Your City Can Create Local, Sustainable Water Infrastructure

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WaterNow Alliance is partnering with NLC to help cities implement a new paradigm that aligns water supply with sustainability.

(Photo: draqza/DeviantArt)
The Hetch Hetchy reservoir in Yosemite National Park, California, serves as the primary water source for the city of San Francisco and several surrounding municipalities. It is estimated that California cities and town could generate 3-5 million acre-feet of water per year through sustainability measures – more than 10 times the capacity of the reservoir. (Photo: draqza/DeviantArt)

This is a guest post by Cynthia Koehler.

Much of America’s urban water infrastructure is aging and in decay.  The list of water infrastructure needs remains, as ever, large and largely unfunded. But there is a path forward, and WaterNow Alliance is positioning local officials to lead the way.

Water efficiency and other sustainable water strategies can substantially delay, and even avoid entirely, the need to develop more expensive new water supplies. Innovative technologies, like smart leak detection, cloud-based landscape irrigation controllers, coupled with other water saving methods, like rebates for turf removal and greywater reuse, can generate the equivalent of millions of acre-feet of avoided new water needs.

Local water utilities account for the vast majority of spending on water infrastructure nationwide. These governing boards set the policies, rates and direction that will determine how, and from where, homes, institutions, industry and businesses get their water. In the face of a rapidly changing climate and increasing drought patterns across the West, support for local adoption of efficiency, green infrastructure, reuse and other sustainable water solutions on a broad scale is growing. So while city councils, water districts, and regional authorities are funding traditional infrastructure, they also have the opportunity to support innovative new technologies that can ease the burden on existing systems and allow communities to grow without over drafting their realistic water budget. The National League of Cities (NLC) has long recognized that local governmental officials hold the key to unlocking the promise of sustainability – that’s why WaterNow Alliance is partnering with NLC to jumpstart this effort.

What is WaterNow Alliance?

WaterNow Alliance is a growing network of local elected officials, staffed by and partnered with experts in sustainability and resilience, working with leaders in technology, academia, and government. The Alliance is accelerating a new shift toward adoption of sustainable water solutions at scale educating and galvanizing water leaders, and helping them implement a new paradigm that aligns water supply with sustainability. WaterNow Alliance is a focused effort to build confidence in, and support for, water innovation, to help communities move more quickly to adopt and implement sustainable practices and technologies. Its purpose is to catalyze a fundamental shift in urban water management, making sustainable water strategies the new normal.

How does the Alliance do it?

WaterNow Alliance focuses on three major areas of work: strategic partnerships, high impact policy, and on-the-ground projects.

With their partners network, the Alliance convenes summits to engage local elected and appointed officials, educates them on state-of-the-art solutions and innovations, connects them to technology leaders and others working on similar problems in other communities, and provides them with a collective voice on state and national policies that can hinder the rapid and widespread adoption of water conservation practices and sustainable infrastructure investments. The Alliance’s Inaugural Water Summit was held in March 2016 in partnership with Arizona State University in Tempe Arizona, and included more than 50 officials from across the West.

The Alliance develops policy guidance and analysis to break down barriers to sustainable practices, and leverages its network to facilitate rapid change. For example, the Alliance is working with the White House to reverse federal tax policy that undermines local water efficiency incentive programs by treating these rebates as taxable income.  In addition, the Alliance has taken the lead on clarifying rules for how and when water utilities can use their municipal bonding capacity to provide flexible financing opportunities for water conservation infrastructure. This is a major initiative, and working with experts from the business and partners from the nonprofit and utility sector, WaterNow Alliance hopes to unlock the potential for millions in utility capital for unconventional, decentralized water solutions.

And finally, the Alliance implements projects with local partners to showcase innovation and demonstrate the feasibility of sustainable water options to have significant beneficial impacts for communities. For example, the Alliance has partnered with multiple cities in California to train and certify contractors and landscape professionals on water efficient landscaping and graywater reuse systems. We have also designed rebate programs, and we’re working with a county and a water utility on adopting smart leak detection. The Alliance specifically selects projects that can be repeated in other communities and scaled for greater impact.

For more about the Alliance’s successful work in its launch year, including footage from its first Summit, watch this short video:

How do I get involved?

WaterNow Alliance is a rapidly expanding group of water leaders interested in expanding opportunities to adopt sustainable water strategies in their communities. To join the Alliance, sign up here! You’ll get access to exclusive resources, a growing peer-to-peer network to share experiences and best practices, a newsletter with timely information about water solutions, invitations to Alliance summits, input on what policy issues the Alliance should address, the option to showcase your sustainability initiatives through the Alliance, and the opportunity to partner with the Alliance on water projects in your community.

About the Author: Cynthia Koehler is the co-founder and executive director of the WaterNow Alliance, a nonprofit network of water leaders dedicated to catalyzing sustainable water solutions. She has pioneered innovations in state and federal water law to advance sustainability, and is a recognized leader in Western water policy. Prior to WNA, she served as Legislative Director for California Water for the Environmental Defense Fund, and Legal Director for Save San Francisco Bay.