Ensuring One Water delivers for healthy waterways

Texas Living Waters is an active advocate for the One Water approach because it offers tremendous opportunities for improving how water is managed. Even so, we are concerned that the available One Water implementation frameworks are not providing adequate guidance or methodologies for ensuring that implementation of One Water principles will result in actual on-the-ground benefits in achieving “healthy waterways,” which is a key component of the One Water approach.

There often seems to be an assumption that implementing a One Water approach will automatically produce environmental benefits. However, One Water’s emphasis on local water capture, efficiency and reuse, if not carefully considered, may actually pose an inadvertent threat to river flows, starving natural systems and downstream communities of needed flows.

While using locally available water supplies is generally positive from both efficiency and environmental perspectives, many streams and rivers are fed, at least in part, by stormwater and wastewater flows originating within urban areas and depend on these sources to maintain healthy flow levels. Unless increased water reuse and localized water capture are accompanied by both significant water demand reductions and targeted flow-protection practices, stream-system health and the water supply of downstream communities may be put at risk.

We recently initiated an effort to understand how One Water strategies are being designed and deployed to advance healthy waterways while also realizing its potential for efficiently meeting human water needs.

We started by interviewing key utility staff, planners, engineers, and scientists from across the country who have experience with One Water implementation to get a sense of the current “state of practice.” We asked these experts about the specific nature of their respective planning challenges, how they consider environmental benefits and impacts as a part of their planning processes and whether they found that One Water planning had led to environmental gains and/or impacts

Read more from Jennifer Walker with the Texas Living Waters Project here.