It's All Just Water

Portland, Maine’s “Clean Water Equals Clean Growth” campaign doesn’t distinguish between tap water, sewage, and rain; it emphasizes the economic value of water. Public works developed the messaging after a survey showed residents don’t care about details; they just want water they can safely drink and play in. The take-home message for the city was, “It’s not about how the money is raised, it’s how the money is spent.”

With a working waterfront and numerous tidal wetlands, ecosystem restoration, aquaculture, and other non-traditional projects are more likely to improve Portland’s water quality than building expensive treatment systems and related infrastructure. By involving all stakeholders and regulatory entities in managing water as a single resource, the Maine city will spend less to meet multiple compliance requirements.

Water, sewer, and/or stormwater systems manage the same resource: water. Achieving multiple regulatory requirements is possible only if asset managers, compliance managers, and maintenance employees are consolidated in a single division focused on delivering clean water. The top chart shows how many public works departments are organized; the bottom chart shows the same employees reorganized for integrated water management.

Integrated management is a multijurisdictional effort. Updated twice since 1978, the Cape Cod Area Wide Water Quality Management Plan Update shows the wide range of actions required by all the stakeholders involved in improving water quality for this tourist destination. Some of the work may be outside the typical public works scope, so departments will have to nurture new workforce skills.

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