water index
Why One Water is important for future of cities and planners, and what it will take for it to be executed.
Pumps & Systems

The Water Sensitive Cities Index, a benchmarking and diagnostic tool, has been developed to assess the delivery of integrated water management. It’s being launched and made available to cities across North America by engineering firm GHD.

The WSC Index is designed to benchmark a city’s current performance against seven goals of a water sensitive city to illustrate how urban water services are contributing to a city's liveability, sustainability, resilience and productivity. The tool provides decision-makers with a complete view of the water cycle including, water supply, wastewater and stormwater to help prioritize actions and investments. 

Gemma Dunn, integrated water management service line coordinator with GHD North America, answered some questions about the Index and how it can be used to help communities.

What is the Water Sensitive Cities Index & how did it come about?

The Water Sensitive Cities Index is a benchmarking and diagnostic tool examining the various aspects of One Water or Integrated Water Management (IWM) services. It has been designed to benchmark communities against a range of indicators characterizing One Water goals including: ensure good governance; increase community capital; achieve equity of essential services; improve productivity and resource efficiency; improve ecological health; provide quality urban design; and promote adaptive infrastructure.

Developed over a two-year period by the Australian Cooperative Research Centre for Water Sensitive Cities (CRCWSC), the index was scientifically developed, based on analysis of hundreds of indicators and extensive research. The index has undergone significant industry testing to ensure it is relevant, functional and reliable. To date it has been applied in more than 50 cities around the world including large regional centers to local government areas.

Why is One Water important for the future of cities and planners?

Across North America, like many regions around the globe, communities are dealing with aging infrastructure, population and changing regulation, as well as the impacts of worsening climate change and environmental conditions. We have witnessed an increase in recent years in the occurrence and severity of droughts, floods, wildfires, winter storms and heatwaves, and poor ecosystem health. Many communities are declaring climate emergencies and discussing countless complex issues, such as social equity.

There is growing recognition of the crucial role water plays in making communities livable, sustainable, resilient and productive. We need to include high-quality green, open spaces as well as protection from flooding, drought, climate variability, sea level rise and urban heat.

As interest is growing in One Water approaches to answer the multitude of challenges facing the water sector (example: U.S. Water Alliance), at the forefront of the movement is the Index. The index facilitates the conversations and generates alignment. It helps get people onto the same page in understanding what the characteristics are and what aspiration we are working toward.

What will it take for this to be executed?

The index is delivered through a one-day collaborative workshop with the community’s planners and key decision-makers, led by an accredited workshop facilitator. The facilitated workshop process is particularly important in fostering a shared understanding of what IWM or One Water principles mean in practice, as well as developing consensus on the community’s current performance. The workshop is an important first step in enabling participants to start developing the collaborative relationships necessary to bring about real change.

Following the workshop, an index benchmarking and assessment report is provided, which includes a comprehensive review of the results and evaluation of performance. The tool is supported by a web platform to enable visualizations of benchmarking results for a range of audiences, including policy makers, service providers and the community. This information can be used to develop a priority action plan to utilize limited resources more effectively.

What is the process and what are plans for rolling it out? 

Several municipalities in Canada and the U.S. have already expressed interest in the index. GHD will guide clients through the entire benchmarking process including who to invite to the workshop, delivery of the workshop, using the platform with visualizations, and preparing the final report.

How can it become available for other outlets to roll out, therefore reaching more people?

GHD is the only accredited workshop provider in North America. Within GHD, we have 10 accredited facilitators who are spread out across North America so we can respond to regional needs and reach those interested.

If you are interested in scheduling a Water Sensitive Cities Index workshop for your community, or discussing the benefits of integrating your water delivery systems, please contact Gemma Dunn at gemma.dunn@ghd.com