AJ: Centralized systems vulnerable to climate change conditions

via: Alternatives Journal, Jan. 2013 / Lifecycles 39.1

Best in Flow

by Stu Campana

YOU JUST TOOK A WATER BALLOON TO THE FACE. The good news is that, as a Canadian, you are rarely so pressed to think about the quality and abundance of your water. Globally, there is enough clean and fresh water for everyone. Nevertheless, huge shortages remain in many parts of the world due to the naturally uneven distribution of the water cycle (among other factors). Even more problematic, the cycle is easily disrupted: small climatic shifts can quickly bring too much or too little, wreaking havoc on conventional water management systems.

These systems are proving inadequate to the challenges created by climate change. Because Canada has been spared the harshest impacts (so far), we are largely unprepared for major water cycle shifts. Fortunately for us, there are lessons to be learned from many communities (including a few homegrown examples) that have already adopted decentralized water management strategies. What we need to absorb are not the designs themselves, but the principles of resilience and low-impact development, which are essential to building a water system that can withstand shocks.

To clarify, the concept of decentralized systems is intended as a geographical distinction rather than a political one. In this context, both centralized and decentralized systems can refer to public or private and municipal or federal initiatives.

Most Canadian cities use water from a single source and dispose of it in a single location. The system works well enough under normal circumstances; there’s no real need to recycle when freshwater remains in ready supply. This centralized structure, however, is like an 18-wheeler on a treacherous highway, struggling to cope with changes in speed and direction. Enough of both, and it might crash.

Increases in the intensity of flooding, droughts and storms are all expected impacts of climate change on water cycles. “New patterns of wind, humidity, and ambient temperature are already dramatically altering the weather map,” wrote Chris Wood, author of Dry Spring: The Coming Water Crisis of North America, in a 2005 article. “Some parts of the country are receiving more rain than ever before; other regions are drying up.” Moreover, Wood argues that “Canada’s multibillion-dollar investment in water infrastructure” is already outdated: “It will not be able to either contain the massive floods or ameliorate the droughts of the future.”

No, perhaps not. An anecdote from our nation’s capital may help explain why.

For most of one day in early September 2012, it rained heavily in Ottawa – not an uncommon event for the time of year, or one likely to raise alarms. Yet the capital region’s residents were unpleasantly surprised to find that the rainfall had caused 63.5 million litres of diluted sewage to overflow into the Ottawa River. Ottawa’s stormwater system is typical of a mid-sized Canadian city: made up of no less than 1500 kilometres of pipes, including some overlap with the sewage system. The labyrinth of pipes is not designed to handle large influxes of water, and the results are more or less catastrophic when it happens.

Like most of the world, Canada’s cities are ill equipped to handle sweeping problems such as contaminated water supplies and widespread flooding. Ottawa’s sewer system can’t cope with an enormous rain deluge any more than India’s water reserves can withstand weeks of drought. Centralized systems are vulnerable to climate change conditions because the size and nature of the infrastructure makes adaptation difficult. Breaking water management structures down into discrete, independent and decentralized systems builds resilience against fluctuation.

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BBC News: River basins ‘vital for growth’

12 June 2012

River basins ‘vital for growth’
By Mark Kinver Environment reporter, BBC News

The world’s top river basin regions have a vital role in the future in terms of sustaining economic growth in the future, a report has suggested.

However, current projections show that seven of the top 10 areas are currently using unsustainable volumes of water.

A UN report said the global target of halving the number of people in the world without access to safe drinking water was achieved in March 2012.

The report was commissioned by HSBC, WWF, Earthwatch and WaterAid.

The document, Exploring the Links between Water and Economic Growth, produced by Frontier Economics, recorded that almost 800 million remained without access to safe drinking water, while 2.5bn were without basic access to sanitation.

The report’s authors estimate that nations would see their GDP improve by up to 15% if the global Millennium Development Targets were achieved.

A report published by the UN in March said the international community had acheived the goal of halving the number of people without access to safe drinking water.

In the past 20 years, two billion people have gained access to improved drinking water.

However, it acknowledged that global targets to improve sanitation were unlikely to be met by the 2015 deadline.

The Millennium Development Goal (MDG) lists 75% of the world’s population benefiting from improved sanitation, yet figures suggest that only 63% of the world’s population currently have improved sanitation access, a figure projected to increase only to 67% by 2015.

This means that 2.5bn people are still without the level of sanitation outlined in the MDGs.

The report by Frontier Economics listed a number of avenues that need to be addressed in order for the “water challenge” to be addressed.

As well as improving the access to drinking water and sanitation, it also listed the need for great efficiency in the way water is consumed within agriculture, industry and domestic sectors.

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RBC Canadian Water Attitudes Study

Via: RBC Blue Water Project

TORONTO, March 22, 2012 — Canadians believe that maintaining our drinking water supply is one of the most important areas for government funding (behind hospitals and tied with schools). Yet, more than 80 per cent feel there is no need for major and immediate investment in their community’s drinking water/wastewater facilities, which they believe to be in good condition, and in need of only minor investment for upkeep. Ironically, more than a third of Canadians (37 per cent) who use municipal water are not very aware of the condition of the water and sewage infrastructure serving their own home.

“Canadians believe in the safety of their drinking water and assume that the infrastructure that provides it is efficient,” says Bob Sandford, Chair, Canadian Partnership Initiative of the UN Water for Life Decade. “This is a national ‘pipe dream’ because in many municipalities, water distribution and sewage pipes can be up to 80 years old and have already reached the end of their service life. In fact, reports have shown there is an $88-billion investment required to repair and build new water infrastructure in communities across Canada.”

According to the fifth annual RBC Canadian Water Attitudes Study, more than three-quarters of respondents (78 per cent) stated their main source of water comes from the municipal water supply. While the majority felt that their municipalities were doing a good job at maintaining current water and sewage systems to prevent breakages in the short term (68 per cent), they were less impressed with the municipalities’ work on upgrading these systems for the long term (61 per cent). However, only a quarter (22 per cent) would be willing to pay through a water bill or taxes into an infrastructure fund to upgrade drinking water/wastewater facilities in their community.

“Investments in water infrastructure maintenance are chronically underfunded and often deferred. This is causing a multitude of issues not immediately associated in the minds of Canadians with water quality and supply,” notes Sandford.

More than half of Canadians (54 per cent) have been inconvenienced by a water related issue in the past two years. A backed-up drain, boil-water warnings, water bans/use restrictions or closed beaches due to poor water quality tell a larger story of the disconnect between Canadians’ confidence in water quality and infrastructure, and the issues that they are actually facing.

“All of these inconveniences highlight the failing infrastructure in many Canadian municipalities. What may seem like minor issues in our own backyards represents a larger problem with regard to our country’s water,” says Sandford. “We have found that Canadians are confident in freshwater as a lasting resource but don’t understand the potential impact inconsistent infrastructure maintenance can have on the supply, quality and cost of water.”

Canadians’ level of confidence in the safety and quality of the country’s drinking water has increased significantly over the past four years to 88 per cent in 2012, up from 81 per cent in 2009. This confidence helps explain why almost half of Canadians (49 per cent) believe freshwater is the country’s most important natural resource, with the exception of Albertans who ranked oil first, followed by fresh water. Eighty-one per cent of the population feels confident that their regions have enough fresh water to meet long-term needs.

And, while respondents reported that they try to conserve water, they also take it for granted. Almost half leave the water running in the kitchen when washing and rinsing dishes (44 per cent), while 12 per cent hose down their driveways, and 14 per cent admit to flushing things down the toilet that should be disposed of in another manner.

Study results in water infograph

Chris Coulter, GlobeScan’s president, adds

“We have been polling on water issues for 25 years. This survey is a tale of romance between Canadians and their treasured water. But there’s a significant gap between romance and reality. We found a troubling lack of awareness not only about water conservation but also the very pressing need for investment in infrastructure. Mobilizing the political will to deal with these issues will be a challenge.”

2012 RBC Canadian Water Attitudes Study: Additional highlights 

Following are additional highlights from the 2012 RBC Canadian Water Attitudes Study, which has tracked Canadians’ perceptions and attitudes towards water quality and conservation since 2008.

Water consumption behaviours

  • Two-thirds of Canadians (66 per cent) always turn off the water while brushing their teeth (70 per cent female; 61 per cent male);
  • Almost half (48 per cent) avoid watering their lawns in the summer (55 per cent female; 40 per cent male);
  • Many Canadians have installed low-flow shower heads (47 per cent) and water-efficient toilets (42 per cent) in their homes;
  • Four-in-ten respondents regularly choose tap water over bottled water in restaurants;
  • Of the typical sources of drinking water at home, Canadians drink tap water (48 per cent), filtered tap water (27 per cent), water from a large jug/cooler (11 per cent) and individually-sized bottled water (nine per cent).

Top five things people do that upset Canadians the most about water usage

  1. Water their lawns when it has just rained, is raining or about to rain (48 per cent)
  2. Flush things down the toilet that should be disposed of in another manner (29 per cent)
  3. Hose down their driveway (24 per cent)
  4. Leave a faucet running in a public place (19 per cent)
  5. Use soap or shampoo to bathe in a lake (18 per cent)

Top five things Canadians admit they have knowingly done themselves

  1. Left water running in the kitchen when washing and rinsing dishes (44 per cent)
  2. Left water on while brushing teeth (42 per cent)
  3. Allowed soapy water to run down a storm drain (18 per cent)
  4. Flushed things down the toilet that should have been disposed of in another manner (14 per cent)
  5. Hosed down driveway (12 per cent)

About the RBC Canadian Water Attitudes Study
These are some of the findings of a GlobeScan poll conducted between February 1-15, 2012, on behalf of RBC and sponsored by the UN Water for Life Decade. A sample of 2,428 adult Canadians from an online panel were interviewed. Weighting was then employed to balance demographics and ensure that the sample’s composition reflects that of the adult population according to Census data and to provide results intended to approximate the sample universe. The margin of error for a strict probability sample for a sample of this size would be ±2.0 percent, 19 times out of 20. All sample surveys and polls may be subject to multiple sources of error, including, but not limited to sampling error, coverage error and measurement error.

About the RBC Blue Water Project
The RBC Blue Water Project is an innovative, wide-ranging, 10-year global commitment to help protect the world’s most precious natural resource: fresh water. It includes a $50 million philanthropic commitment to organizations that protect watersheds and ensure access to clean drinking water. The RBC Blue Water Project also promotes responsible water use through awareness programs and supports programs that encourage businesses to develop and commercialize innovative solutions to the water issues facing the world. Since 2007, RBC has pledged over $32 million to more than 450 not-for-profit organizations worldwide that protect watersheds or ensure access to clean drinking water. For more information, rbc.com/bluewater.

About Canadian Partnership Initiative of the United Nations Water for Life Decade
The United Nations Water for Life Decade is a globally proclaimed decade for action on water quality and availability issues. While each country in the world will be focusing on its own water quality and availability issues within the larger context of the global fresh water situation, the Canadian initiative has been defined by a nation-wide public and private sector partnership aimed at identifying and responding to regional and national water issues. The United Nations Water for Life initiative in Canada exists to put Canadian water issues into a global context. The Canadian United Nations Water for Life partnership initiative is housed, and has its research home in the Western Watersheds Climate Research Collaborative at the Biogeosciences Institute at the University of Calgary.

About GlobeScan
GlobeScan delivers evidence, insights, and ideas that build value for clients through stronger stakeholder relationships. Uniquely placed at the nexus of reputation, brand, and sustainability, GlobeScan combines rigorous research with creative and challenging thinking to instill trust, drive engagement, and inspire innovation within, around, and beyond our clients’ organizations. For more information, visit www.globescan.com.

Water Law: Public Trust May Be Fresh Approach to Protecting Great Lakes

By Keith Schneider
Via: Circle of Blue

January 17, 2012 WASHINGTON, D.C. Maude Barlow, a 64-year-old author and activist from Ottawa, is chairperson of the Council of Canadians, one of that country’s most influential public interest organizations. She has spent a globally prominent career advocating for clean water, environmental protection, and fairer trade deals for the Great Lakes region.

James Olson, a 66-year-old attorney from Traverse City, Michigan, is an expert in American environmental law who challenged Nestle’s authority to bottle Michigan’s groundwater in a 2003 case that spurred an eight-state pact in 2008 to block big diversions of water from the Great Lakes.

Now the two advocates, driven by their shared allegiance to the security of the Great Lakes, have teamed up to develop and promote the biggest idea of their careers. They are intent on applying two ancient governing and legal principles — defining the Great Lakes as a shared “commons,” protected by the public trust doctrine — to reverse the deteriorating condition of the largest system of fresh surface water on earth.

On December 13, Barlow and Olson took a momentous first step toward their goal when they spent 75 minutes formally introducing the concept to the Canadian and American leaders of the International Joint Commission (IJC), a bilateral agency founded in 1909 to help manage the Great Lakes and other waters that cross the boundaries of the two countries. It was the first time that a framework for managing the Great Lakes as a commons had been presented at such a high government level in both nations.

“We were asking the IJC to show leadership, by promoting a new narrative for protecting the Great Lakes,” Barlow added. “They were gracious, warm, and receptive. There was no hostility and a great deal of interest in how it would work.”

Frank Bevacqua, the IJC spokesman, said the commissioners would not comment publicly on what they heard. “Our commissioners wish to have the opportunity to discuss the material presented by Barlow and Olson amongst themselves, before giving interviews on the subject,” he said.

The proposal from Barlow and Olson also attracted interest from water law experts outside of government. Paul Simmons — a water law specialist and partner at Somach, Simmons, and Dunn in Sacramento — said in an interview with Circle of Blue that, since a 1983 state Supreme Court case, California has required water suppliers and regulators to consider the public trust implications in decisions involving water allocations from rivers for such things as supplying drinking water or for wildlife conservation.

The biggest question in defining the Great Lakes as a commons subject to public trust principles is how to install such principles in real-world law and regulation, according to Simmons.

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Scientific American: How the “Internet of Things” Is Turning Cities Into Living Organisms

When city services can autonomously go online and digest information from the cloud, they can reach a level of performance never before seen.

December 6, 2011

By Christopher Mims

When city services can autonomously go online and digest information from the cloud, they can reach a level of performance never before seen. First up, water systems that automatically know when it will rain and react accordingly.

With a little help from what’s called the Internet of Things, engineers are transforming cities from passive conduits for water into dynamic systems that store and manage it like the tissues of desert animals. By using the Internet to connect real-world sensors and control mechanisms to cloud-based control systems that can pull in streams from any other data source, including weather reports, these efforts enable conservation and money-saving measures that would have been impossible without this virtual nervous system.

Marcus Quigley, principal water engineer at the infrastructure engineering firm Geosyntec, has been tackling this problem using hardware from Internet of Things company ioBridge, whose Internet-connected sensors have been used in everything from location-aware home automation to tide gauges that tweet.

It may sound like a trivial problem, but the EPA estimates that the U.S. has $13 billion invested in wastewater infrastructure alone. More importantly, the majority of America’s largest cities–more than 700 in all–dump millions of gallons of raw sewage into our waterways every time it rains, because their sewer and stormwater systems were designed a century ago.

These overwhelmed cities include New York City, Detroit, Boston, Portland, St. Louis, Chicago, Seattle, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., San Francisco, many other cities, mostly in the Rust Belt and New England. With the notable exception of Los Angeles, almost every major urban center in the U.S. is in need of a way to soak up rainstorms rather than dump them straight down the drain in a desperate attempt to prevent flooding.

That’s where “high performance” infrastructure–infrastructure that can react to its environment like a living thing–comes in.

“The conventional way to build a city is you build what you want, and then you get rid of water as quickly as possible,” says Quigley. Historically, that’s meant massive projects to redirect all the water sluicing down impermeable streets and concrete and into the Moria-like recesses of a city’s sewer system. Green infrastructure tries to control runoff on-site, rather than sending it below, through the use of “bioretention cells” and rain gardens, which absorb and filter the water into collections of plants and artificial wetlands.

High-performance green infrastructure takes things a step further, by anticipating demand for water storage and preparing a system accordingly. For example, in seven projects deployed in St. Louis and one in New Bern, North Carolina, Geosyntec integrated a building’s rainwater catchment system with software that uses weather predictions from the Internet to know when a basin should be partly emptied to accommodate incoming stormwater.

Many more projects of this kind are on the way, including installations in Washington, D.C. and New York City.

“Instead of trying to use what I consider sub-optimal passive systems to control these … components of the urban environment, what we’re doing is making decisions in real time to achieve specific environmental goals,” says Quigley.

Dynamic control of a rainwater catchment allows these basins to be used to their maximum without fear that they’ll be overwhelmed by weather events. Giving building planners the assurance that they’ll always have access to a free water supply means they can actually use it. And putting these on enough buildings could go a long way to solving the problem of combined sewer and stormwater systems being overwhelmed when it rains.

It’s early days for these kinds of systems, and managing runoff is just one of the applications they could be put to use.

“The big picture is that we are able to take any piece of information that is Internet-accessible, any feed, and integrate it into the logic of how we operate these components of our city,” says Quigley.

Geosyntec’s cloud-based infrastructure is just as important as the physical infrastructure it puts into place on-site. Led by software developer Alex Bedig, the company has created a general-purpose platform for handling all the relevant inputs, sending instructions to valves and other control points, and never, ever failing in an emergency.

Taken together, these physical and virtual systems are explicitly biomimetic, says Quigley.

“The intent of an active system is to take the built environment and have it perform as if it were natural. We’re fundamentally saying that passive systems are unable to do that in an optimal way. In many cases they are unable to do it at all.”

It’s a story we’ve heard in the energy industry for years–hence the notion that a dynamically managed “smart grid” is not only helpful, but absolutely essential for integrating our power-generating infrastructure with the natural world through renewables. The smart grid extends all the way down to the level of the individual through demand management for energy conservation, but these principles have yet to show up on the same scale in the management of physical resources like water.

Humanity has a sorry habit of neglecting its waste stream, whether its the 99% of precious rare earth elements we fail to recycle or the complete absence of curbside composting from most American cities. The handy thing about water is that, through evaporation, it recycles itself. Now all we have to do is make the best use of it we can while it’s coursing through our cities.

via: Fast Company

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Publications and Projects by Geosyntec:

NRDC Report: 14 Cities Prove That Green Infrastructure Cleans Waterways, Cuts Costs and Greens Cities

WASHINGTON, DC — (Marketwire) — 11/16/11 — Cities of all sizes are tackling their water pollution problems, such as stormwater runoff and sewage overflow, by employing green infrastructure and design — and they will save money as a result, according to a peer-reviewed report released today by the Natural Resources Defense Council. The report provides detailed case studies analyzing how 14 cities are using these methods and encourages the EPA to advance these solutions nationwide later this year.

‘Every single day, millions of gallons of good water needlessly drain away, filling our waterways with sewage and urban pollutants, rather than replenishing our water supply,’ said NRDC Water Program Director David Beckman. ‘But it doesn’t have to be that way. By making our communities literally greener, we can make our water sources cleaner too — and with much greater return than conventional solutions.’

‘Rooftops to Rivers II‘ details common water pollution problems and provides case studies for 14 geographically diverse cities that can all be considered leaders for employing green infrastructure solutions to address their pollution problems. The cities featured in the report have improved their ability to manage stormwater and reduce runoff pollution, saved money and beautified their cityscapes by capturing rain where it falls.

‘Cities of all sizes are recognizing that green infrastructure — which stops rain where it falls — is the smartest way to reduce water pollution from storms,’ said Karen Hobbs, NRDC senior policy analyst. ‘It often only takes a fraction of an inch to trigger this kind of pollution. And the extreme weather we’ve seen in much of the country this year — from drought to floods and hurricanes — drives home the need for smarter solutions to our water woes.’

The 14 cities featured in the report are all positioned on a six-point ‘Emerald City Scale’ to assess how each of these trailblazing leaders is doing. They are listed here from the highest to lowest points scored:

  • Philadelphia, PA (6)
  • Milwaukee, WI (5)
  • New York, NY (5)
  • Portland, OR (5)
  • Syracuse, NY (5)
  • Washington, D.C. (5)
  • Aurora, IL (4)
  • Toronto, Ontario, Canada (4)
  • Chicago, IL (3)
  • Kansas City, MO (3)
  • Nashville, TN (3)
  • Seattle, WA (3)
  • Pittsburgh, PA (1)
  • Detroit Metro Area & the Rouge River Watershed, MI (1)

The six-point scale identifies the primary actions every city can undertake to maximize their green infrastructure investment, including: a long term green infrastructure plan for the city, a retention standard, a requirement to reduce existing impervious surfaces using green infrastructure, incentives for private-party action, guidance or other assistance in deploying green infrastructure, and a dedicated funding source.

Only one city, Philadelphia, is undertaking all six actions, but each city featured in the report is undertaking at least one.

Green infrastructure — in contrast to paved and other impermeable surfaces — stops runoff pollution from the start, by capturing rainwater and either storing it for future consumer use or letting it filter back into the ground, replenishing vegetation and groundwater supplies. Examples include green roofs, street trees, increased green space, rain barrels, rain gardens, and permeable pavement. These design solutions have the added benefits of beautifying neighborhoods, cooling and cleansing the air, reducing asthma and heat-related illnesses, lowering heating and cooling energy costs, boosting economies, and supporting American jobs.

The report details how green infrastructure is frequently more cost-effective than traditional approaches to addressing runoff, like pipes and holding tanks. The City of Philadelphia estimates that a traditional approach to its sewage overflow problems would have cost billions more than its state-approved green infrastructure plan, which will achieve comparable results as it transforms 34 percent of the city’s impervious surfaces to ‘greened acres.’ The American Society of Landscape Architects recently surveyed its members and found that green infrastructure reduced or did not influence costs 75 percent of the time. EPA’s own analysis shows that green infrastructure approaches save money for developers, communities and, the vast majority of the time, for new development.

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via: Environmental Expert

TorStar: Ontario only province to get an ‘A’ for drinking water: Ecojustice report

via: Toronto Star Published Nov 15 2011
Colin Perkel for The Canadian Press

TORONTO—More than a decade after the Walkerton disaster, much of Canada’s tap water remains at risk from contamination despite initial progress in front-line monitoring and treatment, a new report concludes.

In its third such report released Tuesday, the environmental group Ecojustice warns that while some jurisdictions have stepped up water protection efforts in the past five years, most have not done enough.

In 2000, seven people died and 2,500 fell ill in Walkerton, Ont., when the town’s poorly monitored drinking water was contaminated with E. coli from farm runoff.

The tragedy prompted most provinces to review and revamp their drinking water laws with mixed results — but that burst of enthusiasm has faded in recent years, according to the report.

“In many places, the health of Canadians is still at risk,” the report concludes.

“The lack of recent progress also seems to indicate that the impetus for improved water protection, spurred by events like Walkerton, is on the wane.”

The report called “Waterproof 3” finds only Ontario among the provinces worthy of an A grade for its water protection efforts, while Alberta lags with a C-.

The federal government gets an F for a record that continues to worsen, the report states.

In particular, the report criticizes Ottawa for a lack of progress on the legislative front, poor water quality for First Nations, and budget cuts it says will hurt Environment Canada’s ability to monitor the situation.

“The federal government is failing in almost every aspect of water protection, even though it should be setting rigorous standards,” the report says.

For the first time, the report has expanded to include source-water protection efforts — the idea that the best way to provide safe tap water is to ensure the water does not get contaminated in the first place.

The findings are not encouraging.

“Full-fledged source-water protection — a critical first step in achieving safe drinking water systems — has been implemented to some degree in only seven of 13 provinces and territories,” the report states.

“(It) is notably lacking in industry-heavy areas where the risk of contamination is high.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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For more information, please contact:

Kimberly Shearon, communications coordinator | Ecojustice
604.685.5618 x 242 | 778.988.1530
kshearon@ecojustice.ca

Sutton Eaves, communications director | Ecojustice
778.829.3265
seaves@ecojustice.ca