Thursday, March 24, 2011

Rethinking The Way We Use Water

Blog post based on the Webinar Cites and the Global Water Crisis: Managing a Vital Resource by Sustainable Cities Collective and also on the article Water Scarcity Spells Opportunity for Entrepreneurs by Erica Gies, published on March 21st, 2011.

March 22nd, 2011 was World Water Day, so I thought it would be appropriate to have a blog post on water. I took part in the Webinar titled Cities and the Global Water Crisis: Managing a Vital Resource that gave an opportunity to Larry Levine (NRDC) Scott Anderson (Verde Strategy) and Paul Bowen (Coca Cola) to discuss the issue of water.

According to the New York Times article “Water Scarcity Spells Opportunity for Entrepreneurs” the fact that water is now affected by energy supply as well as climate change can make it more attractive for people wanting to invest in the water industry, creating a blue tech economy. Water is losing some of its public good status as it becomes more and more linked to energy usage as well as becoming scarce. Pollution and increasing world population are putting pressure on our water resources. The changing dynamics of water use and availability creates a need to use water more efficiently.

My favorite part of the webinar was about how the gray infrastructures of water in the United States are getting old and the possibility of turning them into green infrastructure. Gray infrastructure are for example, buildings, roads, utilities and parking lots. Gray infrastructure is impervious, forcing water to run off, which must be managed and cleaned before entering rivers ( Mr. Levine brought up the idea that water could find its old cycle by adding vegetation that could help filtrate and diminish the overflow, treating the extra runoff as a resource instead of waste. This could lead to a positive externality for everyone living around this new system. He suggested green roofs, roadside plantings, rain gardens, and rainwater harvesting to keep pollution out of the waterways and thereby protect and enhance drinking water supplies.

The link between water and energy usage is important. Paul Bowen from Coca Cola explained the importance of the link between the two in his firm production process. Basically there are trade-offs between paying for more energy or using less water, making the carbon footprint of a process linked to its water footprint. Water footprint is defined as follows by the Water Footprint Network (

“The water footprint is an indicator of freshwater use that looks at both direct and indirect water use of a consumer or producer. The water footprint of an individual, community or business is defined as the total volume of freshwater that is used to produce the goods and services consumed by the individual or community or produced by the business. Water use is measured in terms of water volumes consumed (evaporated) and/or polluted per unit of time. A water footprint can be calculated for a particular product, for any well-defined group of consumers (e.g. an individual, family, village, city, province, state or nation) or producers (e.g. a public organization, private enterprise or economic sector). The water footprint is a geographically explicit indicator, not only showing volumes of water use and pollution, but also the locations.”

Both the webinar and the newspaper article are making the point that because of the state of water, more and more money will go into the resource in order to make better use of it. The crucial need of water for every part of our lives coupled with increasing scarcity will require us to be more efficient and conservation-oriented.

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