Water and Ecosystem Infrastructure

(After the previos post about Waterless Jeans I though it a good idea to provide some context of the issue of water and water as a resource etc.. so here goes!)

Demand on Water Resources (Undited Nations Population Division)

A few facts related to Water and Ecosystem Infrastructure.

  • 75% of our natural resources are over utilized. This has far reaching impacts for our ecosystems and economies. An example is the Aral Sea. Aral Sea was 4thlargest fresh water system.
    • It is 10% of its original size.
    • Pollution and over utilization of the water yield of the lake has resulted in the Aral Sea no longer being able to provide Ecosystem Services such as water and fish and resulting in economic hardship and unemployment
    • Approximately 60 000 fishermen have lost their jobs.  
    • 50% of South Africa’s water extractions come from surface water resources such as lakes, rivers and dams. This has significant implications for the development of the country, the health of water resources as well as water users.

Aral Sea: not much water left.

Ecosystem Infrastructure refers to the services that are provided by natural ecosystems. These ecosystem services include servicessuch as water purification; flood control, recreational amenities, and climate stabilization. Ecosystem services may be considered as “free” services provided by nature and are particularly important when looked at within the context of services that support economic and social development.

Linkages between ecosystem services and human well being (www.maps.grida.no)

I recently attended a presentation on the importance of ensuring integrated planning the provision of water services. The presentation linked water as a natural resource critical for economic and social development with the importance of ecosystem infrastructure such as watersheds. An example of ecosystem infrastructure in water service provision would be the financial cost savings that are possible through the effective development and management of dams and watersheds in relation to dam siltation.

  • The siltation of a dam involves the gradual build up of silt behind the dam wall. Siltation often negatively affects the health and usefulness of a dam and results in a reduction of water yield from the dam.
  • The average cost of building a dam is (approximately) R20 per cubic meter of water stored.
  • The average cost of de-silitation is (approximately) R8 per cubic meter
  • If a watershed is managed in a sustainable manner the risks and costs posed by siltation of dams are preventable.
  • Thus it makes financial sense to prevent siltation through the management of the ecosystem infrastructure associated with water and dams. This can be done through watershed management and the management of land uses within watersheds.
  • Some examples of watershed management initiatives that increase water yielded and prevent erosion and therefore siltation are: alien clearing, sustainable land use practices, erosion prevention etc

The concluding message from the presentation was; it is essential to ensure that the integrity and health of our water resources and associated ecosystem infrastructure are maintained in order to enable sustainable development and a transition to a green economy. It is therefore fundamental to recognise ecosystem services and infrastructure as strategic and fundamental element of infrastructure development and service provision.

This also stresses that recognition that a key step towards incorporating ecosystem infrastructure into the infrastructure planning and development processes is required to facilitate and support sustained and healthy economic growth and a transition to a greener economy. In addition, the recognition of the strategic importance of ecosystem infrastructure in infrastructure provision and development planning is central to the debate surrounding the value of ecosystem services and elements. The value of such services and resources need to be looked at from an integrated point of view as opposed to merely being considered as resources to be exploited.

We need to change the manner in which we value and use our natural resources.

For more informtaion on the above topics:

Aral Sea on Wikipedia

Millenium Ecosystem Assessment

WHO fact file


Integrated Urban Design, Densification and Sustainability

A real "Green Building"

Resource scarcity, urbanization, environmental degradation and climate change all combine to make the provision of housing, resources, infrastructure and services to the world’s population increasingly costly and difficult. The issue is further compounded the unsustainable urban environments in which most urban dwellers live. Most urban environments are characterized by sprawling urban environments that require high levels of energy inputs to live and work in.  Examples of this include the dormitory suburb’s from which many city workers travel to and from everyday and the car dependant cities that are planned for the car as opposed to the pedestrian or cyclist. Dormitory suburbs and cities planned for cars facilitate the wasteful use of energy and time (spent commuting) and contribute to high levels of emissions. Add this to the increasing rates of urbanization and we have quite a large problem.

According to UN Habitat (2010) approximately 51% of the world population lives in urban areas. Resource scarcity, environmental degradation and climate change all combine to increase the rates of urbanization being experienced around the world and specifically in sub-Saharan Africa, which is home to approximately 62% of the world’s slum population.  

We therefore need to find a sustainable way to be able to accommodate the increasing urban population. The densification and integration of urban environments has and is being recognized as an efficient, effective and sustainable way to provide resources, housing, services and infrastructure to urban dwellers.  The concept is broadly based on the following:

  • Lowered infrastructure provision costs. It is cheaper and easier to provide services within a smaller area. E.g: providing water and energy reticulation across a smaller area with a higher density of inhabitants serviced as opposed to a larger area with fewer inhabitants.
  • Mixed-use environments where people have to travel shorter distances to and from work, shopping and entertainment.  This would reduce travel costs as well as carbon emissions etc.
  • Reducing urban sprawl and the maintenance of ecosystem services. Ecosystem services are basically services that nature/ ecosystems provide.(Wetlands – water purification, Biodiversity-food, plants resources, trees and forest that clean the air etc)

The Verticle Forest or Bosco Vertical in Milan, Italy, is a great example of innovation, design and urban densification.

“Bosco Verticale (Vertical Forest) is a project for metropolitan reforestation that contributes to the regeneration of the environment and urban biodiversity without the implication of expanding the city upon the territory. Bosco Verticale is a model of vertical densification of nature within the city. It is a model that operates correlated to the policies for reforestation and naturalization of the large urban and metropolitan borders (Metrosbosco). Metrobosco and Bosco Verticale are devices for the environmental survival of contemporary European cities. Together they create two modes of building links between nature and city within the territory and within the cities of contemporary Europe.
The first example of a Bosco Verticale composed of two residential towers of 110 and 76 meters height, will be realized in the centre of Milan, on the edge of the Isola neighbourhood, and will host 900 trees (each measuring 3, 6 or 9 m tall) apart from a wide range of shrubs and floral plants.
On flat land, each Bosco Verticale equals, in amount of trees, an area equal to 10.000 sqm of forest. In terms of urban densification the equivalent of an area of single family dwellings of nearly 50.000 sqm.
The Bosco Verticale is a system that optimizes, recuperates and produces energy. The Bosco Verticale aids in the creation of a microclimate and in filtering the dust particles contained in the urban environment. The diversity of the plants and their characteristics produce humidity, absorb CO2 and dust particles, producing oxygen and protect from radiation and acoustic pollution, improving the quality of living spaces and saving energy. Plant irrigation will be produced to great extent through the filtering and reuse of the grey waters produced by the building. Additionally Aeolian and photovoltaic energy systems will contribute, together with the aforementioned microclimate to increase the degree of energetic self sufficiency of the two towers. The management and maintenance of the Bosco Verticale’s vegetation will be centralised and entrusted to an agency with an office counter open to the public.”  (http://www.stefanoboeriarchitetti.net/)

The Link Between Climate Change And The Food You Eat/ Waste

Every thing that we do has an impact on our environment. A source of impacts that one often doesn’t always consider is the impacts on the natural environment resulting from the food we eat, or do not eat. Food production, transportation, preparation and disposal processes contribute towards the use of resources and the emission of green house gasses (GHG).

I found a great and informative articlethat explains how food and climate change are linked. Just to give you an idea the graphic below shows how the different phases of food production contribute towards GHG emissions.

Happy reading!