Valuing the essential element: Water

The Urban Water Blueprint analyzes more than 2,000 watersheds and 530 cities globally.  PHOTO CREDIT: Mark Godfrey
© The Urban Water Blueprint analyzes more than 2,000 watersheds and 530 cities globally. PHOTO CREDIT: Mark Godfrey

By Emily Simmons, coordinator for The Nature Conservancy’s securing water program

Extensive research shows that more than 100 major cities across the globe could see a positive return on investment if they choose to invest in watershed conservation.

Do you know where your water comes from? 77% of Americans don’t. They see this clear liquid flow from their taps, tubs and sprinklers without the knowledge that freshwater supplies around the world (including in the USA) are being used at unsustainable rates. With more than half of the worlds’ rising population living in cities, capital expenditures on water supply are close to $90 billion per year and growing. Meanwhile, an increasing demand for freshwater is exacerbated by the fact that existing supplies have been polluted, and replenishing rainfall distributions are less predictable and dependable as a result of our changing climate.

Over the last few years water experts, scientists, and conservation organizations, including The Nature Conservancy, have been working to raise awareness not only about the world’s water crises, but also the steps that individuals, communities, and leaders can take to find solutions. Enter the Conservancy and partner’s latest accomplishment – The Urban Water Blueprint – an analysis of water risk for more than 530 cities and more than 2,000 water sources at the global scale. What sets this study apart, and what makes it so valuable, is that the authors took their study to the next level and analyzed a series of conservation practices, finding the most effective strategies to combat the risks specific to each city.
© Forest protection and reforestation are important factors when it comes to watershed conservation. PHOTO CREDIT: Ami Vitale
The Urban Water Blueprint can thus serve as a tool for city planners and elected officials to decide on the conservation measures they should implement in order to protect and restore water quality and quantity for the communities they serve. The five conservation strategies evaluated in the study are: land protection, reforestation, river and stream bank restoration, agricultural best management practices, and forest fuel reduction. Each of these has the potential to reduce sedimentation and nutrient pollution into surface water, and at a much more cost effective level then man-made gray infrastructure would alone. The overall takeaway? Consider these four findings:

    1. One in four cities could see a positive return on investment from investing in watershed conservation.
    2. Conservation strategies can measurably improve the quality of water sources serving more than 700 million people living in the 100 largest cities.
    3. Implementing agricultural best management practices on just 0.2 percent of the area where large cities get their water could reduce sediment pollution by 10 percent.
    4. If conservation actions are conducted where possible, the market potential for sediment reduction in the top 100 cities is $8.1 billion per year.

© Agricultural best management practices and river bank restoration are also key conservation strategies. PHOTO CREDIT: Scott Warren
Although the data is compelling, the question still stands: how do we reach people and their leaders without the message getting lost in the noise of today’s media? To address this issue and compel global communities to use the data to change the way that they look at their water future, the Conservancy has launched an Urban Water Blueprint website to accompany the report. The website showcases these science-based recommendations of natural infrastructure for cities and directs interested visitors to locally relevant content with a global map of watersheds and cities. With one or two clicks, visitors can see not only the beautifully painted picture of essential content, but also have the ability to explore at a more detailed level the data that is personally relevant to them. In short, the report’s site can help leaders and community members have clean water for the future.

Knowledge is power and the key for change. The Urban Water Blueprint just might be the catalyst we need.

Tags: Conservation | Urban Planning | Water Conservation


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