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What is IRWM?

IRWM is much more than a four-letter acronym. For the layperson, it can also be a confusing one – especially when in other circles, the concept is referred to as Integrated Water Resources Management.

As an example, the international Global Water Partnership defi nes Integrated Water Resources Management as a “process which promotes the coordinated development and management of water, land and related resources in order to maximize the resultant economic and social welfare in an equitable manner without compromising the sustainability of vital ecosystems.” Its report, “50 Years of International Experience With the Concept of Integrated Water Management,” begins with an example from the United States – the Tennessee Valley Authority.

To reinforce its commitment on a national scale, the American Water Resources Association’s (AWRA) Board of Directors approved a position statement in 2011 calling on “policy makers, planners and managers at national, tribal, interstate, state and local levels to encourage collaborations, policies, programs and plans that embrace Integrated Water Resources Management.” Read the entire position statement at statements-IWRM.html.

California is one of seven states featured in a report titled “Case Studies in Integrated Water Resources Management: From Local Stewardship to National Vision,” published by the AWRA in November 2012. According to an excerpt, the California IRWM program is “guided by overarching principles at the state level, but includes the fl exibility to develop a bottom-up, truly local approach to water management.”

IRWM represents the new era California has moved into with water resources management – one that is far more integrated than past endeavors, which offi cials acknowledged was too single-purpose in its approach.

According to DWR, IRWM “is the application of Integrated Water Management principles on a regional basis.”

IRWM calls for a greater alignment of all the necessary tools and viewpoints that ensure resource management takes place in a holistic manner. That is important in California, where a “normal” hydrologic year seems to be an elusive concept while a pattern of too little or too much precipitation occurs more frequently. Add to that the uncertainty of climate change and the mechanisms by which IRWM can help regions adjust to the water supply challenges become even more prominent.

Water planning has historically been done without the significant public input that land use planning receives during the General Plan development process. Those associated with resource planning know public acceptance is important to gain support of plans to expand or share water sources among various parties. IRWM advocates believe that lining up tools, plans and actions in the right manner should lead to results that are consistent with the shared values that reinforce the idea of holistic water resources management. And they have taken steps to get the message out.

By 2009 IRWM was a well-established part of water planning in California. As DWR noted in its 2009 Water Plan, “IRWM planning offers a framework for water managers to address water-related challenges and provide for future needs. Over the past decade, California has improved its understanding of the value of regional planning and made signifi cant steps to implement IRWM.”

See a public workshop video from Santa Barbara

A key component of the IRWM process is to engage representatives from a variety of stakeholder groups and a multitude of agencies to develop a plan to manage a region’s waters in a more holistic manner.


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