New thinking needed on water

Written by Diana Nelson Jones on .


It was this sentence, at the end of an article in today’s Atlantic Cities, that most startled me: “Even in North America, where 75 percent of wastewater is treated, only 3.8 percent is put to reuse.”
In “Why Is There So Little Innovation in Water Infrastructure?” Henry Grabar writes about the conservatism that rules the water service establishment and its resistance to change.
He writes: “On its 2013 report card, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave U.S. water infrastructure a D. Even the nation’s best water systems are ancient -- we have over 240,000 water main breaks each year -- and unprepared for a mix of current challenges that includes climate change, tightening budgets, growing urban populations, and pharmaceutical contaminants. This spring, after record-setting rains, Detroit had no choice but to pour several hundred million gallons of raw sewage into the Great Lakes.”
In light of Alcosan’s Environmental Protection Agency mandate to reduce, if not eliminate sewage overflow and considering the need for data to show how green infrastructure can pick up some of the slack on the exorbitant cost of gray infrastructure, this is an issue for some serious chewing.
The article cites several innovative projects, including in Oakland, Cal. and London, England as notable considering the dearth of them.
It  continues: “Water authorities are slow to adapt, and officials are not rewarded for taking the risks required for innovation as much as they are punished for failure. Like roads and rails, water infrastructure lasts a long time, so opportunities for systemic overhaul do not often arise.
“Not surprisingly, much of the innovation in water management is driven by a fear of running out. Singapore, which has traditionally drawn much of its potable water from across international lines in Malaysia, has been a pioneer in storm water harvesting and desalinization. In thirsty Southern California, Orange County’s widely imitated system has recycled wastewater back into the drinking water supply for decades.”


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