How Cities Can Manage Drought Risk and Conserve Water

As climate change and population growth strain fresh water resources, tactics from around the world provide universal lessons for building water-smart cities.

2 minute read

August 6, 2021, 8:00 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction


Water Treatment

Joe Jungmann / Flickr

"A recent United Nations report on drought says climate change is increasing the frequency, severity and duration of droughts, which contribute to food insecurity, poverty and inequality," writes Chris Malloy. Additionally, the report points out, "drought has been the single longest-term physical trigger of political change in 5,000 years of recorded human history."

This, says Malloy, "calls for urgent action and a transformation in governance to manage modern drought risk more effectively." And although "[e]very place is different when it comes to preparing for these challenges … some tactics are universally applicable enough that they can be united into a blueprint for the water-smart cities of tomorrow." These tactics include recycling water, measuring usage–"if you cannot measure it, you cannot manage it"–and getting creative with techniques for collecting, storing, and conserving water, such as desalination, reclaimed wastewater, and futuristic options like Peru's fog-catching machines.

"There are also a host of potential policy changes, including requiring buildings to reuse water, encouraging greywater systems, and pursuing innovative financing, like the Green Stormwater Infrastructure Fee that Tucson charges residents," which "funds rainwater capture systems and the development of green spaces." But while "[c]ities can employ a range of solutions to tackle water scarcity … climate change remains the root cause of many looming water issues." To tackle it, "cities will need to become far more water efficient and invest in related education."

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