Dry Run: Preventing the Next Urban Water Crisis
By Jerry Yudelson, with foreword by Sharon B. Megdal New Society Publishers Review by Susanna Eden
Long-term drought in the West and elsewhere coupled with the growth of urban populations, have raised our level of awareness about the need for conservation and water use efficiency. Every week we seem to hear about a water crisis when dire consequences were experienced or narrowly averted. Jerry Yudelson offers several examples in his informative book, Dry Run: Preventing the Next Urban Water Crisis, on cities and their water use. In Australia, the City of Perth faced a crisis when its reservoir inflows fell dramatically over several years from 85 billion gallons per year to a low of 16 billion gallons per year in 2007. In response, the city had to quickly implement wastewater reuse and seawater desalination programs in addition to strenuous conservation requirements.
Closer to home, in Atlanta the situation required imposition of mandatory drought restrictions and emergency water planning. Although the situation has improved sufficiently to remove mandatory restrictions since the rains returned in 2009, the Metro Water District projects a shortfall in water supply beginning in 2030 without “aggressive, ongoing water conservation”. In consequence the City has plans to make institutional changes to see that water conservation remains a high priority.
Likewise the San Diego County Water Authority faced an emergency drought situation in 2009, this one precipitated by circumstances hundreds of miles away in the Sacramento- San Joachin River Delta, where restrictions on surface water pumping translated into a 13 percent reduction in wholesale water deliveries to San Diego.
Yudelson maintains that such crises will become the norm without substantial change in the way we deal with water. If the book has a single dominant theme, it is that change is on the way. The change will bring with it new or increasingly urgent familiar challenges. These include growing demands on finite water supplies and the effects of global climate change.
But change also brings new and improved means of meeting these challenges. The book is full of suggestions and examples of success stories. Jerry Yudelson’s expertise is in the built environment, where he sees almost endless opportunity for improved efficiencies without sacrificing, and in many cases actually enhancing quality of life in cities. His explanation of water use in commercial and industrial buildings is perhaps the only summary of this important component of urban water use you will find in the recent crop of water books. The survey of home water use is equally informative regarding opportunities for water savings. In what may today be an unusually optimistic tone, Yudelson cites case after case of new technologies employed to save not only water, but also energy in a two for one improvement over current practice.
In a section on innovative water technologies, Yudelson covers the range of potential supplies, giving graywater and water harvesting detailed attention along with more conventional technologies such as wastewater reclamation and salt water desalination. He also includes an intriguing chapter on what he calls “Zen Water”, which refers to projects that are self-sufficient in their water use and independent from urban water infrastructure. These projects employ a combination of technologies, including both rainwater harvesting and water recycling that result in “netzero” water use.
In the concluding chapter, Yudelson lays out “Ten Steps to Preventing the Next Urban Water Crisis.” His prescription contains some familiar components, such as instituting conservation water
rate structures. But most of his recommendations promote changes in infrastructure and facilitation of such changes through such methods as building codes, metering and training. He does not shy away from initiatives on a grand scale—training the entire plumbing industry of more than 40,000 working plumbers in green plumbing practices—but the steps boil down to an attitude of focusing innovation and appropriate scale technologies on conservation and the use of locally available resources before investing in grand new water supply schemes.
His hope, at the end of this hopeful book, is for the coming change to embody adoption of sustainability’s “triple bottom line”: living where economy, ecology and ethics intersect in an environment that fosters a healthy urban system now and in the future.