WASHINGTON, D.C. — In an Earth Day ceremony at National Geographic Headquarters, in Washington D.C., the U.S. Water Alliance presented its U.S. Water Prize to three winners: MillerCoors, The Freshwater Trust, and Onondaga County (N.Y.). Former U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator William K. Reilly addressed the audience of 300 environmental leaders gathered to honor the awardees, recounting environmental challenges over the years and the growing need for innovative solutions.

The U.S. Water Alliance presents the annual award to foster action and public support for water sustainability. Nominations were reviewed by an independent panel of judges including some of the most respected names in the water and environmental sector.

“We’re honoring three champions who are diverse in so many ways yet united in their passion and action to integrate and innovate for ‘one water’ sustainability” said Ben Grumbles, president of the Alliance. “They are winners for their courage to think and act outside the box and sometimes against the current. They offer leadership that coalesces public, private, and NGO partnerships to produce economic, environmental and social benefits.”

“CH2M HILL is pleased to sponsor the U.S. Water Prize, which highlights the value water brings to our nation and recognizes the efforts of those who painstakingly work to preserve, protect and enhance our water supplies,” said CH2M HILL Water President Bob Bailey. “We have had the privilege to partner with Onondaga County on their ‘Save the Rain’ program and know firsthand the innovation and leadership the county has demonstrated in becoming a national model for implementing green infrastructure solutions. I congratulate Onondaga County and all the winners on receiving this prestigious award.”

Kim Marotta, MillerCoors Director of Sustainability, accepted the award for MillerCoors and acknowledged her co-partners in the effort, The Nature Conservancy and the Idaho Silver Creek barley farmers. “Together, our national organizations and the farmers in this project have made a real difference in watershed stewardship, hundreds of miles away from the ultimate purchasers and consumers of our MillerCoors products.” The company’s comprehensive water strategy, which has also seen great success in reducing the water footprint in its breweries, presents an action plan for the company’s water future. “When we invest in water, it’s about more than capital investments,” explained Marotta. “Our employees have been a driving force in our success, 80 percent of the solution is driven by our breweries embracing water sustainability.”

“More barley crop per water drop, is the way I like to characterize how MillerCoors is leading the way with footprinting stewardship and education. MillerCoors deserves the 2013 U.S. Water Prize for more than the efficiency changes in their facilities,” described Grumbles. “It’s the innovative reach beyond and up the agriculture supply chain that caught our attention.” The company is working with barley growers in Silver Creek Valley in Idaho to help increase water conservation. It’s paying off. They’ve noted a 20 percent reduction in water use.

The Freshwater Trust (TFT), an Oregon-based, national non-profit, wins the Prize for its cutting-edge, collaborative work to save rivers and streams in the Pacific Northwest. For seven years, their program has been enabling regulated entities to achieve regulatory compliance by restoring rivers and streams. The program includes new tools such as market-based trading to create incentives and efficiencies to keep cleaner, cooler water flowing. “We’re insuring it’s not a shell game,” described President Joe Whitworth when accepting the award. “We’re avoiding massive expenditures by having watershed-based parameters in the system that offers transparency and is verifiable.”

TFT-patented software calculates and quantifies the ecosystem services nature provides and then turns them into credits that can be purchased and traded by wastewater treatment facilities and power plants to achieve regulatory compliance on impaired waterways. Their work is done in partnership with water agencies, irrigators, regulators, and farmers and gets away from traditional, costly “built” solutions such as cooling towers or narrowly focused restoration projects on limited acreage. They are also “scaling” their ideas. They’ve developed “Streambank ,” a patented web-based platform that allows more efficient implementation of restoration work, covering the nuts and bolts such as funding, procurement, permitting, and such. “The key to much of their success,” explained Grumbles, “is collaboration. President Joe Whitworth, and his team, are very good at convening regulators, agricultural producers, and the energy sector to get better environmental results than traditional command and control strategies and concrete structures might offer.”

Executive Joanie Mahoney accepted the award for Onondaga County. “As the first county with a consent order to use green infrastructure, we knew we were going to be a model,” explained Mahoney. “Receiving the U.S. Water Prize affirms that we made the right decision.” When faced with the task of reducing the frequency of combined sewer overflows, Onondaga County officials had a choice: spend millions on building new wastewater treatment plants or try an alternative approach, a new, greener, method for stormwater abatement. They convinced the federal court to amend the consent order to allow a more balanced approach where green and gray (pipes in the ground) infrastructure complement each other. It was a bold step that saved $20 million in projected savings and paid off in lots of social benefits beyond the dollars saved.

Public-private partnerships were an essential ingredient for their success. Onondaga County built a team that includes Syracuse University, the local business community, environmental organizations and others. Focused public education campaigns engaged and involved the community as their pride in the program continues to grow right along with the green roofs, urban wetlands, parks and bio-swales. Harvesting and reusing stormwater for ice making at the professional hockey arena, is another creative feature along with permeable pavement. “The secret, which the U.S. Water Alliance wants to shout out around the country,” explained Grumbles, “is to think beyond the traditional, risk-averse strategies and build collaborative teams for integrating and innovating on some of water’s most challenging opportunities.”

The U.S. Water Prize, first launched in 2011, is organized and administered by the U.S. Water Alliance. Through the prize, the national non-profit underscores the value of water and the need for one water integration, innovation, and collaboration among environmental, business, utility, and community leaders. Sharing these goals, sponsors joined together to make the celebration possible including CH2M HILL, Veolia North America, Brown and Caldwell, ARCADIS, CDM Smith, and MWH-Global.