Guest Commentary: Integrated Water Resources Management

Bringing all relevant parties to the table to identify and resolve disparate interests leads to better relationships, coordination, and cooperation. Shared understanding of each stakeholder’s priorities and pressures is hugely beneficial in effectively managing water resources at a regional or watershed scale. Water utilities that use IWRM are more likely to find equitable compromises that optimize social, economic, and environmental benefits for their communities.

The U.S. Army Corp of Engineers reports that IWRM “often involves including all sources of water in planning; addressing water quantity, water quality, and ecosystem needs; incorporating principles of equity, efficiency, and public participation in water planning; sharing information across disciplines and agencies.” This holistic viewpoint is something that often presents a challenge to entities in the water community, but the benefits of this planning approach far outweigh the costs of operating in a silo.

Using IWRM as part of water supply diversification efforts has been an area of attention for WRF for some time and I’m proud to report that we are continuing to address IWRM research through a dedicated and sustained research effort under our Focus Area Program. WRF understands that the increasing supply pressures facing our utility partners due to factors such as population growth, increased hydrologic and climate variability and uncertainty, decreasing availability of high quality water sources, decreasing quality of existing sources, and increasing water demands from other sectors like energy and agriculture require an innovative approach, like IWRM, to overcome.

Taking a holistic view of a water system represents a major leap forward in terms of how the water utility community works with stakeholder groups that have significant interests in the water system. By focusing on sustainable resource development, lengthening their planning horizon, and engaging all relevant stakeholder groups, utilities can improve their ability to overcome the numerous financial, social, environmental, technical, regulatory, and institutional challenges to diversifying water supply portfolios.

WRF has developed significant IWRM knowledge resources for the water community and is committed to continuing our efforts to produce information and insights around this issue that prepare the community for success. In the coming months, we will begin to translate our research on water supply diversification into a dedicated “Knowledge Portal” that will contain relevant fact sheets, Webcasts, case studies, and recommendations and best practices to help inform our subscribers as they develop and implement IWRM programs in their service areas.

Using IWRM to support water supply diversification efforts represents a notable change in the way our complex, interconnected, and integrated water systems are managed with benefits for all stakeholders. WRF is taking the lead in researching IWRM and invites all members of the water community to share their experiences or to send us their questions – as IWRM demonstrates, collaboration between stakeholders can lead to greater success for all.

Robert Renner is the Executive Director of the Water Research Foundation

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