In the United States, our infrastructure isn’t designed to handle the increased floods and droughts that come with global warming. Consider Florida, where coastal cities are spending billions of dollars on pumps and desalination plants to deal with flooding, or Denver, Colorado, which had to restrict residential lawn watering to two days a week throughout the spring due to drought.
Clearly, we need to be smarter about our precious water supply in the coming years. Many cities are already getting a jump start on smart water solutions and their work provides models for other places dealing with water challenges.
“Bioswales,” also known as rain gardens, absorb and filter runoff from nearby pavement. Not only do they keep polluted rainwater from reaching our rivers and lakes, they beautify our cities and prevent flooding. Check out this video of a bioswale installed along a new bike trail in Indianapolis.
Solar Water Heaters
Rather than using solar panels to create electricity, solar water heaters use them to… you guessed it, heat water. About 30 million homes in China use solar water heaters and many municipalities in the US, like Palo Alto, CA, Austin, TX, and Tallahassee, FL offer rebates to their residents if they install them.
Porous (or Permeable) Pavement
Another way to ensure rainwater is filtered before it reaches our waterways is by letting it hit the ground rather than run along the top of pavement. Porous pavement like that pictured above has tiny gaps that allow the water to flow through.
About a third of the clean drinking water in the US is used to water lawns. One way to halt this waste is to encourage the use of cisterns and rain barrels which collect rainwater for things like gardening and flushing toilets. The town of Northfield, MN rebates its residents 50% of the cost of installing such systems. Many other towns in the US have similar programs, and rain barrels are readily available at most home improvement stores.
Nothing manages water better than nature. Ensuring that our waterways are buffered from development by conserving the vegetation around it keeps them clean, provides vital habitat for plants and animals, and guards against flooding. In just one project of its kind, EarthShare member Trust for Public Land helped protect nearly 600 acres of land near the LaPlatte River, which feeds into Lake Champlain. Because of this, the safety of the drinking water supply for 68,000 people is ensured.
Green roofs have multiple benefits: they reduce the heat island effect in cities, filter air pollution, improve building efficiency, and much more. They also reduce the volume of storm water flowing into sewer systems. Chicago leads the country in green roofs installed.
Learn more about the many water-related issues we face as a society -- and the proposed solutions:
The End of Cheap Water?, American Rivers
What is Green Infrastructure?, American Rivers