Multiple-Use Water Services (MUS) take people’s multiple domestic and productive water needs as the starting point to plan, finance, and manage integrated water services. In the MUS approach water is delivered for drinking, other domestic uses (such as cooking, cleaning, sanitation, etc.) and for priority productive uses (such as small-scale irrigated agriculture, livestock, and water-dependent enterprises.
Single-use approaches involve design, finance, and management of water services for a single intended use, such as irrigation or drinking/household use. In actuality, people often use the water supplied from single-use schemes for multiple purposes – with unintended negative consequences for human health and sustainability. Single-use approaches are the standard model of water service delivery. In contrast, MUS takes the full range of people’s water needs into account and plans to meet as many of these needs as possible from available renewable water resources through integrated, intentional service design.
All MUS approaches share the goal of delivering integrated water services. SolutionMUS goes beyond other approaches to deliver additional impact in two distinct ways. First, it employs a rigorous, tested methodology for sustainable water service delivery that codifies the best practices and highest standards of MUS, building on seven years of implementation experience and the efforts of MUS practitioners. This includes employing principles from human-centered design and participatory approaches to maximize sustainability and client acceptability. Second, SolutionMUS is the only MUS methodology that explicitly includes complementary impact-boosting health, livelihood, and environment activities as a core component of its approach. This holistic investment is key to realizing the full benefits of sustainable MUS water services in meeting people’s health and livelihood needs.

IWRM and SolutionMUS differ in focus and scale. In IWRM, water is primarily viewed as a resource to be managed, allocated, and protected. In SolutionMUS, water is viewed as a service which improves people’s health and livelihoods. The unit of analysis for IWRM ranges from large transnational watersheds to individual river basins. In contrast, the SolutionMUS methodology is used at a far more localized scale, including village clusters, towns, neighborhoods, and individual households.

The two approaches are not mutually exclusive; SolutionMUS can be applied within a broader basin-wide or national IWRM framework, as is the case in the iWASH Tanzania project. Additionally, SolutionMUS environment component activities – water resource, ecosystem, and waste management – contribute to environmental sustainability objectives shared with IWRM.

SolutionMUS and IWRM also share important commonalities. Integration of fragmented sectoral expertise and stakeholder participation are considered critical in both approaches. IWRM is a globally accepted alternative to the way water resources have been traditionally managed. SolutionMUS aims to gain similar traction as a globally accepted alternative method for delivering sustainable water services that improve people’s health and livelihoods.

SolutionMUS generates direct and integrated impacts. Direct health impacts include reduced vulnerability to water-related illness and undernutrition. Direct livelihoods impacts include increased income, enhanced food security, and more diversified livelihoods opportunities. Direct environmental sustainability impacts include healthier ecosystems and protected water resources. These direct impacts work together synergistically to generate the integrated impacts including greater return on investment, enhanced system sustainability, increased resilience, and greater empowerment. To learn more, see Impacts.

The SolutionMUS methodology incorporates many elements that support both greater system sustainability and greater environmental sustainability compared to single-use water services.

System Sustainability:
• Single-use water infrastructure that was designed for one purpose is often damaged by unplanned or illegal use to meet other community water needs (e.g., a domestic water service being diverted for watering animals or crops). The SolutionMUS methodology designs services for the full range of people’s multiple domestic and productive water needs, preventing this stress on infrastructure sustainability and mitigating conflicts between different water user groups.
• Single-use water services designed for drinking/domestic use typically do not generate income. SolutionMUS provides both domestic and productive services meeting clients’ water needs for horticulture, livestock, and small enterprises. This generates both incentive and income to operate, maintain, and (in some cases) replace water infrastructure, enhancing system sustainability and keeping the water flowing.
• The SolutionMUS methodology applies the latest thinking on WASH and irrigation service sustainability in its management and financing models.

Environmental Sustainability:
• SolutionMUS water services are designed based on yield analysis of renewable water resources. The water services provided through SolutionMUS are bounded by the local environmental context.
• Environmental sustainability is a core element of the SolutionMUS approach. Benefit-enhancing activities such as management of water resources, ecosystems, and waste explicitly link water services to the underlying water resources and environments that supply them. (link to Environment How it Works)

  • Economic evidence: The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation funded an extensive economic study on the incremental costs, benefits, and poverty impacts of multiple-use versus single-use services. This peer-reviewed study, Multiple-Use Water Services for the Poor: Assessing the State of Knowledge, presents objective evidence supporting Multiple-Use Water Services and identifies a potential market of one billion people in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. 
  • Field evidence: SolutionMUS is a field-tested methodology that has been refined over years of continual learning, reflection, and sharing with clients, partners, and funders. Since 2005, Winrock International has implemented MUS in seven countries, improving the health and livelihoods of 200,000 people through water services and, in many cases, through additional complementary programs in health, livelihoods and environment that define SolutionMUS. See SolutionMUS in Action. Exchange Visits may be arranged upon request for interested implementers (government and NGO), policy-makers, funders and researchers. Visits allow interested parties to share information and learn more about the SolutionMUS model by visiting clients and programs in the field. 
  • More research is needed to document the direct and integrated benefits of the SolutionMUS approach, and solidify SolutionMUS as a mainstream broadly-accepted and broadly-applied methodology to delivering water’s promise. We welcome interested researchers to partner with us and conduct objective research on SolutionMUS programs.

The costs of applying the SolutionMUS methodology will vary considerably depending on the hydrologic context, size of the area and population served, yields required, and specific water needs of the community. The majority of the cost will be associated with the multiple-use water services infrastructure. As with all MUS approaches, provision of integrated water services for both domestic and productive purposes will require a higher initial capital investment than a single-use system, although the cost will generally be less than constructing two stand-alone single purpose systems (e.g., one for domestic use, and a separate system for irrigation, livestock watering, or other income-producing activities). And, as our analysis has shown, the economic benefits of the multiple-use services far outweigh the additional costs incurred.

“Software” investments related to financing and sustainable management of water services, as well as complimentary benefit-enhancing activities in health, livelihoods and environment will require a relatively small additional investment (perhaps 20% of the total), with a very high return on investment in terms of service sustainability and improved health, livelihoods, and environmental outcomes.

Careful, unbiased selection of water service delivery technologies is crucial in the SolutionMUS methodology. The methodology is technology-neutral; all water system design is driven by analysis of the domestic and productive water use needs and the renewable water resources available, as well as the costs (capital, operation, and maintenance), management complexity, community preferences, and availability of technologies. SolutionMUS enhances water system sustainability by prioritizing lower cost solutions, preferably including local manufacture of lifting devices, provision of drilling and other services, etc.

Once a community or organization is ready to implement SolutionMUS, a team with a range of specialized technical expertise will be required, including the involvement of community planners to facilitate the participatory analysis for multiple use water services, an engineer for water services design/construction, water service delivery experts to build capacity related to management and financing of services, as well as experts in hygiene behavior change, agricultural or livestock extension, and natural resources management to carry out complementary benefit-enhancing activities.

While the principles and practices of SolutionMUS can theoretically be applied everywhere, it is not a one-size-fits-all recipe or checklist, and the approach may achieve more benefits in certain contexts than others . Experience to date has focused on rural settings relying on stand-alone water systems rather than large networked utilities, drawing from both surface and groundwater sources. The methodology has been applied successfully in contexts as diverse as the Sahel, Himalayan foothills, and mountainous areas in central and eastern Africa, with both agriculturalist and pastoralist communities. Multiple scales of application and management have also been tested, ranging from self-supply to multi-village schemes. The methodology has not yet been applied to urban or peri-urban settings, although it is expected that it would be suitable in many of these communities as well. 

SolutionMUS has been developed as a holistic and comprehensive approach which achieves the greatest impact when applied in full. A core requirement of the SolutionMUS is intentionally planning water services by taking into account how people use water and available water resources. Depending on the local context, time and funding constraints, or technical expertise available it may not always be possible to implement all elements of the methodology simultaneously. A flexible, incremental approach to implementation may therefore be necessary or preferable, especially for impact-boosting activities in health, livelihoods, and environment. The SolutionMUS methodology is not an all or nothing approach but the impact and cost-effectiveness are greater when more components of the methodology are in place.

Guide to SolutionMUS Putting Multiple-Use Water Services into Action provides conceptual and concrete guidance on how to apply the SolutionMUS approach, including suggestions on planning Multiple-Use Water Services and related health, livelihoods, and environment activities that amplify the impact of these services. Resources contains a selected library on SolutionMUS, the component areas of SolutionMUS – water, health, livelihoods, and environment – and the planning, design, implementation, and evaluation processes involved in applying the SolutionMUS approach. Training also provides information on in-depth training or technical support available to organizations interested in applying the SolutionMUS approach.

SolutionMUS is a methodology that builds on and complements the efforts of early Multiple-Use Water Services innovators including Winrock International, IRC Water and Sanitation Centre, IWMI, and the constituent members of the MUS Group. Currently, Winrock International is using the SolutionMUS approach in partnership with local governments, national and international NGOs, and the private sector, building on years of implementation experience in seven countries. From district level Services Hydrauliques in Burkina Faso the Rwandan Minister of Water Resources, governments have demonstrated interest in the principles and practices of SolutionMUS.

Many implementing organizations, including governments and NGOs, as well as bi- and multilateral funders, international and national policymakers, and researchers have the requisite skills to adopt SolutionMUS principles and practices. Interested organizations are invited to join the initiative. Training, tools, and resources are also available through this site. 

As interest in MUS has accelerated, the demand for a well-defined, evidence-based implementation methodology has grown. SolutionMUS was created by Winrock International as an open initiative to address this gap, with the intention that others will join in contributing their experience and insights. SolutionMUS complements and builds upon the efforts of early MUS innovators, adding value to ongoing efforts to provide people living in poverty with water services to sustainably improve their health and livelihoods.