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Kick-Starting the Silo-Busting Process

Shannon Donley, Project Implementation Manager

Municipal silo-think has had a devastating effect on our region’s water resources. No, I’m not talking about the farm silos that hold grain. Silo-think is the tunnel vision within municipal departments that discourages communication and stifles innovation. For over a century, a siloed approach to water management has created urban water systems that are so fragmented as to be unrecognizable as a system – where water supply, wastewater and stormwater are managed in isolation from one another and the surface-groundwater connection has become disconnected. Breaking down silos and managing water holistically will begin to repair water systems and will save municipalities a lot of money. So how does one begin?

Perhaps it sounds too monumental; untenable; excruciatingly slow, and, frankly, you don’t know where to begin and don’t feel strong enough for the task. If you feel this way, take heart. A recent project funded by the Great Lake Protection Fund is advancing the idea of integrated water management in municipalities to better manage local water resources. With our support, the team – including three communities in Oakland County, Michigan and three in the Grand River watershed in Ontario – is showing municipalities how to kick start the silo-busting process to manage water holistically by considering water supply, stormwater and wastewater as all part of the same system – they are saving money in the process and are positively impacting local tributaries, streams and groundwater.

I urge you to visit the project website which is loaded with resources to assist municipalities in building an integrated approach to managing water. The resources include information on the benefits of integrated water management and green infrastructure; guidebooks (including a how-to manual for breaking down silos); reports and fact sheets for municipal decision-makers; an interactive Green Infrastructure Optimization Tool; and videos highlighting the challenges of providing water services and how green infrastructure and water conservation can help.

All municipalities should try this. You may encounter rough patches – breaking out of silo-think is difficult – but the financial, human and environmental benefits, ultimately, will be worth it.

–Shannon Donley, Project Implementation Manager