Earth versus the built environment
Celebrate Earth Day with a discussion of fresh water sustainability
I live in Chicago and I love it. I grew up in New York City and I love it too. I think cities are efficient with their public transportation, tall buildings and walkability. So much better than sprawl. But I do worry about the toll that our built environment takes on the natural. Since I live on the edge of the Great Lakes, I am particularly concerned for our precious water supply.
Although it’s a good thing, it’s not enough for citizens to have a rain barrel in the back yard. Reuse of waste water needs to scale up especially in commercial buildings. In hundreds of skyscrapers in the city, we literally flush thousands of gallons of potable water down the drain. Isn’t much of the water from sinks in commercial buildings, where we simply wash our hands, “light grey.” Couldn’t it be used for the flush? And, then there are the auto-flush toilets that flush as soon as you step into the stall and another few times before you even leave. Am I grossing you out? Too bad, because when there is far less fresh potable water on earth, we may have to drink that grey water. Or worse, we’ll be fighting wars over fresh water. It’s in our environmental and national security interest to stop taking our water supply for granted.
The technology is here
We have the technology for commercial and residential application that can help to reuse water in buildings. (See below for EPA on water recycling and reuse.) Perhaps it’s a matter of will or cultural adaptation? In Israel, we have a Nation that sets the example with people who make every drop count largely due to water reuse.
Getting back to our magnificent urban environment. Cities, like Chicago, must be smarter about reuse of water. Efforts to refurbish our infrastructure – be it in buildings above, roads on the ground, or pipes underground – must take the sustainability of our water supply into account.
While the building industry, with guidance from LEED, is doing a better job, it can raise its standards for reuse of water especially for new buildings (consider San Francisco’s Recycled Water Ordinance for inspiration). It is possible for city planners to make our parks, parking lots and roads more permeable so that rain water can be reclaimed by nature or for grey water reuse rather than have it runoff into lakes and rivers. Let’s hope they do.
An infrastructure overhaul for our water delivery system is a massive undertaking. But, there are technologies that can help detect underground leaks such as, FlowLess, SensOLeak and UtilisCorp, to target repairs and to save billions of gallons of fresh water today.
While many suggest $2-3 trillion is required for investment in our nation’s infrastructure, the movement to distributed, integrated water management solutions may alleviate the pipeline requirements. At a minimum, we’re getting smarter about repairs. Technologies like SmartCover Systems and LMK Technologies are helping to focus improvements where they are most needed, enabling some municipalities to forego a $10M pipeline replacement with a $100,000 point solution. It’s a good reason to encourage your local municipality to accelerate the adoption of new technologies.
Collaboration is key
I am glad to see the organizations including CurrentWater.org and the US Water Alliance working locally and nationally to call attention this precious resource that is the life-blood of commerce and urban vitality.
We must collectively take responsibility for a sustainable water supply by learning more and by advocating for improvements in water reuse.
On Earth Day 2017, I will be walking on the shore of Lake Michigan, with one of the planet’s largest bodies of fresh water on one side and some of the most iconic skyscrapers in the world on the other. I’ll be thinking, if humans can master these skyscrapers, they can surely put their minds to making water work for future generations.
Author: Maria Diecidue, Director of Communications for Global Water Works.
Global Water Works (GWW) helps to accelerate the adoption of water saving technologies. GWW is a marketing agency at the center of the water world that provides strategic positioning, digital and traditional marketing and sales support for water tech clients to help them overcome the hurdles essential for adoption and investment.
Current – http://www.currentwater.org
EPA: Water Recycling and Reuse: The Environmental Benefits – https://www3.epa.gov/region9/water/recycling/
EPA: WaterSense at Work – https://www.epa.gov/watersense/best-management-practices
Global Water Works; www.golbalwaterworks.org
SmartCover Systems; https://www.smartcoversystems.com/; LMK Technologies, http://www.lmktechnologies.com/
San Francisco Recycled Water Ordinance, http://www.sfwater.org/index.aspx?page=687
Time is now for a new revolution in urban water systems, a conversation with David Sedlak, author of Water 4.0: Reinventing Urban Water Infrastructure – http://news.berkeley.edu/2014/02/18/urban-water-revolution/
US Water Alliance: National Blue Ribbon Commission for Onsite Non-potable Water Systems http://uswateralliance.org/news/us-water-alliance-and-water-environment-reuse-foundation-launch-national-blue-ribbon-commission
Utilis – http://www.UtilisCorp.com
Photo courtesy: R.W. Stein