From left to right: Steven Buchberger (University of Cincinnati), Dave Bracciano (Tampa Bay Water), Sarah Diringer (Pacific Institute), Jack Kiefer (Hazen and Sawyer), Jocelyn Lu (Brown and Caldwell), Maureen Hodgins (Water Research Foundation), Amy Volckens (Brendle Group), and Heather Zarski (EPCOR Utilities).

In March, more than 400 water professionals gathered in Seattle for AWWA’s annual Sustainable Water Management conference. it’s one of the best places to go to learn what cities and utilities are doing across the country to innovate and manage water resources more sustainably. The conference was organized along four technical tracks focusing on resource management and planning, source water supply and protection, efficiency, and resiliency and sustainability. Here are some highlights from this year’s conference:

  • One Water: How can we make the most responsible use of our water resources? Instead of changing the natural environment, how can we preserve it? The One Water philosophy means approaching all aspects of the water cycle holistically as an interconnected system, rather than as the siloed water management systems and regulations that have traditionally separated drinking water, wastewater, stormwater, and environmental health programs. Viewing water through a One Water lens brings up new and interesting questions, like how do reduced demands from water efficiency efforts impact wastewater collection systems and the supply of reclaimed water? How can we reduce water use without increasing risks from water quality impacts like legionella? Conservation efforts remain critical to meeting future water demands, but water managers need to consider the systemwide impacts from these efforts.
  • Integrated water resources and land use planning: How can we continue to conserve water while populations grow and economies thrive? More communities are looking to integrate their land use and water resources planning efforts, identify barriers to water conservation efforts, and ensure that municipal codes and design guidelines reflect community values, such as water conservation and protection of the natural environment.
  • Water efficiency in the commercial, industrial, and institutional (CII) sector: Many water providers struggle to define what efficient water use looks like in the CII sector, which customers to target for education and outreach, and how to gather basic information, like where cooling towers are installed. All of this information is critical to moving beyond residential water efficiency programs towards efficiency in the CII sector ̶ the next frontier of utility demand management efforts.

Overall, it was an inspiring conference and a good reminder of the people and efforts dedicated to making sustainable water management a way of life.