Water & the Sustainable City Footprint

Paul Lander, PhD, Principal, Dakota Ridge Partners


Gordon Feller

You’ve gotten a peek at one of those breakthrough innovations. Clearly the financial engineers are hard at work thinking through the mechanics of how the capital is going to flow to make our cities smarter, connected, more sustainable. So you get a little sense of our mad logic here.

We started with the big framework from Bill, we worked through the automotive, the mobility. We’ve talked about the energy infrastructure, the fuels. We’ve talked about the buildings, the energy efficient buildings. Now we’re going to add the next layer so that you have the full morning menu before you start your drinks of coffee and tea.

I want to introduce you to the person who really was the force behind Boulder becoming an innovator around water conservation, because if we’re not talking about water in this nexus; if we’re only talking about energy and mobility and buildings and the efficient city and not talking about the resource flows, then we’re missing a significant piece of this. So we’ve asked Paul Lander who teaches at the university here just down the street, who has a consulting practice here, who is the force as the Director of the Office of Water Conservation of the City of Boulder, to give us something to digest before we get a coffee break.

When you go to your coffee break, I’d like you to make sure to pick up one of our evaluations. You’ll notice that it says Wednesday for today and tomorrow and Friday, so ignore that but follow the sessions along. But let me not interrupt Paul Lander any further and ask him to come up and give us a look at water conservation. Thank you, Paul.

Paul Lander

Thank you Gordon, I appreciate it, although the unenviable task of keeping you from coffee and restrooms so try to hang in there for a few more minutes. Hopefully my animation will keep you engaged.

I’m here to talk a little bit, as Gordon said, about water. Those of us in the water field – and I used to work in energy a lot so I joke with my energy carbon friends all the time like “Don’t forget water.” It is a chapter in that future, not nearly as sexy as some of the things we’ve heard about.

I couldn’t be more excited to be here because of the innovation and I’m just overwhelmed at the brain trust, the thinking that’s going on in some of these areas: energy, transportation. I used to think that in water we were about twenty years behind energy; well, we’re about fifty years behind transportation. In addition to identifying what I hope are some opportunities for you to think on, I’m really hoping here to plant some seeds for a sector I think that can’t go overlooked but desperately needs some brighter thinking going on. We have a lot of issues there. We’ve traditionally left it to other experts. Many of you are probably aware of the Ceres report that came out last year for all the bond markets and Manhattan saying ëWe’re concerned what we see with the lack of innovation and long – term thinking from a lot of water providers.’ Seems to me their long – term plan is do what we’ve always been doing. Increasingly that isn’t conservative anymore, that’s actually more risk, like we see in a lot of other areas.

With that I want to kick off and talk just a little bit about water with some concepts that hopefully get the conversation going. The challenge was thinking about what are some new ideas? Well, actually as humans we’re much younger than water. Water’s been around longer than we are; we are a water planet, so I think one of our tasks really is to remember our relationship with water and think of what the opportunities are.

The table’s been laid for me through some great presentations this morning thinking about, how do we tap users’ experience more? How do we find out more what they want and be willing to help us drive some innovation there? And looking at the scale. Certainly I’m a believer in design and innovation; what that has to offer. I really appreciate the whole cross – section of design. Not just design as a traditional way of physical shaping, but designs of policy, designs of implementation, designs of education systems that are going to help us make this transition.

Very simple concept, and again, part of my thinking is restating the obvious: remembering our relationship with water. We’re all connected. I love this graphic on the upper right that was put together by a water district in Colorado. For most people, that is the connection. “Oh yeah, there’s the river. That’s where I get my shower water.” And obviously there’s a lot of infrastructure, a lot of decisions between them. But for a lot of our users, for most of you who got up today, you think about services. What do I get? What are the services I get from water? Sometimes to the concern of water managers, we forget what the source of that is. There are natural ecosystems that we have an impact on, so that’s an additional thing we have to consider as has been mentioned in some of those before. The cascading set of graphics there for the watersheds, if you will. You’ve heard that, “We all live downstream.” Lots of different kinds of metaphors, but in fact, we are all connected. There are thousands of gallons of water in this room, embodied in our bodies, and so we tend to forget about water is really all around us, we are all connected. The things that we can do have an impact on someone else and we need to remember that.

There is no private – I’m not trying to challenge specifically the private sector. In fact, I’m actually enlisting pretty strongly more thinking from the private sector to open up the thinking within the water world, if you will. Just that it’s a common good in most places, at least in the Western United States. The Constitution of the State of Colorado like most Western states says first off, “the water belongs to the people of the State of Colorado.” I don’t think we often use that as a leverage point to really think about innovation and how we might take back some of that resource and think about better efficiencies. Not only just of application, which we’ll talk about, but the efficiency of allocation. Who gets the water? How do we use it? Are we putting it to the highest and best use? And there are certainly a lot of hurdles between here and there but I think we have to think about what those opportunities are.

We’re all connected. It’s easy to see in the quality arena. Some of you, especially if you’re from the Pacific Northwest, may have seen the ad campaign from the Puget Sound, trying to help people realize even when you wash your car in the driveway that runs off into a storm drain. It’s really like washing your car in the middle of Puget Sound. Those connections are very, very direct and we need to understand what those are. That also – back to use innovative thinkers – represents opportunity. How do we begin to think about that?

The slide on the right; for those of you who have been to Valencia, Spain, this is a picture of the annual tribunal. Once a month they get to meet, as they have for hundreds of years, and hash out in a public forum, “I got a beef with you about my water use, let’s put it before our peers.” How do we begin to do that? Often a lot of decisions, particularly in the Western United States, have taken decisions behind closed doors. There hasn’t been a lot of transparency to that. So again, I’d encourage you to think about how we might innovate the process of decision making and allocation as we move forward.

Some of you may have seen this. Pepsi Co. and others – a lot of information, a lot of things coming across the web about this; a pretty unique idea: potatoes could boost water supply. What does that mean? Well, potato chip manufacturers historically brought in all these potatoes, 90% water, sliced them up, dried them. Paid to have all that sewage water gotten rid of and then brought in sweet fresh water at a very high cost rather than realizing we’re also importing 90% of the material we need. We could use the embodied water there. We talk a lot about embodied energy, but there’s a tremendous amount of thinking now about where is the embodied water? Are there opportunities for innovation? Not something as simple, necessarily, as fruits and vegetables, but water is all around us.

The bottom line in lots of situations with higher risk around the globe: cheap, reliable, potable water is a thing of the past. Doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot of water available but it’s of a different form and a different quantity and quality than we traditionally have thought about and it’s in places we hadn’t necessarily thought of before.

This is a real basic graph; a couple of pie charts there. The one in left, where do we use water in single family homes in the U.S.? Pretty standard there; a lot of really good data collected across North America that’s confirmed indoor use is remarkably standard across the continent, if you will. But in most places – unfortunately you can’t see there at the top left, the white on white. That little box says, “Right now in most places all the services that you rely on in your home” – or in a business environment, for that matter – “are delivered by 100% potable water.” So we’re taking a very, very high value resource. The comment before, “Oil is so valuable. We shouldn’t be just burning it.” Well, potable water is so valuable, why are we turning around and 90% of the uses we have for it don’t require that: toilet flushing, landscaping, lots of different things, and yet we’re stuck oftentimes with a single pipe system or so it would seem. And if you’ve seen any of the estimates from the EPA, to keep that single pipe system going is upwards of $500B over the next 20 years. Let’s just lob that on top of everything else that we now have to pay for in terms of infrastructure. I would suggest with that kind of money on the table, innovation could probably reduce that tremendously. We can get more out of these centralized systems and begin to break some of that down.

What does that look like? Well, the diagram there at the right with all the colored arrows, something you might see if you buy a track home in Sydney today, very, very little of your water services are met by potable water. They happen to live in an idyllic climate; three and a half inches of rain every month. Kind of like Camelot. Really nice, warm climate. But that also means they can use rainwater for landscaping. They use rainwater for laundry. They use grey water for landscaping, toilet flushing. All these things where we better match the quality of the water to the service we actually need. Reduce the impact on a centralized drinking water system tremendously.

I just reinforce what we said before: water is like any one of these other resource issues. The future is and; we’re going to have to do all these things: different sources, different qualities, efficiency, those kinds of things – even de – sal in some places. It’s not an either – or scenario.

Nobody got up today and said, “Oh yeah, I’m in Boulder Thursday. I’ve got to use 500 gallons today. I’m going to take a shower – ” If you happen to live at home, folks are going to come over tonight, we’re actually going to make some pasta, after that we’re actually going to go sit in the backyard. We want the services. That’s an old standard, twenty years old again in energy, just beginning to seep in. And I say that because I know too many water resource managers who are completely focused on gallons. And sometimes there’s a really good reason for that, but it also means almost all the resources dedicated to R&D are about that: getting more gallons, not actually enhancing the services. As has been said before, go back to the users. What do they really want? What can we do?

So the clothes washer there is kind of the poster child. If people can actually have the service of clean laundry with a lot less water energy, less wear on clothes, less detergent: they win, we win. It’s hard lead with, “Oh, save water for water’s sake.” They want the services. So behind the scenes, if we can be innovative, we can be really creative and make that happen.

A big one for you in the financial world: I’m not a financial person; I’m a geographer, cultural geographer. But this little chart is my crude way of saying, one are the problems we have with a lot of water systems, particularly in the developing world, is right now the standard is compliance. So it’s completely taken off the table the missed opportunity of not only sustainability but optimization, training, those kinds of things. There’s really no value out there for a local water provider to go beyond compliance, where I could actually be able to clean up our stream system. Remember that stream system that worked on the shower head? If we actually have the ability to enhance the quality of that higher that is actually compliance, and actually do that for the benefit of the region and have some remuneration because of that. Get paid for some of those services; that’d be great. That’s not even on the table. It’s absolutely not even an option for a lot of places.

The last one is on the bottom right there, you may know it, whose responsibility? My concern with a lot of the water systems we have today: all of the collection, treatment, distribution to your home or business and from your business or home, collecting it, going back into the waste water stream, that’s all 100% financed infrastructure. The tail wagging the dog, the actual end – user who operates all the nozzles that drives huge demands on how we use that water, is 100% on your back as an individual. That has to change. We’re actually going to optimize our centralized systems.

So with that, I thank you for your time and really encourage innovation and thinking and please contact me. I’ve love to have more dialogue. Thank you very much.

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