The world's built infrastructure that currently exists for water treatment, delivery, and disposal (e.g. pipes, pumps, and facilities) needs global attention and large investments to mend and repair. Global investments on building and repairing the built water infrastructure is estimated at $36.18 billion dollars. With investments falling far below these requirements, we are entering into unknown water insecurity.
While several developing countries have no water infrastructure to deliver a steady supply of clean water, highly developed countries built infrastructure is often outdated and utilizing decades old, inefficient systems as well as using too much water and recycling too little.
Challenges include how to get large scale investments, how to change consumers habits and perspectives on recycled water, and how to use less in our daily lives, food production, and energy generation.
Here we focus on the many solutions and innovations available to make our infrastructure act more like nature, opportunities to collect and analyze data, updating outdated infrastructure with more efficient and reusable technologies, and considering how climate change may require a new approach.
Making our built infrastructure behave like natural infrastructure is nothing new, but remains to be widely implemented. Solutions need to reduce heat and evaporation, store and filter water, and trap and process pollutants. Some of the best innovations today are listed below with short descriptions and links:
- Pervious pavement allows our roads and sidewalks to naturally pass water to the ground which reduces runoff and flooding, recharges ground water, and reduces pollution entering streams.
- Rain gardens are similar to impervious pavement, which encourages water to be absorbed to the ground instead of washing into roads and waste water.
- Dams designed to pass sediment and allow fish passage.
- Flood events are critical processes that help rivers replenish nutrients to both in-stream and floodplain habitats, create and restore available habitats (i.e. removing vegetation and allowing new growth, and clearing fine sediment in some areas and thus revitalizing suitable habitat for fish spawning, maroinvertebrate, and vertical water exchange that can help absorb nutrients). Therefore, allowing dams to release flood events is critically important for maintaining healthy rivers, and needs to be widely practiced.
Data Collection and Analysis
- Using smart water meters and consumer portals, water districts and consumers can track water consupmtion in real-time, compare usage to others in the area, and identify potential leaks and/or theft.
- Real-time data of water quality can provide the needed insight to better manage both in-stream and water treatment facility management and encourage proactive measures that can save time and money.
- Sensors such as infrared, can help detect and map crop health, stress, and soil moisture. Coupling these sensors with software, automatic irrigation can simply apply water intelligently and efficiently. water when and where necessary
- Aerial data including standard RGB images, infrared, and multispectral can help identify water leaks, drainage areas, inefficient irrigation practices, and much more. With the data revolution of cheaper acquisition that is currently being offered by unmanned aircraft systems (UAS, or simply drones), will certainly play a transformative role in water efficiency.
- Water treatments that operate more efficiently and capture biogas.
- Harvesting algae for biogas, and more
- Floatovoltaics offer more efficient solar panels due to reduced heat and reduce water evaporation.
- Water recycling through direct potable reuse and indirect potable reuse.
- Widespread household appliance upgrades - invisible water
- Pump Storage Facilities utilizing wind power to pump water to higher water storage reservoirs during windy conditions, and later the water is released and generates hydropower when demand is high.
- Dams by design can "produce more balanced outcomes for rivers and energy
Considering Climate Change and Water Stewardship
- Water stewardship is "becoming a common term to denote the adoption of practices that aim to safeguard long-term availability of water for stakeholders in a watershed."
- Smaller dams have less impact on the environment, are cheaper to build and maintain and are not seen as permenant structures.
- Small scale hydroelectric projects are "more resilient to climate change" and "less severe impacts to the environment" yet offer a significant potential for electricity generation.