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Integrated Water Resource Management

A century ago the traditional definition of water management focused on caring for basic infrastructure. But over the 125 years of American Water’s operations, that definition has changed dramatically.

Because clean water is such an essential component of people’s health, our economy, and our environment, managing this resource demands a more holistic and integrated approach which considers the whole water cycle. Integrated water resource management (IWRM) focuses on understanding all of the water resources available to the communities we serve and the surrounding regions, actively caring for those resources, and providing solutions that best match an area’s water needs and constraints. It is a more holistic assessment of water solutions than traditional, single solutions by individual entities. Key components of IWRM are identified below:

  • Identifying and giving balanced consideration to supply and demand management planning alternatives. This could include evaluation of water resource use and demands from agriculture, industry, power generation or other significant users of the regional watershed resources. Coordinated drought management planning is often included in the scope of IWRM;
  • Considering the availability and use of alternative or distributed supplies (re-use, groundwater recharge, storm water retention/treatment, non-potable supplies, etc.) as appropriate. Green solutions such as low impact development techniques, bio-swales, rain barrels and gardens, infiltration basins, etc. would also be included;
  • Analysis of engineering, economic, societal, and environmental costs and considerations while balancing the needs of competing users and multiple objectives of the use of the resources;
  • Inviting an open and participatory process involving all stakeholders and striving for consensus, while encompassing least-cost analysis of short- and long-term planning options, and satisfying utility and regulatory policy goals;
  • Identifying and managing risk and uncertainty including emerging guidance on relevant issues such as the potential impacts of climate change;
  • Encouraging coordination of planning between water and wastewater utilities, environmental agencies/NGOs, land use planners, transportation planning, etc. in a specific region.

IWRM is a continuous process that typically results in the development of a comprehensive water resources management plan. On a service area specific basis, the extension of American Water’s Comprehensive Planning Study (CPS) process is a logical way to evaluate and incorporate elements of IWRM. The CPS helps to understand both current and future demands and constraints on water resources. Through the CPS process, potential new supply-side and demand-side solutions and approaches can be developed. The process can go beyond evaluating the existing water system infrastructure, by building in a process of internal and external stakeholder engagement to gain understanding for the needs and perspectives of a wide range of constituents.

We seek active stakeholder involvement at key milestones in the process to help in the development and support of optimal solutions for the communities and regions served. Stakeholders can include local and state government agencies, fire districts, community, business, and environmental organizations, customer focus groups, and other utilities.

IWRM is typically an ongoing, multi-year process that can be initiated independent of or integrated with other initiatives or planning studies.

Read more about our 2010 water management performance here.


“Our approach to Integrated Water Resources Management takes a comprehensive look at all the sources of water available to a community, and then develops an integrated solution to meet the drinking water, wastewater, and other water needs of a community. We have always looked at available ground and surface supplies, but we are expanding the pool of available resources to include ocean and brackish ground water for desalination opportunities. Rather than discharging wastewater into our nation’s waterways, we are evaluating technologies to reclaim wastewater and use it for appropriate applications. We have some great examples of water reclamation projects and we will continue to match long-term water solutions with the needs of the communities we serve.

Because of our size, our geographic distribution, and the variety of systems we own and operate, we have experience with a broad range of technologies and expertise. We have top-notch research capabilities and can apply these innovations into the communities where we operate. This combination sets us apart in being able to deliver the best results for effective water management.”

Mark LeChevallier, Director, Innovation & Environmental Stewardship