Article | February 7, 2014

Taking Water From Invisible To Invaluable: 27 Communication Objectives To Advance The "One Water" Paradigm

By Donna Vincent Roa

As demands on the water sector increase, leaders interested in shaping the future of water management are pushing the notion that water is water, whether its drinking water, stormwater or wastewater. Doing so, according to the experts, encourages "comprehensive thinking, planning and management of our waters on a transformational scale.

Pressures to the industry and a need to make better use of resources has forced a new paradigm that requires more integrated plans and actions, a renewed focus on technology innnovation, and an interest in leveraging resources through strategic partnerships.

"While drinking water, wastewater and stormwater each have a different slot in the water cycle, they are inseparable in the larger context of water quality and supply, and water for future generations. We can no longer look at each sector separately. By continually investing in our systems, as well as innovative technologies that increase efficiency and sustainability, we are committed to addressing these challenges. When the infrastructure is reliable and functioning smoothly, there is less water loss, leaving a larger supply of water available for society. The cycle of water comes full circle," explains Dr. Mark LeChevallier, Director, Innovation & Environmental Stewardship at American Water.

Transformation from Stovepiped Approach to Holistic Approach Happening

In order to advance the "One Water" notion of integrated water management, transformation must take place. There is evidence of significant momentum for this change to move from the current "stovepiped approach to managing water" to a more holistic approach addressing all stages of the hydrologic cycle.

For example, the U.S. Water Alliance, led by President Ben Grumbles, former USEPA Assistant Administrator for Water, is building a network of leaders representing an array of research foundations, national trade associations, federal agencies, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to unite for integrated water management. Last September, the organization hosted its 4th One Water Leadership Summit which challenged leaders to think differently about sustainably managing limited urban water resources and resource recovery innovation and drives the paradigm shift for water sustainability.

Universal Objectives for a "One Water" Communication Portfolio

This transformation requires that we address the communication challenges in a holistic way and create a universal objectives framework to support and guide the growing number of voices supporting water. This is critical to our clean water future. Here are some universal objectives that can take water from invisible to invaluable:

  1. Raise the positive profile of water reuse 
  2. Work to change public perceptions about the value of water
  3. Increase public awareness about what it will take to replace aging infrastructure
  4. Improve public awareness in the need for holistic, watershed-based approaches to water quality and quantity challenges
  5. Use communication and branding to appropriately position technology innovation 
  6. Communicate broadly about innovative technology solutions that are addressing water quality and quantity challenges
  7. Reposition tap water in the consumer's mind (safe and high quality)
  8. Educate and engage the next generation of business and government leaders and decision makers on water issues and the importance of responsible water use
  9. Communicate about the role of climate change and its effect on water quantity and quality
  10. Provide information to policy makers that inform their decision about developing timely, integrated and holistic water policies
  11. Get everyone talking about water, beyond just water conservation 
  12. Change the techie language of water to lay language 
  13. Communicate with, educate and involve key stakeholders on matters related to local watersheds and local watershed specific concerns
  14. Communicate frequently with state drinking water administrators to ensure they have the latest information and tools related to the one water management concept
  15. Ensure that water research is promoted and communicated widely to the right stakeholders to reduce scientific uncertainty and stimulate stakeholder support 
  16. Work to improve the publics' understand of science, risk and regulation
  17. Train engineers and scientists in strategic communication
  18. Deliver transparent communication about contaminants
  19. Position strategic communication portfolio as an asset in the "utilities of the future" playbook
  20. Ready utilities for risk and crisis communication 
  21. Raise the profile of water utilities in communities
  22. Raise awareness of the nexus between water and energy, water and food, and water and health
  23. Raise awareness and increase public acceptance of the benefits of water reuse and desalination
  24. Educate the media on how best to communicate on water issues
  25. Develop tools, resources, and recommendations for expanding outreach efforts on water issues
  26. Exhibit smart use of new and old communication tools and channels
  27. Tell inspiring success stories that show water's role in our economic, social and ecosystems' health and growth

Our Actions Define How We Value Water

How we value water will be or can be defined by the evidence of positive actions that we take to conserve it, fix leaking pikes and upgrade aging infrastructure, improve the way that this global asset is managed, protect the quality of our waters, maintain water quality standards, develop innovative technologies that improve efficiency and management of water, and execute sustainable water resource management strategies that guarantee the future of water.

We are all stakeholders of the hydrologic cycle. Informed and educated stakeholders will think about, value and manage water in a different way. Communication can get us to gold…I mean blue.

About The Author

Accredited business communicator, water communication expert, and counsel to CEOs, scientists, engineers and professional communicators, Donna delivers holistic, value-based and industry-relevant solutions and results. Donna is actively involved in engagement with global water leaders at highest levels of business, government, associations, and international organizations. She is a multipotentialite, a fan of Einstein, and an avid environment and nature photographer who frequently writes about water issues.

Image credit: "Water," © 2007 celebdu, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

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