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AWRA Policy Statements

Leveraging Integrated Water Resources Management Lessons
And Fostering a National Water Resources Strategy

Approved by the Board of Directors of the American Water Resources Association at their August 5, 2015 meeting, as proposed by the IWRM Technical Committee of AWRA.

AWRA Position Statement: A set of well documented strategies will provide a blueprint for more effective, coordinated management across sectors and levels of government. AWRA will work to build a culture of adaptive learning, high-quality connections and explicit alignment to foster nationwide integrated water resources management (IWRM). AWRA seeks to enable meaningful breakthrough change by advancing integrated management of the nation's water resources.

Historical Overview: In January 2011, the AWRA Board approved the Policy Committee's papers entitled "Integrated Water Resources Management in the US" and "Call for a National Water Vision and Strategy." At that time, AWRA took a position of being committed to helping organizations throughout the nation embrace IWRM and recommended development of a national approach on how to best use, protect, and manage our water resources. In June 2014, AWRA launched an IWRM Technical Committee to implement the policy. Since that time, through discussions with multiple stakeholders, and observation of successful IWRM programs, the Board and Technical Committee have refined the implementation approach to focus on building an actionable IWRM strategy.

Making the Case and Setting the Context: After people, water is our most critical and strategic natural resource, yet the U.S. lack a national strategy for water resources management. In addition, Americans are the world's largest water consumers. Threats of an aging infrastructure, climate change and population growth are so significant that the nation can no longer afford to postpone action. It's imperative that a focused effort be articulated and initiated to create and demonstrate strategies to sustain U.S. water resources. The country's future growth and prosperity depend on it.

America's water resource planning and regulations are fragmented from top to bottom and inconsistent from state to state, which results in confusion, inconsistent implementations, and inefficient regional actions to protect and preserve our water resources. The federal government has more than 20 agencies responsible for understanding and managing water resources. As a result, there is no clear sense of the federal role and little understanding of the gaps and overlaps among agencies. Each state and many tribes have one or more agencies responsible for managing water resources within their areas of jurisdiction. Additionally, thousands, of public- and private-sector entities manage water resources within the United States. Institutional arrangements with Canada and Mexico also warrant examination. A set of established and well documented strategies would provide a blueprint for more effective, coordinated management across water sectors.

Finally, America needs not only to keep up with but lead its global trading partners. New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, Brazil and the European Union are examples of jurisdictions that have developed overarching water policies and strategies designed to address the kinds of challenges facing the United States. It is imperative that the U.S. develop a national integrated strategy on how best to use, protect, fund and manage its water resources.

Adative Learning: Obtain shared understanding on the definition of IWRM techniques, methods, and their implementation.

High-Quality Connections: Build a network of engaged, collaborative partners on IWRM (AWRA chapters, other professional organizations, federal agencies, river basin organizations, state agencies, the private sector, Governors' Associations, NGOs and tribes).

Explicit Alignment: Create a partnership for developing and implementing a strategic approach to integrated water resource protection, preservation and management.

This partnership will develop a clear framework for sustainable management of our water resources, clarify roles and responsibilities, increase accountability, reduce conflict, improve the integration of resources, and provide water security for future generations. An integrated approach will save public funds by fostering more effective use of resources. AWRA strongly recommends a national commitment to the following tenets:

  • Clean water is a basic human right and is an economic and ecological necessity;
  • Planning aims for sustainable resource management
  • Participatory decision making;
  • Management based on sound science and hydrologic units;
  • Realistic measurement of outcomes; and
  • Continuous improvement of institutional capacity at all levels.

Our Path Forward: Our country's future growth and prosperity depends on how we manage our water resources. Review of IWRM case studies have led to emerging themes which are critical to be addressed during this effort. The following is AWRA's roadmap to achieving sustainable water resources over time.

  1. In order to obtain a shared understanding of IWRM and its implementation, AWRA will create an online catalog of IWRM plans, examples, and projects. The catalog will serve as an annotated bibliography of plans and projects designed to help people understand what drives successful IWRM, including what makes a plan or project legitimately IWRM, how scale and governance may affect the design and function or performance of IWRM, the role of policy and incentives in supporting IWRM, and how and when IWRM pays.
  2. AWRA will launch an intense effort to build a network of engaged, collaborative partners which will create the partnership described above. AWRA will prepare an outreach strategy and communication plan working first with AWRA members, committees, and sections then launching out to other professional associations, agencies and non-governmental organizations. Instead of contributing independently, it is time to put our minds together to develop an overarching strategic framework for our nation.
  3. On a parallel path will be an investigation into other countries (New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, Brazil and European Union) national water resource management programs. A grant writing effort will be undertaken to fund implementation of this initiative.
  4. AWRA will sponsor a national "working" conference focused solely on sharing IWRM examples, ideas, methods, lessons learned, and direction for advancement of IWRM. The following will be the development process:
    1. Review and confirm current situation.
    2. Identify the benefits of preparing a national water strategy.
    3. Formulate goals, objectives and desired outcomes
    4. Identify critical early action areas, including commitments, targets and timelines.
    5. Develop longer term strategies and actions including commitments, targets and timelines.
    6. Develop progress reporting protocols and cycles with an emphasis on transparency.
    7. Prepare draft document.
    8. After the conference, the document will undergo extensive stakeholder and public review prior to finalization.
    9. AWRA's mission will be to push the actual implementation of the strategies defined in the document.
Commitment: AWRA, as an organization that has been in existence for 50 years is poised to make this effort a reality. Extensive coordination and collaboration will be necessary and AWRA has the resources and virtual framework in place to execute.

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