Climate change and overpopulation make it tough for cities to provide water. But these urban centers are leading the fight for a sustainable future.
Earth's rising temperature and growing population are putting tremendous stress on the water system, particularly in urban areas. Affluent cities still need to address climate change effectively, while developing countries have trouble providing enough potable water to their growing citizenry. Fortunately, some cities are leading the way and taking steps to show us a sustainable future. This article explores the principles they follow and highlights some of their success stories.
The 3 Principles of a Sustainable Water System
Cities that understand the importance of water sustainability are addressing three essential principles. First, they focus on building efficient systems to supply water to their residents. In addition, they address quality by employing dependable sanitation and water treatment facilities. Finally, forward-looking cities build resilient water systems, making their infrastructure adaptive to harsh weather that causes problems like floods and shortages.
Efficiency: Self-Evaluations Are Essential
Cities need to understand the assets they already have, system performance, and how much water they require for all the many purposes they use it. With this knowledge, they can form effective plans to operate more efficiently and account for their water system's weaknesses. In addition, cities that demonstrate how their vulnerabilities might endanger municipal operations, quality of life, or even the city's competitive advantage, can garner valuable planning insights. The EPA provides guidance on performing a water audit to reduce or prevent water loss.
Cities need to understand the assets they already have, system performance, and how much water they require for all the many purposes they use it. With this knowledge, they can form effective plans to operate more efficiently and account for their water system's weaknesses.
Cities That Know What They Have Can Plan How to Use It
Water system infrastructure deterioration is a significant problem in every city. Unfortunately, many municipalities have deferred maintenance of their water supply in favor of projects that seem more urgent at the time. But some cities are starting to employ risk-based asset management techniques. These methods direct resources toward assets whose collapse would negatively affect people, the environment, and the urban economy.
The ultimate objective of the Tarrant Regional Water District, located west of Dallas, is to achieve 100% dependability and energy efficiency while transmitting raw water. To this end, they have started a project that includes creating a formal asset management program and a decision support tool for real-time energy usage optimization. As a result, TRWD has improved its energy efficiency and even installed solar panels to help power its massive water pumps.
Given the importance of clean drinking water to quality of life, potable water quality is perhaps where urban sustainability performance is strongest. Only after fully resolving issues with water quality and sanitation have cities in the industrialized world traditionally seen increases in prosperity. To become prosperous, sustainable urban centers, cities in the developing world will need to follow suit and enhance the quality of their water supplies.
Chicago's historic choice to change the flow of the Chicago River to preserve the purity of Lake Michigan is an excellent example of bold decision-making that can make a difference. The city's Tunnel and Reservoir Program (TARP) now manages critical infrastructure to stop combined sewage spills into Lake Michigan. As a result, the citizens of Chicago have access to a very safe and dependable source of drinking water.
Resilience: Green Space Is Important for Social and Environmental Growth
Several communities are implementing green infrastructure initiatives to handle excessive stormwater as an alternative to conventional piped drainage techniques. Green infrastructure can increase biodiversity and ecological resilience. In addition, it reduces the urban heat island effect and provides vital green space and recreational opportunities for city dwellers.
The South Los Angeles Wetlands Park collects and cleans urban runoff while giving an underprivileged area of Los Angeles access to rare green space. The project turned a former railyard into a park featuring paths, boardwalks, picnic spaces, and other attractions.
Stormwater Is a Vital Supplement to Other Sources
Increasingly, urban facilities like sports stadiums and recreation centers employ rainwater collection. This strategy is also becoming more popular in residential areas, particularly in cities within arid climates. Depending on local geography and water infrastructure, it sometimes makes more sense to collect rain locally than allow it to enter larger reservoirs.
As an illustration, Singapore is investing in infrastructure intended to catch all the rain in the city into one reclamation system. On the other hand, Melbourne, Australia, is testing a scheme to collect rainwater from rooftops and store it in tanks for toilet flushing and grass watering.
Desalination Leverages Tech to Overcome Freshwater Scarcity
Desalination is a dependable method of producing drinking water that gives coastal city residents access and continuity. "Desal" plants are increasing worldwide, and their technology is improving to make them more energy efficient. Israel is leading the way in desalination plant construction. Its plants currently desalinate 585 million cubic meters of seawater annually.
Water Reclamation Works on an Industrial Scale
Improvements in technology also allow cities to clean wastewater to the point that it may be safe for drinking in addition to industrial, agricultural, and source water replenishment. However, the amount of treatment necessary depends on each use. And each city needs to determine its own requirements.
Again, California provides examples. With the introduction of its water recycling program, the West Basin Water Utility in greater Los Angeles has taken water reuse to a new level by offering up to five distinct types of water for diverse commercial, industrial, and irrigation purposes. These water reclaimed sources also include groundwater injection to prevent saltwater incursion into its groundwater supply.
Resilient Systems Efficiently Bring High-Quality Water
A sustainable water future for cities requires thorough self-assessment and rigorous planning. Integrating renewable energy to help operate large urban water infrastructures is a fine example of this type of thinking. Moreover, cities must think big and make bold decisions, as when Chicago reversed a river to stop pollution. Finally, examples abound of municipalities and residents taking responsibility to employ modern tech, design principles, and personal habits to move their cities into a sustainable future.
Audit Yourself – Just as cities should examine their systems to find out where water is wasted, so should you. What aspects of your domestic water usage could be changed to use less and help the environment?
Supplement Your Supply – Most municipalities have regulations about rainwater harvesting. Get in touch with them to find out how they prefer residents to set up a system, treat, and store roof runoff.
Reuse When Possible – Untreated greywater is great for watering aesthetic plants and some garden crops. Consider catching some with a bucked in the shower or a hose from your washing machine.