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Water Has Many Facets

Clean drinking water is essential for life and industry. Clean water bodies attract people and real estate investment. They support fish and aquatic life. During extreme storm events made more common by climate change, water can threaten people and property.

The Water Centric City Initiative identifies seven principles for water centric cities consistent with the International Water Association's Water-Wise Cities 17 principles, which Milwaukee has also endorsed. The Water Centric Framework is intended to be complementary to the U.S. Water Alliance One Water Movement.

To thrive, cities need to manage all elements of water. 

We encourage cities to view all principles through an equity lens.


Applied Water Research & Policy

Sustainable water policy requires a foundation based in science, research, and the best available data. Ignoring the physical limits of our ecosystems and water supplies to replenish themselves will harm the long term economies of cities and their residents. Governments serve their residents when they seek to apply the best available science from academic institutions to inform water policy. 

What Can Your City Do? Conduct research on water issues that are currently being debated and legislated.

Water researcher in the lab


Arts, Talent, Culture & Education

People enjoy spending time near pristine water bodies. Lakes, rivers, and the ocean can provide scenic views, recreation, and a sense of peace, wonder, and possibility. Cities can create infrastructure to sustain and restore natural water bodies while increasing community access to these assets.

What Can Your City Do? Promote or offer 'Learn to Swim' programs to connect people to water.

Person painting a rain barrel


Fishable, Swimmable Rivers And Water Bodies

The Clean Water Act established federal policy for restoring our water resources with a goal of making all U.S. waters fishable and swimmable. Cities have made tremendous progress by first focusing on industrial polluters and are now working on reducing polluted runoff from streets, parking lots, and other sources.

What Can Your City Do? Improve the biological conditions of water bodies by removing barriers to fish passage.

People fishing in the river


Green Infrastructure

The built environment on land affects water quality and our resilience to extreme storms. Cities with too much “hardscape” in terms impermeable paved surfaces and rooftops disrupt the natural hydrology of rivers, create urban heat islands, and are vulnerable to flooding. Cities that invest in green infrastructure (green roofs, bioswales, rain gardens, etc.) are more pleasant to live in, have better water quality, and are less prone to flood damage.

What Can Your City Do? Promote adoption of green infrasturcutre through a stormwater management plan.

People planting green infrastructure


Sustainable & Healthy Water Supply

Cities require a sustainable supply of water. Reservoirs, surface water supplies, or aquifers must recharge at rate equal to or greater than the rate of water withdrawal by residents, businesses, and agriculture. Due to the interconnections of underground hydrology, special care must be taken when regulating withdrawals from private wells to ensure sustainability for the broader community. Treating and delivering water can also be energy intensive, so there is increasing focus on this energy-water nexus.

What Can Your City Do? Ensure that all safe drinking water requirements are met.

Water employees at work


Water Leadership

Water is essential for human life and sustainable supplies of clean drinking water are essential for cities. With continued population growth and globalization, pressure on our limited water supplies is growing. We need leaders at all levels of government and business to understand the importance of water and advocate for smart water policy and stewardship that balances the needs of today with a sustainable future for our children.

What Can Your City Do? Publish a signed commitment to sustainable water supply from the mayor.

Mayor Johnson drinking from a water bar


Water Technology

Technology has the power to make life more convenient and connected and can also help us access, treat, and deliver water more efficiently than ever before. Entrepreneurs, researchers, and businesses can invest their time and creativity in developing and scaling innovative solutions to our 21st century water challenges.

What Can Your City Do? Develop a city plan specific to water reuse.

People working on a water technology