Through its national dialogue series, the Clean Water America Alliance (Alliance) has sought to inspire visionary thinking that would influence and advance innovative, integrated, and sustainable water policy. By bringing together experts and leaders in the drinking water, wastewater, stormwater, water reuse and water management fields, with their counterparts in the agricultural, industrial, environmental, energy and finance areas, the Alliance tapped expertise and experience from a broad range of knowledgeable individuals in the pursuit of common ground and practical solutions to looming water supply and water quality challenges.

The first national dialogue – The Need for an Integrated National Water Policy – resulted in a call for a flexible framework policy based on water resource sustainability. It considered the details of how such a policy would address pressing issues as the energy/water nexus, water quality and water quantity, green infrastructure, and watershed management. The second dialogue – What’s Water Worth? – examined the economic, environmental and social consequences of significantly undervaluing this precious natural resource. The third dialogue – Managing One Water – focused on breaking down “silos” within the water community to better integrate drinking water, wastewater, ground water, reuse and stormwater management; to improve stakeholder relations; and to advance regional water sustainability.

All three dialogues embraced the need for an integrated national water policy framework. While each had a unique focus, many common elements were identified, including the urgency of the problem, the need to shift the water paradigm from a culture of conflict to one of collaboration, and the importance of bringing more voices and viewpoints into the discussion. All three reports are available at

Following the dialogues, the Alliance drafted a set of principles to articulate a possible direction forward. The Alliance convened a meeting of over a dozen large water-related trade associations in January in Washington, D.C., to review and receive feedback on the draft. The resulting principles are set forth below.

Valuing Water

Clean, safe water is undervalued, and the current water pricing system does not reflect its true cost or value. There is a tremendous need for a better understanding of and appreciation for the worth of clean and safe water. True water valuation will capture the treatment and transmission costs of water, water’s essential role in human and ecosystem health and survival, its economic contributions to recreation and tourism, and the cultural, spiritual and aesthetic elements of water.

Properly valuing water goes beyond pricing and financing. It includes recognition that this is finite resource needs an ethic to ensure water and watersheds are used and protected more effectively, efficiently and equitably.

Sustaining Water

Sustainability of water resources and aquatic ecosystems is another critical building block, and one that will become all the more critical given a changing climate.

Clean and reliable water will continue to have a profound impact on the development of domestic energy sources and greenhouse gas emissions in the 21st century – and vice versa. Two of the country’s most important physical resources, energy and water, must be used wisely and efficiently, particularly in the context of climate change and clean air policy.

One of the toughest water challenges is coordinating water quality laws, regulations and organizations with their water-quantity counterparts. Water quality traditionally has been guided by federal and state laws, while water quantity has been the domain of the states. Bridging long-established interests to integrate management of water quality and water quantity to ensure clean and reliable water for people and the environment will require significant discussion and negotiation among stakeholders. Better data sharing and collaboration are needed as well as investments in tools that integrate water quality and quantity.

Water efficiency, as well as conservation, should play a key role in our water policy. This is particularly true given the high per capita use of water in the United States when compared to other nations. Water efficiency helps communities stretch existing water supplies, lessen the demand on infrastructure, save money, reduce pollution and protect wildlife and ecosystems. When combined with wise policies on conservation and reuse, efficiency reduces water waste (such as leakage and disposal) without sacrificing performance or customer satisfaction.

Today, many areas of the country recognize they must do a better job of managing their stormwater, wastewater and water supplies to ensure safe, healthy and sustainable communities and a clean environment. Many states and municipalities are exploring and adopting more holistic approaches to watershed management and stormwater control, including non-traditional, “green infrastructure” approaches such as vegetated swales, rain gardens, porous concrete and rain barrels.

Watersheds connect people, organizations and communities. Water is the unifying element in a watershed, and helps to define our sense of place. Local citizens have a stake in the health of their watershed, and are positioned to take a more holistic approach to its use and protection. One of the biggest challenges – political boundaries and watersheds don’t often coincide. In many cases, federal leadership has been a part of reaching solutions between jurisdictions. Federal leadership should appropriately recognize the inherent differences that exist in watersheds, respect the roles of local and state water managers, and consider the existing legal framework governing the watershed.

Water resources are affected by climate change in a variety of ways. As communities prepare for climate change, water should be at the forefront of their planning efforts. Climate variability should be factored into management decisions for water and water infrastructure.

Monitoring Water

Timely and accurate data and monitoring are keys to managing and sustaining water. A watershed approach depends on assessment and monitoring for chemical, physical and biological integrity, tracking of status and trends, and determining the most cost-effective and equitable practices and strategies. Better data, including science-based, numeric criteria, can help policy-makers and stakeholders make meaningful progress in restoring and protecting watersheds and using water and energy more efficiently.

Technology and Finance

Dwindling federal funding, technology innovations and creative solutions will be at the forefront of meeting 21st century water sustainability challenges. This building block focuses on the importance of technology, research and innovation in solving many water issues, with an emphasis on the need for greater collaboration among public and private entities. Cutting-edge solutions to water management challenges should be embraced as part of this building block. Policies are needed to encourage municipalities, private companies and organizations to try new technology, expand research and development and help move the nation to a more sustainable water management paradigm.

Integrating and Collaborating

Often the challenge isn’t one of technology, but one of psychology, sociology and understanding by the public and policy makers. Effective and efficient integration is about breaking down the numerous institutional and regulatory silos within the clean water community and across the broad spectrum of water resource management activities. Integrating drinking water, wastewater, ground water, reuse and stormwater management, and improving stakeholder relations are essential to advancing water sustainability at a regional and national level.