Evaluating sustainable water quality management in the U.S.: Urban, Agricultural, and Environmental Protection Practices

Monday, 14 December 2015
Poster Hall (Moscone South)
Katherine Ann Alfredo, Columbia University of New York, Columbia Water Center, Palisades, NY, United States and Tess A Russo, Pennsylvania State University Main Campus, University Park, PA, United States
Sustainable water management typically emphasizes water resource quantity, with focus directed at availability and use practices. When attention is placed on sustainable water quality management, the holistic, cross-sector perspective inherent to sustainability is often lost. Proper water quality management is a critical component of sustainable development practices. However, sustainable development definitions and metrics related to water quality resilience and management are often not well defined; water quality is often buried in large indicator sets used for analysis, and the policy regulating management practices create sector specific burdens for ensuring adequate water quality. In this research, we investigated the methods by which water quality is evaluated through internationally applied indicators and incorporated into the larger idea of “sustainability.” We also dissect policy’s role in the distribution of responsibility with regard to water quality management in the United States through evaluation of three broad sectors: urban, agriculture, and environmental water quality. Our research concludes that despite a growing intention to use a single system approach for urban, agricultural, and environmental water quality management, one does not yet exist and is even hindered by our current policies and regulations. As policy continues to lead in determining water quality and defining contamination limits, new regulation must reconcile the disparity in requirements for the contaminators and those performing end-of-pipe treatment. Just as the sustainable development indicators we researched tried to integrate environmental, economic, and social aspects without skewing focus to one of these three categories, policy cannot continue to regulate a single sector of society without considering impacts to the entire watershed and/or region. Unequal distribution of the water pollution burden creates disjointed economic growth, infrastructure development, and policy enactment across the sectors preventing a holistic approach to water quality management and, thus, rendering our system unsustainable.