Best Bets for Texas Water

One Water

What is One Water?

One Water is a collaborative water planning and operational approach that uses diverse and connected strategies to manage limited water resources. Its goal is for both communities and ecosystems to be healthy and resilient.

Graphic inspiration courtesy of US Water Alliance

Because One Water is a water management approach, rather than a prescribed set of tasks and check boxes, it looks different for every community. It can begin by bringing various new stakeholders into the planning process, which allows communities to take a bigger-picture approach as they take inventory of and address different challenges and opportunities. It also allows communities to map out how water fits into other key venues, such as parks, industry, development and business growth, and to create opportunities for water to move seamlessly and efficiently through these different aspects of community living.

Before One Water
Water management is siloed in different departments that don’t necessarily collaborate, even though all water sources are part of the same water cycle. Other municipal departments that have an impact on how water moves through a community, including parks management and city planners, are not typically brought in as collaborators.

After One Water
A community manages its water comprehensively, cost-effectively and sustainably. Collaboration, which is a key One Water tenet, makes innovation and efficiency easier, and the entire community is brought into the planning and implementation process.

You can see One Water in action in St. James County, Florida; Los Angeles, California; San Francisco, California; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and Austin, Texas (Austin is currently drafting a 100-year water supply plan with One Water principles).
What does One Water look like in action?
  • Increasing urban greenspace to help reduce stormwater runoff, mitigate flooding and slow water flow to recharge aquifers.
  • Incentivizing various forms of “green” infrastructure, such as permeable pavement, rooftop gardens, and connected wildlife habitats.
  • Collecting and reusing water, such as air conditioning condensate and rainwater, for things like landscape irrigation and flushing toilets.
  • Involving residents as stakeholders, leading to greater equity within the community.
  • Protecting wildlife, rivers and bays by using water efficiently and intentionally setting aside enough water to replenish watersheds.

For example: About 90 percent of Los Angeles’ water supplies are imported. This leaves the city vulnerable in the face of many challenges, including recurring droughts, rising water demands, aging infrastructure and a changing climate.

To help combat these challenges, LA created a One Water plan. They brought the community into the process and hosted 65+ public presentations and discussions. Some of the city’s One Water projects include reusing water, adding stormwater capture to LA schools, investing in nature-based development solutions, and developing wetland and creek parks.

One Water report card
Relative to other strategies, this is as good as it gets – however, even a good strategy can be done poorly if it is not carefully implemented.

One Water earns full marks – but only if communities that adopt it intentionally leave enough water in their watershed to support healthy springs, rivers and wildlife.

True costs
Relative to other strategies, this is as good as it gets – however, even a good strategy can be done poorly if it is not carefully implemented.

One Water costs will be different for every community. Adopting One Water can help avoid many costs common to community living, has numerous societal and economic benefits, and can help communities delay or avoid the need for more costly infrastructure.

Long-term viability
Relative to other strategies, this is as good as it gets – however, even a good strategy can be done poorly if it is not carefully implemented.

One Water helps communities stay flexible and resilient by reducing water demands and diversifying water supplies.

One Water grade breakdown
Environmental impacts
  • Rather than taking more water than the environment can afford to give, One Water communities use innovation, education and planning to work with the water they have. This means understanding how much water the environment needs, and leaving enough water in Texas watersheds to protect and replenish springs, rivers, bays and wildlife.
  • Water conservation and nature-based development are both key One Water components; their environmental impacts also apply to One Water.
  • The One Water approach emphasizes using many smaller-scale, diverse, local water sources, which allows communities to avoid large, environmentally-damaging water supply projects.
  • None, if One Water is adopted in a way that provides downstream communities, rivers and wildlife with enough fresh water.
The status quo is just not necessarily going to continue to work. … The reality is that things are changing, cities are growing, infrastructure is older, and there are so many reasons why we just have to be really mindful about some of the risks we face and some of the ways that different decision-making can help us address those.
True costs

1 One Water costs vary widely depending on a community’s size, growth, and unique portfolio of One Water strategies. Bringing One Water to a community can be a time-intensive process, and there are upfront costs involved in rolling out new water management, infrastructure, development and urban planning initiatives.

2 One Water’s numerous co-benefits can transform a community, which means it is essential to consider the “big picture” when analyzing One Water costs. Common One Water components, such as green space, restored urban waterways, stormwater capture and reuse, and more efficient water use, can lead to:

  • Desirable urban spaces that attract large-scale development and businesses, improve property values and stimulate the local economy.
  • Healthier residents, thanks to more recreational opportunities and reduced heat island effect.
  • Drought preparedness through strategic planning that reduces water demands for future use.
  • Flood resilience as a result of incentivizing green infrastructure.
  • Fewer water treatment costs and less water pollution by preserving healthy, water-filled streams, rivers and wetlands, which dilute pollutants.
  • Stronger community ties that are developed as residents are engaged, educated and empowered to adopt smaller-scale One Water strategies.
  • New funding opportunities made available by collaborating across municipal departments and public-private partnerships.

3 One Water may also help bolster local economies by reducing major expenses such as flood damage, human health costs related to the urban heat island effect and a lack of open community spaces, drought-related agricultural losses, and expensive billion-dollar projects like reservoirs.

Long-term viability

1 Adopting a One Water approach means incorporating a broad portfolio of water conservation, demand management, and supply options, rather than automatically locking into large-scale projects that are less responsive to changing populations, climates and technologies. This portfolio-based approach encourages innovation and future-oriented, flexible growth, and helps communities stay resilient by diversifying their water supply.

2 By treating water like the single, connected resource that it is, rather than managing it in silos, communities can use water more efficiently. As populations grow, temperatures climb and extreme weather becomes more common, One Water strengthens a community’s long-term resiliency; it does this by reducing water waste, increasing local water supplies and availability, protecting the environment, and mitigating flooding.

Next up: Nature-based solutions Keep Reading
Get more water news

Sign up for our bi-weekly newsletter to stay up-to-date on water issues and news impacting Texas’ water future.

Sign me up
Take a stand

Let your decision-makers know that you support fresh water for every living thing. Endorse our recommendations for a thriving Texas future.

Sign my name
Browse Other Chapters