Integrating to Achieve Clean Water Act Compliance

Integrating to Achieve Clean Water Act Compliance

With great work over the last 40 years addressing industrial and municipal wastewater discharges, stormwater runoff is now the greatest threat to the health and safety of our nation’s waters. According to NOAA, 80% of water pollution comes from polluted stormwater runoff and these pollution sources are pressuring traditional clean water utilities to increase watershed restoration efforts. However, traditional clean water projects will not mitigate system-wide inputs of pollutants and may not be the most cost-effective way to reach restoration goals. In a recent article I wrote for Public Works magazine, I discuss the challenges of addressing clean water restoration through conventional public works organizations, technology and public engagement.

In short, the restoration of water resources, which is ultimately the focus of the Clean Water Act, will require changes to the way we deliver “public works”. An integrated approach to addressing wastewater and stormwater pollution inputs will be necessary and will be the only way to restore water resources, but it will also require a shift in how municipalities have traditionally been organized to deliver these services, how they utilize technology and how they work with external stakeholders. Below, I outline some of the trends towards a public works of the future, but you can learn more about how it has worked in context through my full article here.

How to Move Towards a Utility of the Future

A number of organizations such as the Water Environment Federation (WEF), the National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA), the Water Environment Research Foundation (WERF) American Water Works Association (AWWA), and the American Public Works Association (APWA) are working to define a vision of what the clean water utility of the future should look like.

The 2015 Annual Report of the Utility of the Future (UOTF)—the product of a collaboration between NACWA, WEF, WERF, and WateReuse—makes a key point—in order to make the transition to a UOTF, clean water utilities require an "innovation ecosystem" comprised of technology developers, consulting engineers and scientists, government, the finance community, and a wide range of professional organizations to innovate across the clean water profession.

This “innovation ecosystem” is essentially a support network for utility staff who are going to be required to implement unfamiliar projects.

A Few Specific First Steps

Consolidate Your Team. Many public agencies scatter water resources skills throughout their organization, but several organizational assessments we’ve conducted in New England cities have recommended creating an integrated Water Resources division which can greatly improve the efficiency of delivery of clean water services. Aligning asset managers, compliance managers, and maintenance staff under a single division focused on clean water infrastructure and non-infrastructure solutions can result in efficiencies and best leverage skill sets.

Arm Yourself with Technology. The strategic use of technology is a critical step in integrated and efficient water resources protection and restoration. The relatively recent advent of ESRI’s ArcGIS Online functionality and improved web mapping services allow for this shared visualization of geographic data, field data collection, restoration activities, and identification of pollution sources in near real-time. Making best use of the available technologies will be essential to our ability to manage diverse programs and compliance obligations.  

Make Your Message Personal. Public buy-in is necessary in order to sustain an integrated water resources restoration effort, so communication and outreach efforts are critical. Citizen rate payers care about clean water and how it is being protected, but are confused by the nuances of underground infrastructure, siloed regulatory programs, and the acronym vocabulary of the clean water profession. We have found through public opinion surveys that there is no reason for the public to understand everything about how sewer and stormwater systems work. Keep your message simple: “we are working for clean water” messaging with a focus on what we do with your money.

While the future of clean water will continue to be challenged by aging infrastructure, increased compliance obligations, and limited funding, a few small steps toward organizational efficiency, technology utilization, and messaging to the public will support the continued and necessary development of the public works of the future. For more information, contact me at


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