Thoughts on Integrated Water Strategies
Despite the realities faced by many regions of the world today–record droughts, increased water scarcity, aging stormwater infrastructure and related pollution–many of us still take water for granted. When we need it, we turn on a faucet, pipes bring it in, and when we’re done, it drains down a pipe and out of our minds. Unfortunately, this same mindset is reflected in many of the communities, buildings, and landscapes we humans have planned, designed, and built. In so many of these places, water is thought of last. Is all this about to change?
David Sedlak, author of the book Water 4.0 and co-Director of the Berkeley Water Center, believes we’re on the brink of a fourth revolution in the way people manage water. A big part of this revolution, according to Sedlak and other experts, will be the implementation of “integrated water strategies.”
As you’ll see in this video, we define integrated water strategies as ways of handling water that integrate the built world with the natural environment, people with the broader community of living things, and ecological science with disciplines like architecture, planning, landscape architecture, engineering, plumbing, and construction.
Join us as we examine this exciting topic and showcase people who view buildings, communities, and cities as watersheds. People who treat water as the limited, life-giving resource it is. People who are coming up with ways to maximize water use while making the world a better place…for all living things.
In addition to David Sedlak, we chat with renowned human rights activist and best-selling author Maude Barlow, the woman many say is responsible for getting water recognized as a fundamental human right. Paula Kehoe, Director of Water Resources for the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, talks about diversifying the water portfolio of a major city in a drought-plagued state. Brian Richter, Director of Global Freshwater Strategies for The Nature Conservancy, shares his insight and some inspiring stories of water well managed.
Michael Ogden, engineer, water visionary, and founder of Natural Systems International (which ultimately became part of Biohabitats), spent more than 40 years helping communities use inspiration from nature to address water pollution problems. In his article The Ethics of Water, he shares that perspective and asks some deeply compelling questions about our relationship with water…and our downstream neighbors.
Katie Bohren describes a current project in Oregon’s Fernhill Wetlands, a place of Inspiration, Wonder, and….Wastewater treatment.
In her editorial Unlocking Sustainable Water Management, Erin English calls for the removal of roadblocks that impede progress in implementing integrated water strategies.
Please let us know what you think about integrated water strategies by commenting on the Rhizome blog or emailing our editor (email@example.com).
Leaf Litter Talks with the Experts
Few people have done more to further worldwide understanding of water as a fundamental human right than activist and best-selling author, Maude Barlow. Maude is the National Chairperson of the Council of Canadians, which advocates for clean water, fair trade, green energy, and public health. She also chairs the board of Food and Water Watch, an organization dedicated to protecting the global commons and ensuring that the food and water we consume is safe, accessible and sustainably produced. She has authored or co-authored 17 books, including her latest, Blue Future: Protecting Water For People And The Planet Forever. In 2008/2009, she served as Senior Advisor on Water to the 63rd President of the United Nations General Assembly and was a leader in the campaign to have water recognized as a human right by the UN.
It’s one thing to read about the water crisis and water justice, or to hear mind-blowing factoids about water scarcity. It’s quite another to walk through a community that does not have access to safe drinking water or sanitation. To help make the water situation real to our readers, can you share an example of a community you have visited where people are being denied their right to water?
I have been in many communities without water. The one that haunts me the most is one of the world’s largest slums, Kibera, in Kenya. Almost one million people live in absolute poverty with almost no electricity and little running water, although a pipe from the local municipality has been recently been installed. There are no toilet facilities. Up to 50 shacks share a pit latrine (a hole in the ground) and local thugs often charge to use them. Local water surfaces are filthy, but people are forced to wash their dishes and clothes in them. The kids, of course, cannot bathe regularly so they have many related diseases.
In your book Blue Future: Protecting Water For People And The Planet Forever, you write: “There is no better example of a ‘runaway market engine’ than the corporate cartel now being created to own and profit from the planet’s supply of fresh water.” Is privatization/commoditization of water the biggest hurdle to protecting and locally managing water in a way that is both just and ecologically sustainable?
There are many hurdles to local, sustainable water systems. Sometimes there is not enough accessible clean water because a mining or energy operation has destroyed local waterways or the municipality dumps its sewage raw into river and lakes. Sometimes governments cannot afford to or choose not to deliver safe clean water to their people. And then sometimes a private company does in fact offer that service but charges tariffs out of reach of many families. So we insist that all people have the human right to safe, clean water and sanitation services delivered by a public agency on a not-for-profit -basis.
Despite the fact that the UN has, as of July 2010, recognized access to safe drinking water and sanitation as a basic human right, the UN is behind on its Millennium Development Goals related to this, particularly with regard to sanitation. (In Blue Future, you write that it will take till mid-century to provide ¾ of the world’s population with improved sanitation.) What does this lag in progress on sanitation mean for marginal populations? Is dependency on others for safe drinking water increasing due to ongoing contamination of local water resources?
The lack of progress on sanitation services for the poor is a major human rights issue. In fact, in my opinion, the lack of access to sanitation is the greatest human rights violation of our time, in terms of numbers of people affected. As millions are displaced from the land to make way for industrial free trade zones and land grabs, they migrate to the slums of mega cities where many have no access whatsoever to sanitation. In a world of such wealth, this reality speaks volumes about our priorities and our economic and social policies.
In this issue of Leaf Litter, we’re exploring the topic of “integrated water strategies”– ways of thinking about and dealing with water that integrate the built world with the natural world; people with the broader community of living things; and ecological science with architecture, planning, engineering, etc. Is there an example of an integrated water strategy you have seen implemented that really stands out in your mind as a success in terms of providing people, animals, plants, and downstream communities with access to clean water in a way that is sustainable? If so, can you tell us about it? (And do you have a photo you are willing to share?)
In Blue Future, I write about an engineer named Colin Pitman who greened a desert city in southern Australia by capturing rainwater, sewage water and grey water and cleaning it in natural lagoons and wetlands, and then storing it underground. The birds have returned to the wetlands, farmers have enough water to grow food and the city can even supply water for communities.
Many of our readers are water resources engineers (stormwater, wastewater, etc.), planners, architects, landscape architects, and environmental scientists. What is your vision for the future of water, and what role can people like our readers play in bringing it to life?
I call for a new water ethic that puts water at the center of our lives and all policy and practice if we and the planet are to survive. We need to protect water and restore watersheds in order to maintain healthy hydrologic cycles. We need to govern, not on the basis of political boundaries alone, but also on basis of watershed boundaries. We need to share watersheds to survive. I believe that water can be nature’s gift to teach us how to live more lightly on the earth and in better harmony with one another.
David Sedlak is the Malozemoff Chair Professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of California at Berkeley, where he is co-Director of the Berkeley Water Center and Deputy Director of the NSF Engineering Research Center for the Reinvention of Urban Water Infrastructure. Much of his research addresses the fate and transport of organic contaminants in wastewater-impacted waters. David has served on numerous government advisory panels including the National Research Council’s Committee on Water Reuse and the EPA Science Advisory Board. He is an Associate Editor for the American Chemical Society journal, Environmental Science & Technology. In his book, “Water 4.0: The Past, Present and Future of the World’s Most Vital Resource” which was published in January, David examines three major revolutions in urban water systems over the last 2,500 years, and offers a hopeful window into the fourth.
When it comes to urban water systems, the combination of factors like aging infrastructure, increasing urbanization, and climate change, have brought us to the brink of what you call “Water 4.0”- a fourth phase of advancement in the way we manage water. Can you briefly summarize the first three phases for our readers?
It has often been said that water is the essential ingredient of life, and that is true from a biological standpoint. But when you look at the development of civilizations, water infrastructure is the essential ingredient of life. In the early days of civilization, when population densities were low, it was enough to have a well, or access to a stream or lake to acquire your water, and a dung pile or latrine to dispose of your waste. As cities got bigger, a different approach was needed.
When Rome’s population started approaching a half million, the local sources of water (the Tiber River and groundwater) weren’t enough to meet their needs. So the Romans applied engineering skills (and the ideas of many previous civilizations) to develop an imported water supply for the city. Their famous aqueducts are one obvious result. At the height of the Roman Empire, they were providing people with something like 100 gallons per person per day, which is equivalent to the water supply of many of our modern cities. The presence of all this water flowing into Rome, however, made it necessary to find a way to get rid of it when they were done with it. What were originally a series of drainage channels eventually got covered up and became the sewers of Rome. So the first generation of urban water systems (Water 1.0) was imported water coupled with sewers for disposal of waste.
After the fall of the Roman Empire, cities became smaller. In the second half of the 19th century, when the Industrial Revolution brought more people into cities, rapidly growing cities like London and Paris adopted the Roman approach to importing and disposing of water, but with a more modern twist: the inclusion of pressurized water delivery system. This created the preconditions for the second revolution in urban water. The outdoor latrine was replaced with the indoor water closet. Instead of disposing of human waste in a concentrated form in an outhouse, it was added to the water flowing through the sewers. Now, water flowing out of cities was contaminated with human waste. As cities became denser and people started to require their water supply from rivers contaminated by an upstream city, we had outbreaks of waterborne diseases like cholera and typhoid fever.
In the book, I use the cities of Lowell and Lawrence, Massachusetts, two textile-producing cities on the Merrimac River, to illustrate this problem and the eventual solution. Waste from all the workers in Lowell went into the river and became the water supply for Lawrence, which is located about 15 miles downstream. At the end of the 19th century, Lawrence experienced a very high incidence of typhoid fever. They couldn’t come up with another source of water, so the city turned to the engineers of MIT’s Lawrence Experimental Station. This led to the development of the sand filter. Within a decade, the technology of sand filtration was augmented with water chlorination. The one-two punch of filtering water through sand and adding chlorine was enough to make a sewage contaminated river drinkable. That second revolution in urban water, drinking water treatment (Water 2.0) quickly spread.
But people were still disposing waste from the sewer without any treatment at all, and this meant that downstream of cities, there were dead fish and terrible smells. That aesthetic insult was enough to make people want to do something, and in the early 20th century, engineers began developing sewage treatment plants. The two main technologies we have today—trickling filters and the activated sludge process—were developed at that time, but they weren’t applied very widely. Even after the Second World War, when population boomed, the rate at which sewage treatment plants were built was relatively slow. Eventually, pollution from inadequate sewage treatment led to widespread ecological problems. When the environmental movement finally came to a head in the early 1970s, the response that people had to all of the pollution resulted in a concerted effort to upgrade and improve sewage treatment plants. Even though many of the problems at the time were related to synthetic, organic chemicals, the main response was to invest in sewage treatment technologies. From 1972-1992, the federal government got involved in constructing and upgrading sewage treatment plants around the country, with the goal of making the nation’s waters fishable, swimmable, and drinkable. That was the third revolution in urban water (Water 3.0).
Let’s talk about Water 4.0. You write that “Perhaps the best long-term solution to our water problems will be to abandon centralized water systems altogether” and that doing this will require significant water conservation and reuse, as well as capturing and reusing runoff. You also predict that cities hit hardest by extreme weather patterns will become “laboratories where the rest of the manual for Water 4.0 will be written.” What city today is serving as the best, most hopeful laboratory?
There are two visions of the fourth generation of urban water systems. One involves keeping our centralized systems and finding ways to make them more resilient. The other involves a radical change in the way we think about providing water services. The truth is, we’ll probably end up with a hybrid.
Let me tell you about three areas that are serving as living laboratories that will help us define solutions. The first, which might surprise some people, is Southern California. They have been experimenting with many new water technologies and investing in some pretty innovative approaches. Their early experiences are convincing us that water recycling is probably best done at a centralized scale, and done by cleaning the water to the point where it’s suitable for potable use. In the book, I describe the development of the potable water recycling systems in Orange County and Los Angeles. Another innovation from southern California is the idea of using urban stormwater runoff to recharge groundwater aquifers. Unlike previous efforts on the East Coast, Great Lakes, and Pacific Northwest, these efforts are not targeted at preventing combined sewer overflows; they’re targeted at capturing stormwater runoff, treating it, and using it for groundwater recharge. Southern California has also made great progress in water conservation and will continue to improve its water efficiency for the next few decades.
Another example that can inform our thinking about the fourth generation of water is Singapore. For this city-state of over five million people it is not extreme weather that has driven them to think about their water supply; it is their national security. Singapore originally received its water from Malaysia. They weren’t comfortable with that arrangement, so they diversified their water portfolio so they’d be less reliant on a foreign country. They have pioneered what they call a “Four Taps” approach. They have the imported water supply, but also water recycling, desalination, and rainwater harvesting. Singapore has invested heavily in R&D on water technologies and has been an early adopter of new membrane treat technologies as well as a leader in efforts to make those technologies more energy efficient.
Those two cities are examples of places where the main driver has been an inadequate supply. In terms of managing too much water, the city of Philadelphia is serving as a laboratory for how to do green infrastructure for stormwater management. What particularly impresses me is the way in which the city is trying to integrate the efforts of the sanitation agencies with parks, zoning, and building departments to not only manage runoff, but make the city greener and more livable.
What Integrated Water Strategies do you think hold the most promise in terms of sustainable water management as we move into Water 4.0?
One of the key attributes of Water 4.0 will be to make rivers and streams part of our water infrastructure and recognize that they’re not just conduits and flood control structures. An example is the Santa Ana River in southern California. Once an ephemeral river that flowed when snowmelt came down from mountains, it is now an effluent-dominant stream that carries the wastewater effluent from the Inland Empire’s four million people all the way to the Pacific Ocean. The river is something like 95% wastewater effluent, and it comes into the Prado Wetlands, a wetland complex run by the Orange County Water District which has been designed for enhanced de-nitrification. Those wetlands do more than just remove nitrate. They are an aesthetic feature, they provide habitat for a number of endangered species, and they are visited by birdwatchers and hunters. When the water leaves the wetlands, it flows back into the Santa Ana River, and downstream, gets routed out of the channel, recharges the aquifer, and becomes the water supply for people living in Orange County. So the Santa Ana River serves as a flood control channel, drinking water supply, and an aesthetic feature with habitat and recreational opportunities.
You are Deputy Director of the NSF Engineering Research Center for the Reinvention of Urban Water Infrastructure. Are there any new findings coming out of ReNUWIt related to integrated water strategies that you can share with us?
Much of what we are doing at ReNUWIt is related to integrated water strategies and this idea of seeing the natural environment as part of urban water infrastructure is one of our central principles. For example, one of my colleagues at Colorado School of Mines, John McCray, is working on a system to take advantage of the hyporheic zone in streams as a means to improve water quality. The hyporheic zone is where flowing water passes through stream or river sediments. It is a very interesting environment because it contains a high density of microbes that can remove chemical contaminants and can filter out waterborne pathogens. We already know that the hyporheic zone plays an important role in contaminant fate, but John is looking at ways of restoring or managing streams in ways that push more of the water into the hyporheic zone. That’s one example of a natural water system having a treatment function and integrating that treatment function into things like habitat restoration and flood control.
Many of our readers are water resources engineers, planners, architects, landscape architects, municipal government managers. Many are also environmental scientists. What can our readers learn from the “two thousand years of trial and error that went into Water 1.0, 2.0 and 3.0?
The greatest lesson from studying the history of the first 2,500 years of urban water systems is that change comes rapidly, and we had better be ready when society tells us it’s ready for change. These revolutions are frequently preceded by a few decades where people recognize that the existing system is no longer adequate and experiment with new approaches. They’re often frustrated that no one is willing to adopt them, but then one or two high profile events will happen, and in a very short period of time, the resources and political will exist to make a revolution happen. The lesson we can learn is not to be discouraged if it seems like people aren’t hearing our message. Eventually, the wisdom of doing something differently will be recognized and the resources will be made available to make it happen.
Paula Kehoe is the Director of Water Resources for the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC). She is responsible for diversifying San Francisco’s local water supply portfolio through the development and implementation of conservation, groundwater, recycled water and desalination programs. Paula spearheaded the landmark legislation allowing for the collection, treatment and use of alternate water sources in buildings and districts within San Francisco. She believes integrated water management strategies are key to solving immediate and long-term water challenges and stresses that “whether it’s a stormwater, wastewater, or water supply challenge, we have to collectively address these issues.”
Where do most people in San Francisco think their water comes from, and where does it actually come from?
We manage a complex water supply system stretching from the Sierra to the City and featuring a series of reservoirs, tunnels, pipelines, and treatment systems. Two unique features of this system stand out: the drinking water provided is among the purest in the world; and the system for delivering that water is almost entirely gravity fed, requiring almost no fossil fuel consumption to move water from the mountains to San Francisco.
Most San Francisco residents are aware of our great tap water and they commonly call it “Hetch Hetchy water.” The Hetch Hetchy watershed, an area located in Yosemite National Park, provides approximately 85% of San Francisco’s total water needs. Spring snowmelt runs down the Tuolumne River and fills Hetch Hetchy, the largest reservoir in the Hetch Hetchy Regional Water System. This surface water in the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir is treated, but not filtered because it is of such high quality. The Alameda and Peninsula watersheds in the San Francisco Bay Area produce about 15% of the total water supply. The six reservoirs in the Alameda and Peninsula watersheds capture rain and local runoff.
We are the third largest municipal utility in California, serving 2.6 million residential, commercial, and industrial customers in the Bay Area. Approximately one-third of our delivered water goes to retail customers in San Francisco, while wholesale deliveries to 26 suburban agencies in Alameda, Santa Clara, and San Mateo counties comprise the other two-thirds.
Speaking of awareness…you previously served as public education director for San Francisco’s Water Pollution Prevention Program. What communication strategies and tools have proven to be the most effective in terms of getting people to think about water differently?
The most important element is really doing your homework and thinking through a number of critical steps. First, what are you trying to accomplish? Are you trying to inform or ask for someone to take a specific action? Next, you will need to determine who you are trying to reach to and to identify your “target audience”. Take time to learn more about your audience–conduct research, such as focus groups or surveys, to explore some of the real reasons behind people’s knowledge base or why they would take action so you can address those reasons in your public education campaign. Create effective messages that will appeal to your target audience and highlight the benefits of what you’re asking them to do. Finally, think about how to best reach your target audience and ways you to evaluate whether you’ve been effective.
Here’s an example . The SFPUC’s Water Pollution Prevention Program (WPPP), published Control It! Less-Toxic Methods to Control and Prevent Pests In and Around Your Home. Research conducted in the San Francisco Bay Area showed diazinon and chlorpyrifos in some Bay Area creeks and sewage treatment plant effluents at toxic levels. Diazinon and chlorpyrifos are broad spectrum pesticides commonly used to control structural type pests such as such as fleas, ants, cockroaches, termites and spiders. Approximately, 50-60% of diazinon used in California is unreported uses, like home and garden areas. Data also indicated that use and disposal of pesticides according to label instructions does not cause a problem. Therefore, the SFPUC developed Control It! to address the proper use and disposal of pesticides and recommendations of less-toxic methods to prevent potential water quality impairments. The activity was innovative because marketing strategies were used to design the book.
The book highlights the benefits to the reader by showing how to control and prevent pests, at the same time it addresses our concerns about water pollution. The book also contains colorful images to encourage residents to read about an undesirable topic such as household pests. The book was designed to provide critical information on proper use and disposal in an easy to read format so as not to overwhelm the reader. Finally, the book contains technically accurate images of pests which transforms the book into a resource guide—one to be kept and used time and time again. The SFPUC promoted Control It! in various ways. Advertisements were placed in the SFPUC utility bill (mailed to 165,000 SFPUC customers) and the SFPUC Water Quality Report (mailed to 320,000 residents). Mr. Handyperson, a nationally syndicated columnist, wrote a special article for the San Francisco Examiner praising Control It! “How much would you pay for this fine, useful brochure (Control It!)? $10? $20?” stated Mr. Handyperson. “He’s delighted to tell you it’s free,” exclaimed Mr. Handyperson. As a result of the marketing efforts, over 5,000 residents called to receive a copy of Control It! Additionally, local pest control operators have received copies for distribution to their customers. Control It! is part of a series developed for residents: Fix It! (automotive), Clean It! (cleaning products), Remodel It! (paint and paint related products) and Grow It! (garden pesticides products). The series has been extremely popular among residents and praised by the media—“If everyone followed the good advice in these helpful little brochures, this old town (San Francisco) would be a whole lot safer and cleaner,” stated Mr. Handyperson.
In 2012, San Francisco adopted an ordinance allowing for the collection, treatment, and reuse of alternate water sources for non-potable applications. How did that come about, and do you have any projections as to what portion of San Francisco’s water supply will come from this new source category in, say, 20 years?
We wanted to establish a program that would allow for and encourage the use of alternate water sources within buildings and districts for non-potable applications in San Francisco. We wanted to explore all types of alternate water sources including rainwater, stormwater, graywater, blackwater and foundation drainage and to encourage the collection, treatment and use of any of these sources as a way to reduce the consumption of potable water as well as to help to remove stormwater and rainwater out of our combined sewer system.
When we built our new SFPUC headquarters, we opted to include a treatment system that would treat all of the graywater and blackwater generated onsite. We incorporated the Living MachineTM, which is a series of engineered wetland cells, to treat the blackwater for toilet and urinal flushing in the building. We also included a rainwater harvesting system to capture water from the roof and child care center for irrigation purposes. We have reduced our use of potable water in the building by 65%. This is a significant water conservation measure, and is an enhancement to the It’s one of the only Living Machines that is actually in the public right-of-way.
When we were building our new headquarters, we also came across a number of developers interested in collecting, treating and using alternate water sources in their buildings. We all ran into the same questions- who regulates these systems? Who is responsible for ongoing monitoring and reporting to protect public health? What kind of water quality should be required for flushing toilets, irrigating landscapes?
We spent over a year researching and found that systems are on-line throughout the world, technologies exist, and water quality standards exist for certain alternate water sources. What we also found, was that in the absence of a clear process and lack of a regulatory framework it can create a significant barrier to implementation.
The SFPUC worked with our local Department of Public Health and Department of Building Inspection to create a program that permits on-site water treatment systems, requires ongoing monitoring and reporting, and establishes water quality standards to protect public health.
We formalized the program via ordinance. We started with the individual building scale and included a grant program. We will provide up to $250,000 for an individual building. A year later, we amended the ordinance to allow for district scale- more than 2 buildings to collect, treat and share and/or sell the water among building partners. We provide up to $500,000 for a district scale water system.
To date, we have over 20 projects proposing to collect alternate water sources. We have developed a report that details the projects in San Francisco, including data on costs, drivers and potable water offset. This data is informative to both the SFPUC and developers and architects. As we look to the future, we hope to see more on-site water treatment systems on-line in San Francisco. Information on our program can be found at sfwater.org/np
What would your advice be to other municipalities who want to create a similar ordinance in their city or region?
Your question is very timely. On May 29-30, 2014, representatives from state and municipal agencies from across North America gathered in San Francisco to discuss the critical issues associated with introducing and scaling on-site water treatment systems in cities across the country. The purpose of this meeting was to share knowledge and lessons learned in order to achieve our mutual goals of overcoming institutional barriers to on-site water reuse. It was a very inspiring meeting– to be in the same room with dedicated and motivated leaders who are on the forefront of on-site water treatment systems in places such as New York City, Seattle, Hawaii, and Minnesota. We all recognize that we need to continue to work together to establish programs that will allow these systems to be incorporated in our communities while ensuring we can protect public health.
As a next step from our meeting, we are preparing a guide to walk through the key steps that public agencies need to think about and do in order to programs in place to manage on-site water treatment systems in their communities. This “blueprint” will be ready and available to the public by September 2014. [Information will be posted on the San Francisco Public Utilities Web Site]
Another outcome from the meeting is a group of public health officials plan to work together and engage in a process to identify the most appropriate water quality standards and monitoring regimes for on-site water treatment systems. These guidelines will serve as a framework for local agencies to consider when developing on-site water treatment systems in their communities.
According to the US Drought Monitor, every single part of California is now facing “severe,” “extreme,” or “exceptional” drought and that the state is on track to suffer one of its worst droughts in 500 years. Are the state’s municipal water agencies working together to plan for longer-term drought?
Yes. The San Francisco PUC is a member of the Bay Area Regional Reliability Partnership, a partnership that includes six other Bay Area water utility providers. Collectively, we serve over six million residents, and thousands of businesses and industries. The partnership enables us to work together on near- and long-term water supply needs and look into working together to develop recycled water projects, conservation, changes in infrastructure, etc. We’re excited that this partnership has formed. Historically, water agencies have worked together and with this new partnership we have the potential to develop additional water supply projects on a larger, regional scale.
Any final words of advice for our readers?
Integrated water management strategies are key to solving our immediate and long-term water challenges. We cannot silo ourselves. Whether it’s a stormwater, wastewater, or water supply challenge, we have to collectively address these issues. It takes lots of champions to lead the effort and to create change. An integrated approach to water is hard work, but very rewarding.
Brian Richter has been a global leader in water science and conservation for more than 25 years. As Director of Global Freshwater Strategies for The Nature Conservancy, Brian promotes sustainable water use and management with governments, corporations, and local communities. He is also the founder and President of Sustainable Waters, a global water organization focused on education and outreach related to water scarcity. Brian has served as a water advisor to some of the world’s largest corporations, investment banks, and the United Nations, and has testified before the U.S. Congress on multiple occasions. He also teaches a course on Water Sustainability at the University of Virginia. Brian has developed numerous scientific tools and methods to support river protection and restoration efforts, including the Indicators of Hydrologic Alteration software that is being used by water managers and scientists worldwide. Brian was featured in a BBC documentary with David Attenborough on “How Many People Can Live on Planet Earth?” He has published many scientific papers on the importance of ecologically sustainable water management in international science journals, and co-authored a book with Sandra Postel entitled Rivers for Life: Managing Water for People and Nature (Island Press, 2003). His new book, Chasing Water: A Guide for Moving from Scarcity to Sustainability, will be published by Island Press in June 2014.
We’re exploring the topic of “integrated water strategies,” ways of thinking about and dealing with water that integrate the built environment with the natural world; people with the broader community of living things; and ecological science with architecture, planning, engineering, etc. Is there one example that stands out in your mind of a real, implemented, integrated water strategy that is working, in terms of providing people, animals, plants, and downstream communities with access to clean water in a way that is sustainable?
Yes: the community of water users and government entities in the Murray-Darling River Basin of Australia. Certain elements are essential to a water success story. First, there has to be sufficient investment in the collection, analysis and communication of data. Second is the inclusion of environmental considerations. There are natural processes in the watershed that provide tremendous water services to society, but at the same time, there are habitats and ecosystems that require water themselves in order to be sustained in a healthy condition. When managing water, we have to be thinking about those ecological water needs. The last element, and the one that has been the most extraordinary in the Murray-Darling Basin over the last two decades, is the recognition that there are, ultimately, limits on resource availability and we have to live within those limits. At both the state and Commonwealth level of government, Australia has put forth a great deal of funding ($12 billion from the commonwealth alone) to help local communities reduce their water use to a within a more sustainable limit, while leaving enough water for ecological support. They did this three ways: urban water conservation, agricultural irrigation efficiency improvements, and the buying back of water rights from willing sellers.
Towns that depend on water coming out of the Murray Darling Basin made phenomenal progress in reducing water consumption. Local city water managers provided incentives and mandates, and many cities cut their use by 30-50%.
The vast majority of the water used in that basin goes to agriculture. Of the $12 billion from the Commonwealth government, roughly $8 billion is being directed toward enabling farmers to invest in advanced technologies and more efficient equipment so they can substantially cut their water use. The farmer pictured to the right, Howard Jones, grows wine grapes using drip irrigation. He is the board chair for the Murray-Darling Wetlands Working Group.
All large water users [in the Murray-Darling Basin] have to have a water right, an entitlement to use a specified volume of water. The Commonwealth government offered to buy water rights from willing sellers. Many were farmers who didn’t need all of the water to which they had rights. This “buy back” reduces water use, so more water remains available for ecological support. That provided a huge stimulus for conservation.
You work with ecosystems, communities, corporations, and investment banks. How do you balance the water needs of businesses and organizations with the water needs and rights of all people, as well as the animals and plants who do not have voices?
It’s important to start by doing what you can to make everyone aware of what is at risk if water isn’t used and managed well. Only a very small portion of the population has any awareness of how their water use can compromise other things that they value (biodiversity, recreation, agriculture, etc.). It’s important to empower those who can speak to those values and to provide them with access to the decision making process. In the developing regions of the world, a very significant part of the human population is still very directly dependent upon ecosystems for their livelihood and survival. For example, we estimate that there are at least two billion people who derive much of their food supply directly from river ecosystems and estuaries. Those people should have access to the dialogue and decision making process.
We have to make everybody aware of the value of natural systems and how people depend upon them, but we have to supplement that with speaking to corporate bottom lines and reputations. If water isn’t managed well, there won’t be enough water for everyone, including people who manufacture products or grow agricultural goods. If you impact local people or ecosystems, it can really damage your reputation and your brand.
We are an active participant in the United Nations CEO Water Mandate, a forum that the UN created to bring corporate leaders together with NGOs to have a more open, frank, and productive dialogue. We also try to inform the development of sustainability standards.
We have found it to be most productive when we can help both a company and community of water users understand the challenge they face together. One illustration is General Mills. We began by looking at where they have processing plants and where they buy agricultural products. We mapped it out, looked at how their corporate distribution compared with what we knew about water scarcity, and honed in on real communities and ecosystems that were being impacted. This encouraged the company to engage with the communities with whom they shared water resources. General Mills has since provided grants to some of their famers to help them install more water-efficient equipment. It’s through that kind of very real, local, and personal dialogue between communities and companies that we have the greatest hope of being able to move in a productive direction.
You have cited Israel and Australia as examples of countries that live within a water budget much better than we do here in the U.S. Tell us about some of the strategies for successfully working within a water budget.
I often use the analogy of our personal bank accounts. If you keep withdrawing more than you’re depositing, you’re going to get into trouble. With water, it’s a shared bank account, and a lot of people have access to it. In your budget, you have to make sure you open up the dialogue to the full range of interests. You have to hear them out, give their values and concerns due consideration, and then find a way–as a community–to talk about who gets how much, and how you will protect everyone’s values, including ecological values.
When people understand how much water is available, they then understand that with any new use (growth in industry, energy development, etc.) there will be a tradeoff, because it’s a bank account. If you let a new expenditure come in, you have to cut back on something. Unfortunately, debates about issues like fracking, which tend to polarize, take place without that context. Water budgets allow for much more informed decision making.
A good example is Texas. There isn’t a lot of water to begin with, and the state is growing rapidly. They used to do water planning at the state government level, with little to no interaction with local communities. When they hit a bad drought in the late 1990s, and the State proposed various remedial solutions, a lot of the local communities said, “We don’t think that’s the smartest way to deal with these problems. We think we should try X and Y.” To their credit, the State heard that and massively reformed the way they plan for their water futures. They formed 16 regional planning groups, largely organized around Texas’ major river basins. By legislative mandate, these groups, each with 20-30 formal members, represent all interests: agriculture, industry, power, mining, environmental values, etc. All of these people come together around a table, hash it out, and recommend strategies to the state.
The Nature Conservancy championed stakeholder engagement in Texas, and in the early 2000s, we collaborated with other environmental organizations in the state and made a strong case for including ecological water needs in the water budget. A bill passed in Texas last year that will provide $2 billion for implementation of regional water plans. Twenty percent of that got earmarked explicitly for conservation. We’re also contributing guidelines for the rest of the $2 billion, so that you don’t get to access that money to build a new reservoir, pipeline, or desalination plant unless you meet some water conservation standards first.
Do you think there is one ideal scale at which integrated water strategies can be the most effective?
Organizing around an individual water source makes a great deal of sense. Here’s an interesting tidbit. Back in the 1800s, John Wesley Powell, famous for leading the first expeditionary team down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon, was the first director of the U.S. Geological Survey. As the West was developing, he encouraged societal leaders to think about organizing politically around watershed boundaries. He envisioned states or counties as being watershed units. Instead, we ended up with state governments with all these different agencies that may have something to do with water, but have very little interaction with each other.
Regarding scale: organize as small as you can, because you want every stakeholder with a concern over water to have a voice, or at least representation. If you get too big, you really lose that. On the other hand, you have to organize in a way that’s large enough to get at the nature of the problem. If you’re talking about the fact that too much nitrogen is flowing down the Mississippi River and causing a dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico, then in some way, you have to facilitate a decision-making process that includes all of the states that are contributing to that problem. The key here is a nested dialogue. It’s not easy. As you cross political boundaries, complications go up exponentially.
The motivation for this book was to try to build water literacy from the ground up. I realized that if I was going to be such a big champion of local water democracies, then we have to make sure that we have an informed citizenry. It’s one thing to open up the doors of democracy to broader participation; it’s another thing to have an informed conversation. There is abundant evidence to suggest that we have widespread water illiteracy in the United States and throughout the world. The Nature Conservancy did a research poll and found that nearly 80% of Americans have absolutely no idea where their water comes from.
Another goal for me is to communicate that living sustainably shouldn’t be just a utopian dream or a slogan. With respect to water, I want people to know that sustainability is well within our reach, but we cannot continue to assume that someone else is going to take care of that for us. We can’t assume that our governments have this under control. No government anywhere is managing water in a way that is optimal or sustainable. It’s important for us all to take personal responsibility for water. We need to know where it comes from and what happens when we’re not managing it well. Then, we need to inspire our broader communities and governments to do a better job.
by Michael Ogden
About 25 years ago I was invited to speak at a conference on water. Because I was living in New Mexico at the time, I was asked to talk about water in the West. Although I was born in New York City and had family in New York and Pennsylvania, I had spent many years in the Chihuahuan, Mojave and Sonoran deserts. As I began to prepare for the conference, I realized that there is a profound psychological difference between desert dwellers and people living in the forest or prairies.
What happens to people who live in places where most of the ground is bare of any kind of plants, and the mountain geology is transparent? What if the annual rainfall is only four inches, and the rivers and streams are often dry? What if creeks are called “arroyos” or “washes” since they seldom have water, and when they do it may come in a wall of mud, trees and boulders four feet high? What if the churn depth (depth of sand that is lifted and mixed by the flood of water) of the arroyo is 12 feet after a summer thunderstorm?
Obviously deserts have profound effects on people who live in them. At least four religions and three major civilizations started in the desert: the Nile, Tigris-Euphrates, and Indus. All developed priesthoods to deal with the annual cycle of floods, without which there would be famine. A simple philosophy that water is life is a universal agreement amongst desert peoples. Fouling a well is a death sentence.
Most of the other conference attendees were from the forested regions of the U.S., where water is abundant, and indeed frequently in excess. Clearly everyone was impressed by the images, but there was no way to impress upon forest dwellers the concept of water scarcity. To understand it, you probably have to live there. This is the same issue Ed Abbey addressed in Desert Solitaire when he described his conversation with a man from Ohio who, when looking out over Monument Valley, said “this would be an interesting place if there was water.” The fact that there was no water is what Ed Abbey said made it interesting…there were no people.
Until very recently, very few people lived in the desert, and that is still true as far as a relative percent of the world’s population. In the U.S., the rise of cities in the desert Southwest..Phoenix, Tuscon, Las Vegas, El Paso, Albuquerque, and San Diego (8.8 inches/yr) and even Los Angeles, has been the result of massive dam building and water diversion projects which subsequently were copied throughout the world. What’s interesting about the move to these regions is that the new residents have brought Ohio with them – green, tree shaded lawns, and massive expanses of green grass (over 20,000 acres in Phoenix) that have to be mowed instead of grazed by sheep. None of the psychological and even physiological adaptions to the desert have been preserved. Reverence for water as a limited resource has been replaced by the optimistic view of the forest dweller…there is more than enough. And like all things in abundance, the intrinsic value has been lost.
Three years after the Cuyahoga River fire of 1969, the US passed the Clean Water Act. But let’s be clear about the Clean Water Act: it does not create clean water. It simply regulates some of the pollutants discharged into U.S. waters and makes rivers and streams extensions of the municipal sewer and stormwater systems. There is an implicit assumption that our streams and rivers are able to provide wastewater treatment in the TMDL regulations. So instead of a zero pollutant discharge, the EPA regulates the total kilograms of pollutants flowing downstream to the next community.
What would the rules have looked like if the Clean Water Act had been written by desert dwellers? In the U.S. we actually have a legal precedent that reflects this view and was settled in the 10th Federal Court of Appeals in Denver in October 1996. The basic legal argument was presented by the Pueblo of Ysleta (5000 people), which is downstream on the Rio Grande from Albuquerque, New Mexico. Ysleta argued that the pueblo was entitled to the same water quality from the Rio Grande as the City of Albuquerque (750,000 people). After six years, the Court ruled tht Albuquerque was required to clean up their wastewater treatment plant discharge, and provide a level of water treatment that was the same level of quality at the intakes for the City of Albuquerque drinking water system.
What a concept! A downstream user of water is entitled to the same water quality as the upstream user. Imagine what would happen if New Orleans said to Baton Rouge, “clean it up!” And Baton Rouge told Memphis to do the same. And this went on all the way to the headwaters of the Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, Tennessee, etc. What is surprising is that the ethical argument – if I am down steam from you, I have the same right as you to the quality of water you are taking out of the river – actually reached the federal courts. The decision, decided in favor of the tiny Pueblo of Ysleta means that what you take out of the stream has to be returned to the stream at the same level of water quality. The logical conclusion is that you cannot pollute the water unless you are the last person on the river before it discharges to the ocean. And even then, the surfers might request the same level of water quality.
So how do we get from a clean mountain stream to stormwater and sewage in our rivers? What many of us overlook is that there are 772 cities in the U.S. that have combined sewer and stormwater systems. Regulations have help reduce the pollutant load primarily by exporting it to China, India, Mexico, Indonesia, the Philippines, etc., i.e. those countries with lower environmental standards. Why do you think all of your clothes and electronics are not made in the U.S.? Yes, labor is one cost, but removal of the pollutants associated with clothes dying and electronics manufacturing is notoriously difficult and expensive. A chip fab plant can require over a million gallons of water per day.
Adam Smith invoked trade as beneficial to all, but what if the result is insufficient clean water to feed cows, wash, or grow food. A recent Los Angeles Times article shows shipping containers packed with hay for China’s cows. We also export wheat and soybeans to supply the deficit. Industrialization is certainly one part of the story. Lets us not forget abject poverty, war, and famine.
What if this is about personal responsibility, and moral and ethical choices? Suppose you build a cabin on a mountain stream, and as fortune would have it you are the first person. To make life a little easier, you run a pipe upstream and are able to divert water into your cabin for drinking, washing and flushing the toilet. And instead of running the dirty water from the kitchen and shower out onto your garden you ran a pipe into the stream downstream from your cabin. Being environmentally conscious, you run your wastewater from the toilet into a leach field (which, incidentally, will end up in the stream, albeit cleaner).
So at this point, life is good, but what if in the following year I show up and you see me dumping my dishwashing bucket into the stream, washing clothes, and occasionally cleaning my catch of trout, guts and all in the stream. You might ask me to please refrain, but I say, “I am doing the same as you,” and you return with “but you are upstream from me!” “Oh sorry,” I say. “Why don’t we extend your pipe upstream and I will connect to your downstream pipe.” And of course this is what happens when we aggregate in large cities: we lose any connections we have to the water, and our individual and collective responsibilities. If I pollute your water, you will surely cry foul, but if we collectively pollute our unseen, downstream neighbor, we avoid conflict.
Even at the neighborhood or village level, we lose the sense of how important clean water is. When working on a small village project in Mexico, my team was confronted by the neighboring village downstream who were protesting the government’s expenditures on a wastewater treatment plant. They were very upset until told that there was still money for the soccer field. After all, the untreated sewage was good for the crops, but the loss of the soccer field meant that their sons might not make it to the big time.
My generation has seen the world’s population grow from 2.2 billion to 7.2 billion. The total amount of freshwater for drinking, growing food, and generating power has not substantially changed; however, the demand has increased exponentially. There are more than enough opportunities and challenges for those in interested in making clean water, and at the end of the day it is nice to think about how much clean water you have made doing honest work.
Bordered by three mountain ranges, and veined with rivers and creeks, Oregon’s Willamette Valley is very much alive. Its woodlands, grasslands, wetlands, and riparian and aquatic habitats are home to a rich variety of species. This includes humans, as the area is also the state’s most densely populated region. In the northern portion of the Valley, near the confluence of Gales Creek and the Tualatin River is a unique place that is demonstrating how an integrated water strategy can address a human challenge and support the needs other members of the biological community.
Fernhill Wetlands, located in the city of Forest Grove, is a popular spot for hikers, birdwatchers, and nature lovers. Visitors walking the trails of Fernhill Wetlands may see up to 200 species of birds, including bald eagles, great blue herons, and white egrets amidst the native wetland vegetation. But there’s something else they see. Something you might not expect: the treatment of wastewater from the surrounding communities. Wastewater that ultimately ends up in the Tualatin River.
Owned and operated by Clean Water Services, an Oregon utility service, Fernhill Wetlands is a promising solution for cleaning water while providing loads of other ecological, recreational, and educational benefits. The creation of Fernhill Wetlands did not happen overnight, and it is not complete. It began with an ambitious vision that is in the process of being realized.
“One of the goals is to bring people back to the water and to understand how we are all connected to the Tualatin River,” said Diane Taniguchi-Dennis, Deputy General Manager at Clean Water Services.
Biohabitats has been helping Clean Water Services achieve that goal by transforming three former sewage lagoons into a rich mosaic of riparian wetlands that will improve the ecological function of this section of the Tualatin River floodplain. The new “South Wetlands” are a natural treatment system that cools treated effluent from the Forest Grove wastewater treatment facility through a series of emergent wetland cells before discharging to the Tualatin River.
Together the woody and herbaceous wetland cells, along with a lake, provide open water, mudflat, emergent marsh, scrub-shrub, and upland habitat, making Fernhill Wetlands an important stopover site in the Pacific Flyway. They also improve the ecological function of this section of the Tualatin River floodplain and create a natural connection from the treatment plant to the watershed.
In terms of water quality, the wetlands will reduce the temperature of the treated wastewater flowing into the Tualatin River, and serve to regenerate the complex systems of life and nutrients that exist in healthy waters. This will allow Clean Water Services to discharge treated wastewater to the Tualatin River year round, where they currently only discharge during winter months due to regulatory limits. During warm summer months, wastewater is currently pumped 17 miles to an advanced wastewater treatment facility before being discharged to the Tualatin River. The treatment wetlands allow the District to reduce its energy and carbon footprint, while treating wastewater in a more natural and less expensive manner than expanding a wastewater treatment facility.
“Natural treatment systems have much less construction cost and operating costs than conventional treatment. They will produce the kind of water that nature expects in the river,” commented Bob Baumgartner, Assistant Director, Clean Water Services Regulatory Affairs Department. Once operational, the treatment facility is expected to treat 5-18 million gallons per day throughout the year.
The design had to accommodate the diurnal variation in the discharge of treated water into the wetland system.A system of hydraulic control structures is included in the design to provide District staff the ability to manipulate water levels in the wetland cells to more closely mimic typical seasonal variations and operational flexibility.
“Fernhill is a place of inspiration and wonder, a place to experience the beauty and grace of nature. Together we are creating a legacy for our community, for water, for the environment, and for future generations,” said Taniguchi-Dennis.
By creating a wetland system that provides benefits in water quality, wildlife habitat and recreation, Clean Water Services is making a long-term investment in the health and resilience of the Tualatin River.
By Erin English, Senior Engineer
We face an urgent need to use our water more sensibly and conservatively, but some of the best solutions are difficult to implement in the current regulatory and economic framework.
Urbanization and agriculture have, in many regions, placed unprecedented stress on water availability and quality. Many regions import water from beyond their own watershed boundaries, often expending great capital and energy expense to transport, treat and discharge water. Although many centralized, municipal-scale systems are efficient due to economies of scale, the ongoing cost to maintain and upgrade this massive infrastructure in the face of climate change will become even more daunting and expensive. Despite all the associated expenses, when it comes down to it, the cost that most people pay for water is still fantastically low. Water conservation – as well as investment in newer, flexible systems aimed at improving water sustainability – doesn’t always appear to make economic sense, at least on the surface. Water reuse, decentralized infrastructure, and water efficiency are powerful – and ultimately affordable – tools that have not yet been used effectively across a broad range of conditions.
Decentralized water systems that offer built-in redundancy, such as neighborhood or district scale wastewater treatment and reuse can add resiliency to and complement our current centralized infrastructure. An effective model for decentralized water would provide for proactive, flexible and sensible water reuse, and encourage recharge of the groundwater. Passive, low-energy systems based upon ecological processes may reduce both the cost and carbon intensity of water infrastructure, while providing other stacked benefits such as open space, habitat and beauty. Aggressive water reuse, water harvesting and water efficiency measures can help communities adapt to changing water availability while reaching toward ‘net zero’ or perhaps even ‘net positive’ water projects. These aspirational goals of net zero and net positive envision buildings that produce more clean water than they use by recycling, filtering and slowly re-releasing this precious resource into the surroundings.
However, a number of regulatory barriers have impeded efforts to implement these types of projects. It is very difficult and expensive to permit some methods of enhancing water efficiency. For example, county-level public health codes currently prohibit or limit the use of clean, filtered rainwater for non-potable reuse and drinking. There are three overarching areas that need reform to maximize the efficient use and reuse of water in decentralized systems. Resolving these regulatory road blocks would improve water management and reduce water shortages and waste, without compromising the public health they are designed to protect.
- Greywater Reuse. It should be easier to reuse greywater to support landscaping and meet non-potable demands in buildings (e.g. to flush toilets with water from sinks). Permits should be more freely available to not only residential users but also to commercial and institutional facilities. This is usually controlled on a state-by-state basis or at the county level. Some states outlaw greywater reuse altogether, or require a ‘full’ discharge permit, which is expensive and complicated. There are some sensible approaches already on the books that streamline permitting, treatment and testing requirements (e.g. Arizona, New Mexico), and these should be used as case studies to guide best practices.
- Potable Water Production. Clean and filtered rainwater should be available for residential and commercial/public use for both potable and non potable purposes. Counties need to develop a variance process to make exceptions and allowances for best practices in water reuse. The federal government could help urge allowances for such procedures in the Universal Plumbing Code and other guidelines.
- Remove barriers to using reclaimed wastewater. Policies governing reclaimed wastewater treatment and use do not respond to scale. Small, decentralized systems should not be held to the exact same standards as municipalities. For example, at the municipal scale, daily testing of fecal coliform is warranted but this standard is prohibitive for smaller systems, especially where the reuse approach limits exposure and risk.
Author David Sedlak, whose book Water 4.0 examines the way civilizations have managed water for the past 2500 years, believes decentralization will be a key part of the next revolution in water management. I agree. I also agree that the time for this revolution is now. Let’s begin by removing our barriers to progress.
- Blue Future: Protecting Water for People and the Planet Forever
- Blue Covenant: The Global Water Crisis and the Coming Battle for the Right to Water
- Blue Gold: The Fight to Stop the Corporate Theft of the World’s Water
Books by David Sedlak
- Water 4.0: T he Past, Present, and Future of the World’s Most Vital Resource
- Assessing Methods of Removing Metals from Wastewater: The Effect of Ferric Chloride Addition (Werf Report) by David Sedlak and A. Christianne Ridge
- Occurrence Survey of Pharmaceutically Active Compounds (Research Report / Awwa Research Foundation) by David Sedlak, Karen Pinkston, and Ching-Hua Huang
Books by Brian Richter
- Chasing Water: A Guide for Moving from Scarcity to Sustainability
- Rivers for Life: Managing Water for People and Nature by Brian Richter and Sandra Postel
Books by Michael Ogden
Constructed Wetlands in the Sustainable Landscape by Craig S. Campbell and Michael Ogden
Small & Decentralized Wastewater Management Systems by Ronald Crites and George Tchobanoglous
Circle of Blue – Founded by journalists and scientists, a collaborate operating system that provides relevant, reliable, and actionable on-the-ground information about the world’s resource crises.
Charting New Waters – An initiative of The Johnson Foundation
ReNUWIt: NSF Research Center for Reinventing the Nation’s Urban Water Infrastructure
The Nature Conservancy’s Global Freshwater Program
USF Reclaim: University of South Florida Research Center on Resource and Water Recovery
Pacific Institute – Works to find real-world solutions to problems like water shortages, habitat destruction, global warming, and environmental injustice
Slow Flows Clearinghouse – funded by the U.S. EPA to help America’s small communities and individuals solve their wastewater problems through objective information about onsite wastewater collection and treatment systems.
UN Water – The United Nations inter-agency on all freshwater related issues, including sanitation
New community becomes its own sewer authority
For 300 years, the wetlands of South Baton Rouge, Louisiana, have suffered impacts from development, logging, and the channelization of the Mississippi River. Biohabitats is helping one new development reverse this trend by protecting and enhancing wetlands while treating all of its wastewater on site. The 1,400-acre planned community of Harveston includes over 1600 homes, as well as space for retail, restaurant, office space, and community facilities, It also includes a 600-acre nature preserve containing cypress hardwood wetlands. As design lead of the wastewater treatment facility, Biohabitats developed a unique onsite wastewater treatment system that not only uses constructed wetlands for part of the treatment, but also uses the limited nutrients in the treated effluent to help restore and maintain the preserve’s hardwood wetlands. Developed with guidance and input from the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals, the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the system, which combines manufactured treatment technologies with natural-systems treatment, is designed to ultimately treat 500,000 gallons of wastewater per day. It consists of a spiral screen headworks, hybrid fixed film and IFAS units, secondary clarifiers, surface flow constructed wetlands, reed beds, UV disinfection, and effluent dispersal over approximately 300 acres of nutrient assimilation area in the natural hardwood wetlands. The system not only saves the development from having to pipe wastewater to the municipal treatment facility, it costs less to build and operate than conventional systems, provides habitat, and utilizes what would otherwise be considered residual “pollutants” in the effluent as nutrients.
Moving forward with a stormwater leader
Located just north of Washington, DC, Montgomery County, Maryland is home to more than one million people. In 2010, the County, which drains to the Chesapeake Bay, was issued one of the most stringent Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) permits in the nation. Major new provisions include additional stormwater management for 20% of impervious surfaces, meeting a variety of TMDL wasteload allocations, and implementing environmental site design to the maximum extent practicable. In partnership with Brown and Caldwell, Biohabitats has been leading a team of consultants to help the County’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) begin to implement this ambitious, precedent-setting work. We began by working with the County to develop a County-wide implementation strategy to meet water quality and watershed restoration goals. Now, we are pleased to be putting this plan into action, by helping the County oversee stream restoration, stormwater retrofit, and environmental site design projects that will treat stormwater runoff from several square miles of previously untreated impervious cover.
Taking inspiration from the Egyptians
In the last two issues of Leaf Litter, we updated you on our efforts to transform two former gravel mining ponds along the Cache la Poudre River into a well-connected riparian corridor in Fort Collins, Colorado’s McMurry Natural Area. After removing a berm and re-using its material in the creation of five types of native riparian habitat, and after moving a small reach of the Poudre to protect some prime cottonwood habitat, we began installing native riparian plantings this spring. Along with the vegetation, we installed Colorado’s first “Poudreometer,” a system that uses rocks to mark different flood levels. Inspired by Nileometers, which Egyptians have used to gauge water levels for more than 5,000 years, the Poudreometer’s organic design fits well into its setting and helps visitors better understand the importance of functional floodplains. Due to a larger than average snow pack (150% of average) and some very warm temperatures at the end of May the Poudre River spilled into it’s newly created floodplain and nearly reached the 10-year flood elevation on the Poudreometer. It has been very exciting and gratifying to watch the water level rise over several weeks and flood an area that had been “walled-off” from the river. The river is now receding and we’ll watch to see how many cottonwood seedlings sprout later this summer.
Master plan for College of Charleston’s “Conservationist’s Classroom” earns Planning Excellence Award
When the Dixie Plantation, a 881-acre site along the Stono River and the Intercoastal Waterway, was given to the College of Charleston, the college envisioned a living laboratory for marine biology, forest management, historic preservation, and other disciplines. Ecosystems within the 881-acre site included long-leaf pine forests, wetlands, savannahs, tidal marshes, as well as brackish, saltwater and fresh-water ponds. To help the college achieve this vision while protecting and enhancing natural resources the planning team of Biohabitats, Ayers Saint Gross Architects and Planners, GEL Engineering & Environmental, LLC, Aiken Cost Consultants, Inc., DWG Engineering, ADC Engineering developed the Dixie Plantation Master Plan. We are delighted to share the news that this plan received an Honor Award for Excellence in Planning for a District or Campus Component from the Society for College and University Planning!
World’s once largest landfill transforming into ecologically productive waterfront landscape
At 2,200 acres – almost three times the size of Central Park – New York’s Freshkills Park is one of the most ambitious public works projects in the world, combining state-of-the-art ecological restoration techniques with extraordinary settings for recreation, public art, and facilities for many sports and programs that are often difficult to site in a city. While nearly forty-five percent of the site was once used as a landfill, the remainder of the site is currently composed of wetlands, open waterways, unfilled lowland areas and other naturalized areas. As part of a multi-disciplinary team, Biohabitats led the ecological restoration components of the project in assisting the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation (NYCDPR) with this effort. Part of this effort included restoring two acres of coastal wetland habitat using a living shoreline concept. This pilot project, intended to guide further wetland restoration in the park by demonstrating successful, cost-effective measures for restoring tidal marsh, was made possible by a grant from the New York Department of State’s Office of Coastal, Local Government & Community Sustainability. Our transformative salt marsh and coastal habitat restoration design included “living shoreline” stabilization features and ecologically viable wetland habitat and coastal upland grassland restoration techniques. We designed the site to function in the face of rising sea levels and other climate change scenarios by including areas for marsh migration, and obtained all of the required permits for construction. Constructed in the spring of 2012, the restoration at Freshkills Park has already yielded benefits. The park was credited with protecting nearby Staten Island neighborhoods from severe flooding during Hurricane Sandy. In addition, the living shoreline and restored tidal marsh provide ongoing protection for habitat potentially threatened by climate change and sea level rise, and improves water quality through greater interface between coastal plants and tidal waters
Strengthening community connections to water
Since its founding in 1890, the community of Arundel on the Bay has been deeply connected to water. Located south of Annapolis, Maryland, the community sits on a peninsula bounded by the Chesapeake Bay and Fishing Creek. In the first half of the 20th century, Arundel on the Bay was an enclave of summer homes and vacation residences. Since then, it has grown to a year-round community of over 350 homes. In an effort to improve stormwater management and address chronic flooding in portions of the community, Biohabitats identified opportunities to retrofit outdated stormwater infrastructure (roadside swales) with natural drainage systems and create a living shoreline along Fishing Creek. Working with the community and the South River Federation, we then developed designs to restore the shoreline, enhance water quality of runoff, improve coastal habitats and establish a system more resilient to climate change and sea level rise. Community volunteers helped plant part of the native landscaping that serves as green infrastructure. Earlier this month, we were happy to be on hand for a dedication ceremony honoring the community and their partners’ efforts to protect and improve regional ecology. These projects not only help filter and clean stormwater draining into Fishing Creek and the Chesapeake Bay, they deepen this community’s connection to the water that surrounds it.
July 13-16, Biohabitats president Keith Bowers will present “Contributions of ecological restoration to large landscape conservation initiatives” at the North America Conference for Conservation Biology, which takes place July 13-16 in Missoula, MT.
We are proud to sponsor the 2014 Conference on Ecological and Ecosystem Restoration July 28-August 1 in New Orleans, LA. Keith Bowers, Terry Doss, Joe Berg, Ed Morgereth, Chris Streb, will share exciting restoration talks and success stories, and Fabien Dubas will share updates on Ecocean’s efforts to restore shoreline habitat for post-larval fish. On the first day of the conference, our staff will join forces with the National Park Service to lead a volunteer event Join us as we Make a Difference in nearby Jean Lafitte National Historic Park and Preserve!
Jennifer Zielinski will present “Integration of Living Infrastructure into Urban Revitalization Planning” at the 2014 StormCON, August 3-7 in Portland, OR.
Ecologist Susan Sherrod doesn’t just understand western ecosystems like alpine tundra, she knows what they look, sound, smell, and feel like. Having scaled all of the 14,000-foot mountains in Colorado’s Front and Mosquito Ranges, Susan has amassed an impressive body of first-hand knowledge of regional ecology. She has already applied that knowledge, along with her expertise in plant and restoration ecology, to projects such as restoring ecological function to a former gravel mining site along the Poudre River. While Susan is interested in studying ecosystem takeover of abandoned urban areas like Detroit and Chernobyl, the Colorado native and mother of two is happy working in and enjoying the diversity of ecosystems accessible to Biohabitats’ Southern Rocky Mountain Bioregion office.
Jim Cooper is an engaging guy. In addition to being a skilled landscape architect with a background in environmental science, he happens to love city life, culture, and conversation. It’s not surprising, then, that Jim’s favorite design projects involve engaging the urban public. Whether he is creating a stream or wetland restoration, a greenway, an interpretive sign, or all of the above, Jim applies a passion for connection and a commitment to ecorevelatory design. When he’s not working, Jim can be found, gardening, biking, paddling, or exploring Baltimore with his girlfriend, with whom he is…engaged.
As a child, Katie Talley wanted to be a waitress. Nothing thrilled her more than jotting down a challenging order on a notepad and then returning with the goods. Though her aspirations ultimately shifted toward engineering, Katie retained her love of a good challenge and her passion for delivering solutions. When it comes to stormwater management, she has been doing just that since earning her biological and agricultural engineering from Kansas State University. Katie’s up-for-anything attitude also applies to her life outside of work, as she enjoys traveling, working out, hiking, kayaking, and checking out new restaurants. And you can bet she’s a good tipper.