Reflections from the AtlanticLIVE Water Summit: The Role of Nature, Infrastructure, and Pricing in Water Management

By Jacquie Ashmore

Last Thursday I spoke at the AtlanticLIVE Water Summit in New York, alongside Kate Orff, Founder of SCAPE, and Seth Siegel, author of “Let There be Water,” on “Building for Scarcity or Surge.”  The panel discussion explored themes in water challenges across the globe, and what approaches can be powerful in addressing them.

One thread that ran through the conversation relates to the central importance of watershed management, and the important role that wetlands play in maintaining water quality.  There are some notable examples of nature-based water management solutions that we didn’t have the opportunity to discuss in the limited time available, including the story of investing to maintain protection of New York’s water supply[1] and the novel community based public private partnership that Prince George’s County in Maryland has developed for green infrastructure development[2].

The panel’s moderator, Ray Suarez, pointed to the challenges associated with the uncertainty in projections of future precipitation under climate change, as well as limitations in the ability to finance infrastructure.  That led to discussion of the opportunity for distributed infrastructure to play a role: the future of water management is likely to rely more on district-scale and building-scale solutions.  This trend is evident in multiple cities in the US, including New York’s Solaire building in Battery Park, which incorporates building level rainwater capture and reuse, as well as blackwater treatment and reuse[3], and in a broad move toward build-scale nonpotable water reuse in San Francisco[4].

Another key observation was the consequence of the low price of water, which is the absence of an important market signal of when local water demand exceeds local water supply.  As a result, we do not always manage our demand for water appropriately.  Ensuring equity and affordability of water access is obviously crucial, yet many of us could and should pay more for our water than we do today – especially as aging infrastructure and the effects of climate change on supply drive up the cost of supplying potable water.

All these aspects of water management – maintaining watersheds and wetlands, seizing opportunities to capture, treat, and reuse water from various sources including graywater and blackwater, and engaging all stakeholders including consumers to communicate the value of water – are incorporated into a framework referred to as integrated water management or “One Water” which emphasizes sustainable and resilient water management practices.  My team at the Institute for Sustainable Energy is halfway through a three-year project assessing opportunities for integrated water management to help water utilities in Texan cities as they work to address high population growth, increased supply variability owing to climate change, and aging water infrastructure.  You can get the flavor of some our work from these earlier blogs[5], and we’ll be sharing more about our work in the new year – so stay tuned!

The full video of the AtlanticLIVE Water Summit is available here.



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