500 researchers assembled last week in Bonn, Germany for the Global Water System Project Conference, "Water in the Anthropocene” where they adopted recommendations focused on the “science, governance, and management of water resources.”
They warned that, in as little as two generations, and without global change, billions of people will face severe challenges accessing fresh water. The researchers called on participant nations to renew commitments to adopting multi-scale and interdisciplinary approaches to water science and to make use of recent cross-disciplinary studies of knowledge about fresh water.
Their declaration calls for institutions and cities to recognize the urgent need to train the next generation of water scientists and practitioners in global resource change research and management.
Beyond just access to technology the report urges researchers and officials to consider ecosystem-based alternatives to costly structural solutions for climate proofing. Design, they argue, should make use of the existing environment and include both traditional and green infrastructural improvements.
In order for any of these recommendations to succeed cities, states, and nations will need to stimulate innovation in their water institutions.
Solving the problem of clean water access will require a balance of technical solutions and political compromises that take heed of differing value systems and equity. They warn that a failure to adopt inclusive approaches will make it impossible to design globally effective green growth strategies or implement sustainable economic policies.
Fortunately Corvallis and city water management policy is already moving to be in line with many of the recommendations made by this report. One such project, done in conjunction with the Corvallis Sustainability Coalition, is the “Three Waters Project” at the South-Town First Alternative Co-Op.
Set to finish next month, the project is an ambitious plan that serves as a demonstration that “ businesses and residences can reduce tap water use, plus wastewater and stormwater discharge into municipal systems by 50% while maintaining current standards of living, health, and convenience.”
Given the exponential rise of cities around the world and the influx of once rural residents to urban areas, projects like this will be vital to ensuring adequate access to clean fresh water resources.
In addition to projects like the this, the city is challenging residents to take the “shorter shower challenge” and reduce their showers to just six minutes, down from the average of eight minutes. The average shower head sprays out an amazing 2.1 gallons a minute making an eight minute shower a 17 gallon affair.
By reducing showers to just six minutes and using low flow high pressure faucets Corvallis residents can reduce their personal water usage by thousands of gallons a year, which would result in tens of millions of gallons of water saved by the city collectively.
It is not just Corvallis residents and businesses that are working on water conservation. OSU strives as an institution to do its part to reduce the amount of water that it uses and to improve local water resources through aggressive stormwater management.
The university makes use of stone and vegetated swales to reduce debris in and flow of runoff, participates in rainwater collection & reuse, uses permeable hardscapes to reduce run-off, deploys filter and detention manholes, builds green roofs, and plants numerous rain gardens.
While Corvallis is at the forefront of sustainable water management there is more that can be done. The conference participants concluded that “stewardship requires balancing the needs of humankind and the needs of nature through the protection of ecosystems”. However, without a global design framework, they fear that fragmented decision-making and persistent maladaptive approaches to water management will merely make the situation worse.