It’s been a mammoth year for natural disasters, with cities around the world experiencing floods and droughts and everything in between – putting water management at the forefront of people’s priorities. In July alone there were 124 flood events across more than 20 countries, while the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association reported the US is seeing nearly half of its mainland impacted by an ongoing drought. While finding ways to fight back against these extreme conditions is daunting, adapting to the challenge is a necessity that researchers are rising to meet, and will form a central part of discussions at this year’s COP26.
We took a quick look at some adaptive technologies currently underway – and how cities around the world are designing their environments to withstand these extremes and close the loop on our wastewater.
Weather-proofing our cities
- China popularised an adaptive city design known as the ‘sponge city’ – which centres cities’ design around more effectively absorbing and capturing rainwater through the use of permeable materials and green areas. Once captured, the water is repurposed for irrigation and household use – aiding the country’s aim of reusing 70% of rainwater in 80% of its urban cities.
Restoring natural storm buffers
- New Orleans has taken a different approach – cultivating and restoring its wetland areas to act as a protection against flooding and other extreme weather. Such protection became a priority following the devastation of hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005, with the wetlands providing something of a natural speed bump for storms – slowing them down and bearing the brunt of their impact.
- Holland is renowned for its water management systems, providing the ultimate case study for how cities can construct and maintain flood buffers. One example is the 540 acre nature preserve Maaspark Ooijen-Wanssum, located near the city of Wanssum, which was set up to absorb water during times of flooding and extreme storms and was proven extremely effective during the July floods this year.
Turning wastewater into drinking water
- Last month the western French department of Vendée announced its plans to repurpose wastewater into potable water by 2024, in collaboration with Veolia. The initiative, called the Jourdain programme, is claimed to be the first experiment in Europe turning wastewater into drinking water. The scheme is said to respond directly to the anticipated risk of a future water shortage, as 90% of communities in France have had to restrict water consumption over the last two years due to drought.
- A similar scheme is underway in Florida, promoting recycled drinking water to help lessen the state’s water footprint. The state’s Potable Reuse Commission – a team of water and environmental experts – has developed a framework to implement this new initiative, though exactly when it will come into effect is not yet clear.