Urban Waters

Why Urban Waters?

Right now in cities across the nation, urban waters are being threatened like never before. New and different environmental challenges are appearing everywhere from the Anacostia River in Washington, D.C. to the waterfront in Dubuque, Iowa. The range of challenges we face are going to require both traditional and innovative strategies — and broad partnerships to address the local issues in our communities, and the national issues we all share.
- Lisa P. Jackson, Former EPA Administrator

In Urban Environments, Small Impacts Add Up

Cities share one key characteristic: they're full of people, buildings and businesses. Because everyone shares the same relative space, air and water, environmental impacts are concentrated in smaller areas, including waterways.

Urban waters take on large amounts of pollution from a variety of sources, including industrial discharges, mobile sources (e.g., cars/trucks), residential/commercial wastewater, trash and polluted stormwater runoff from urban landscapes. As urban populations often share centralized water sources, this pollution creates public and environmental health hazards like lowered drinking water quality and water bodies that aren't safe to swim in.

Also, urban patterns of development often make waterways inaccessible to adjacent neighborhoods. Lack of access limits a community's ability to reap the benefits of living so close to the water, whether through recreation, fishing or access to real estate.

But if maintained properly, urban waters can also yield positive impacts for populations in both urban and upstream communities:

  • Public spaces along rivers and lakes offer residents opportunities for community gatherings, recreation and environmental education. Public spaces also provide places and activities families and neighborhoods can enjoy together, such as:
    • Boating
    • Swimming
    • Fishing
    • Picnics
  • In addition, increased access to waterways can spur the creation of new jobs and the growth of local businesses, including:
    • cleaning up polluted or abandoned properties
    • opening businesses along the waterfront
    • green infrastructure projects and working on other water protection

Why Should This Matter To You?

Water quality touches all of us every day: through the water we drink from the tap, shower and swim in, and use to water our plants and crops with. Your local water utility serves a key role – treating wastewater and drinking water – but ensuring access to clean waters and the land surrounding them starts with you, your neighbors and local community organizations.

Working hand-in-hand, community groups and local residents can help set up water quality monitoring, volunteer cleanup efforts and coalitions to speak out about water quality concerns to community leaders. By pooling efforts, your voice and hard work make the difference to your local waterways and to the community that depends on them.

Where Do We Go From Here?

First, get better informed about urban water issues affecting your community: