectives, and desired outcomes across levels of governance and water sectors for the sustainable use of the earth’s resources.”  See: National Report: Responding to National Water Resources Challenges, Building Strong Collaborative Relationships for a Sustainable Water Resources Future, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Washington, D.C., August 2010, page 28.

[ ii ]   The Global Water Partnership, an international network that offers practical advice for sustainably managing water resources, defines IWRM as “a process which promotes the coordinated development and management of water, land and related resources, in order to maximize the resultant economic and social welfare in an equitable manner without compromising the sustainability of vital ecosystems.”

[ iii ]Summary, Fourth National Water Resources Policy Dialogue, Washington, D.C., September 2008.

[ iv ]The Dublin Statement on Water and Sustainable Development: http://www.wmo.ch/pages/prog/hwrp/documents/english/icwedece.html.

[ v ]World Summit on Sustainable Development, Johannesburg, South Africa, 2002: http://www.johannesburgsummit.org/html/documents/summit_docs/2009_keyoutcomes_commitments.pdf.

[ vi ]National Report: Responding to National Water Resources Challenges, Building Strong Collaborative Relationships for a Sustainable Water Resources Future, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Washington, D.C., August 2010.

If you have questions about any of the above policy statements, please feel free to contact AWRA.