What is One Water?

Sept. 9, 2021
One Water is for everyone, a goal that is embodied by core principles of water equity, water affordability and water access.

One Water is the emphasis that all water has value, encouraging those in the water industry to work together to solve water challenges, whether these challenges encompass storm water, residential water, commercial water, industrial water, municipal water, wastewater, drinking water, etc.

The One Water Movement takes a planning and implementation approach to managing finite water resources for long-term resilience and reliability in order to meet both community and ecosystem needs.

The definition of One Water itself varies depending on the needs of the community in question. For some communities, One Water may mean investing in urban water management; for another community, One Water entails integrating watershed protection and source water protection. Regardless of the approach and community needs, the core remains the same: all water, regardless of its source, has value.

Who Does the One Water Movement Impact? 

One Water is for everyone, a goal that is embodied by core principles of water equity, water affordability and water access.

Water Equity

The Water equity principle plays a major role in the One Water movement, as it means everyone is entitled to clean, safe water. Investing in the One Water movement, requires investment in communities disproportionately affected by water issues to ensure everyone has equal access to water.

More specifically, low-income people and communities of color are often disproportionately impacted by environmental justice and equity issues, including clean water

For example, according to the Navajo Water Project, 2 million people in the U.S. do not have access to running water or plumbing, and one in three Navajo families haul water home every day.The lead in water crisis in Flint, Michigan, also is a prime example of the necessity of this movement. 

There are many more examples of the urgent need for change in order to ensure proper water resources are available for all. The movement has created new job opportunities and saves costs that are avoidable down the line in the event of water system failures.

Water Access

Research estimates show that about 2 million Americans don’t have access to clean water, and race is the strongest predictor of water and sanitation access.

Water access is a problem everywhere and part of the problem is a lack of access to water education. US Water Alliance research is available and accessible to everyone to combat this issue.

In the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, goal number six is to achieve universal access to basic and safely-managed water and sanitation by 2030. According to the UN,  worldwide, one in three people do not have access to safe drinking water and two out of five people do not have a basic hand-washing facility with soap and water.


Water Affordability

While water affordability is usually seen through a monetary lens, the term does surpass just the monetary aspect of water. Affordability is also about health, time and social costs, which predominantly impact women and children.

Affordable Water, Resilient Communities is a campaign from NACWA and AMWA with the goal of facing water affordability issues headon. Aging infrastructure, emerging contaminants, climate threats, and more can keep costs rising and therefore keep water unaffordable for many. With the campaign, at the top of the list of goals is to invest more in water infrastructure and to work with the municipal water community to advance water protection and regulatory compliance and address affordability. 

Other critical elements of water affordability from the monetary side include reviewing and changing rate structures to ensure those with the lowest income are able to pay within their means. Some utilities use grant or loan programs to offset the cost of water for low-income families while others have implemented a tiered rate approach. In such a tiered approach, those with the greatest income in a community may pay more than those with the lowest income so as to offset the costs for those struggling to pay their bills.

Other considerations for affordability include ease of accessibility for paying bills. Low-income households are less likely to drive so a billing office on the opposite side of the city could be a barrier to getting bills paid on time. Identifying these issues is a critical first step in making water affordable for all.


Water is Life

Solving water challenges is up to municipalities, engineers, conservationists, innovators, manufacturers, residents, community organizers, business leaders, policymakers, farmers and anyone invested in joining the One Water movement.

Water is a human right for all. Water is life.

How is the One Water approach being implemented?

The One Water approach can be implemented on a small scale, but since its conception has widely been seen executed on a larger scale. The US Water Alliance has spearheaded the One Water movement, outlining seven key goals of the movement in its One Water for America Policy Framework.

7 One Water Pillars

  1. Advance regional collaboration on water management.
  2. Accelerate agriculture-utility partnerships to improve water quality.
  3. Sustain adequate funding for water infrastructure.
  4. Blend public and private expertise and investment to address infrastructure needs.
  5. Redefine affordability for the 21st century.
  6. Reduce lead risks and embrace the mission of protecting public health.
  7. Accelerate technology adoption to build efficiency and improve water service.

One Water Council

The Alliance has also convened the One Water Council, which brings together: utility managers, sustainability directors, planners, community leaders, environmental advocates, business leaders, researchers, and others driving the mission of One Water.

The One Water Council facilitates an environment where members can learn and partner on policy development. This council allows these parties to connect and collaborate on a range of One Water management strategies, including: green infrastructure, water reuse, climate resiliency, and more. 

The Value of Water Campaign

The Value of Water Campaign is another key part of the One Water movement, which includes Imagine a Day Without Water, a national education campaign held on October 21 of each year. This campaign is supported by top leaders from across the water industry, focused on educating the general public about water issues, especially issues considered “invisible water challenges.”

As wildfires rage and create disastrous drought conditions, and as dangerous floods destroy entire communities, the need for investment in water infrastructure and water resources is crucial. With One Water, we are one step closer to clean, safer, reliable water for all.  


Additional One Water Resources

One Water Articles

One Water Podcast Episodes

About the author: Cristina Tuser is associate editor for WWD. Tuser can be reached at [email protected]

About the Author

Cristina Tuser

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