The One Water Initiative and a Call for Consensus Building by Dave Maclean

October 23, 2018


Water Regulatory Updates By GeoInsight's Water Supply Expert, Dave Maclean

Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of working with the New England Water Works Association’s Water Conservation, Sustainability, and Water Resources Committees on a symposium focusing on holistic water management and the US Water Alliance’s One Water Plan. So much of my work these days is focused on highly defined enforcement issues or addressing “pants-on-fire” water resource emergencies, so it was nice to spend the day looking at long range planning strategies. As a water professional, it seems that we spend much of our time working in regulatory silos without fully comprehending how integrated good environmental solutions should be.

Recent initiatives regarding emerging contaminants are a case in point.  In an effort to safeguard human health, drinking water standards are being driven ever lower—causing new wastewater management challenges, since what was formally discharged as “trace level” impacts could now cause regulatory non-compliance. Similarly, increased attention towards safeguarding streamflow is forcing new and innovative strategies for water source development and stormwater discharging to be implemented. These are regulatory challenges that require collaboration and integration across regulatory programs; however, we are all familiar with situations such as the drinking water program is not talking with subsurface folks or the wetlands permitters are not familiar with hazardous waste clean-up programs. 

Regional challenges also exist where wastewater utilities, water utilities, and regulatory agencies are not properly communicating across state boundaries, yet there are ways to improve these negotiations. Kira Jacobs from the EPA and Starr Glenn from the Berwick Water Department in Maine presented a great example, highlighting challenges faced in implementing source water protection programs for the Salmon Falls Watershed, an important drinking water source that forms a boundary between southwestern Maine and southeastern New Hampshire.

During the symposium I was tasked with moderating a breakout session that focused on regional approaches to integrated water management. My group involved 16 professionals, which included water system operators, engineers, regulators, and students. Over the course of the session, we had no trouble passionately describing regional problems and roadblocks, along with offering our own humorous anecdotes. Yet, for all of this constructive communication, solutions and strategies for success were much harder to come by, which left me left me—the moderator—scratching my graying head. What few good news stories I did hear had the common theme of taking a long time to develop. 

So, my fellow water professionals, we must take the time to attentively listen to each other, striving to find compromise. Kirk Westphal from Kleinfelder waxed poetic in his keynote address at the symposium, reminding us that getting 80% of what you want in an implemented project beats getting 100% of what you want in a project that dies or goes nowhere. These are wise words in an era where extremely low water quality standards, aggressive stream flow protections, and limited groundwater withdrawals seem to be viewed as do-or-die ultimatums. 

The One Water Roadmap provided by the U.S. Water Alliance is an interesting guide advocating for a more collaborative approach to tackling water problems. The symposium made for a thought-provoking event, with each presentation highlighting the ever-increasing need for participation and communication on attaining the Roadmap’s themes:

  • Reliable and Resilient Utilities,
  • Thriving Cities,
  • Competitive Business and Industry,
  • Sustainable Agricultural Systems,
  • Social and Economic Inclusion, and
  • Healthy Waterways.


A review of the Roadmap’s Executive Summary/Report will provide both context and inspiration that will help you with your next consensus building challenge.  


Authored by Dave Maclean

Get in Touch with Dave Maclean

Dave Maclean, PG, LSP, LEP | Director of Water Supply

Dave has 30 years of experience in water supply and contaminant hydrogeology projects throughout New England and has partnered with the NHDES and many New Hampshire water suppliers to solve water supply and water quality problems.