Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Monday, September 07, 2015

Water as a competitive advantage? in a warming world

This piece extends ideas laid out in "A world class water/environmental education center at Poplar Point as another opportunity for Anacostia River programming (+ move the Anacostia Community Museum next door)," that DC could create a national research institute and center devoted to urban water issues, located in a proposed "museum district" at Poplar Point, adjacent to the proposed 11th Street Bridge Park.

1.  For a long time I've thought that despite industrial decline, long term "the Midwest" has a competitive advantage in the Great Lakes as a water source.

But recently we've learned from the case of Waukesha, Wisconsin ("Public weighs in on City of Waukesha's water request," Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel) that the water compact between the states (which by the way excludes the Province of Ontario) limits (1) automatic access to those communities within the actual "water basin" of the lakes; (2) to draw water from the lakes, Midwestern communities outside the basin need sign off from all the states; (3) which is almost impossible to attain.

In short, all of the Midwest isn't equal in terms of being able to benefit from the Great Lakes.  Although it can be said that Waukesha as a beneficiary of sprawl (to the detriment of Milwaukee, the metropolitan area's center city) didn't plan for a scenario with water problems.

-- Alliance for the Great Lakes

2.  Speaking of the value of long range planning, interestingly, San Diego County has been extremely future-oriented in planning for water supplies ("Water levels rise amid drought: San Diego does not have the supply problem of other regions," San Diego Union-Tribune), and is the only part of California that doesn't have water access problems, between contracted water, conservation, and the development of desalination options.

This means that with the mandatory water conservation practices put into place by Governor Brown that the San Diego water district is in the position of running out of space to store water, even though they have been expanding storage capacity at great cost.

With the forecasted impact of El Nino on California likely to result in significant additions to the state's water supply but also  ("Are we ready for El Niño?" and "With El Nino, comes the risk of floods," Orange County Register). San Diego will ironically be faced with having to make "discharges" from the reservoir system, in order to protect the system's physical integrity.

California should have created an exception for San Diego in the state mandates and/or allowed San Diego to sell some of its water, which apparently they are forbidden from doing so. But typically Government doesn't set up differentiated policies, instead treating every place the same, which can create its own problems.

3.  The SDUT (re-)mentions the ironic fallout of reduced demand for water as a result of conservation as a rise in the cost for water, because of the need to maintain and expand infrastructure, especially as many systems have aged water piping systems ("There's Too Much Water in Germany," Wall Street Journal) or need to meet new mandates from the EPA in creating fully separated stormwater and sewage systems to reduce pollution of rivers and lakes ("New York Times).

4.  Another SDUT piece, "Investing in a water-smart future: San Diego Foundation grants support local drought plans" discusses how local foundations are providing support to water conservation initiatives and research, which is interesting in the same way that New York State and New Jersey have become highly sensitized to the impact of climate change on weather and resulting vulnerability, and the impact on emergency response and disaster planning.

The Foundation has changed its funding priorities in response to the report, San Diego, 2050 is Calling. How Will We Answer?, on the future impact of climate change on San Diego (the Foundation commissioned the report), and the city has also developed a Climate Action Plan.

5.  Island Press is coming out with a new book, Strategic Green Infrastructure Planning: A Multi-Scale Approach, by Karen Firehock of the Green Infrastructure Center, relevant to the topic.

The Security and Sustainability Forum is sponsoring a webinar series, Rethinking Our Land: Growing Sustainable and Resilient Communities, featuring the authors and based on the book.

The first seminar, broadcast last week, is online.  The remaining two segments are available by subscription and are scheduled for later in the month.

6.  The Nature Conservancy has been a leader in developing innovative community-metropolitan scale initiatives focused on protecting watersheds, driven in part by reaching people through their self-interest in ensuring quality drinking water.

Awhile back I mentioned the "Designing for Disaster" exhibition at the National Building Museum, which features a number of best practice water- and waterfront-related initiatives.

One is how Santa Fe, New Mexico is managing its watershed to protect from the possibility of wildfires and other calamities.  One of the strategies they use is a water fund, funded by a small tax, which pays for watershed protection projects.  The water fund concept was pioneered by the Nature Conservancy.

-- Urban Water Blueprint: Mapping Conservation Solutions to the Global Water Challenge, Nature Conservancy

7.  Note that the "Designing for Disaster" exhibition closes September 13th.

8.  Unfortunately, Brazil hasn't been successful in leveraging the Olympics as a way to improve the sewage and water treatment systems in Rio de Janeiro.  See the Associated Press investigation "Filthy Rio water a threat at 2016 Olympics."

9.  As part of a presentation I saw on revitalization activities in Newark, NJ, I was particularly impressed by the city's program to recapture, revitalize, and leverage the presence of the Passaic River as a signature element of the city.

-- Newark Riverfront Revival
-- "Connecting Newark to Its River, and Its Future," New Jersey Future
-- "Walking to the Water: Environmental Justice and Newark's Riverfront Park," Urban

10.  In the right sidebar, I will be adding a new category for water infrastructure separate from "Rivers, Canals and Waterfronts" which is more about urban revitalization and less about drinking water, sewer infrastructure, etc.



At 9:46 AM, Anonymous rg said...

Waukesha: so close to the Great Lakes, but in the Mississippi/Gulf of Mexico water basin. All those people who fled the minorities and poor people in Milwaukee for the safety, comfort and homogeneity of Waukesha may get awfully thirsty in the coming years! They are used to bullying Milwaukee to get what they want, but in this case no amount of bullying will get them what they need. If I were Governor of any of the other Great Lake Basin states, I would be very wary of setting a precedent by allowing Waukesha to access any Lake Michigan water. Perhaps Milwaukee can make a deal with Waukesha: tell the Governor you elected to build a decent transit system for our city and to stop pouring all of the state's transportation money into suburban sprawl highways and perhaps we can try (only try -- after all, it is really out of our hands and up to those other Governors) to help you with that little water problem you are having. Of course, if Waukeshans get really thirsty, they can move back to Milwaukee. It has plenty of solidly built, historic housing stock at cheap prices. And plenty of vacant land already served by infrastructure if you want to build new.

At 1:15 PM, Anonymous charlie said...

Yes, access to water (and now, wastewater treatment) can be used by cities for force aggolmeration.

Just as transit was one hundred years ago.

I'm not sure that DC Water is the best example, but you can get a sense of what DC government would look like if you could remove certain electoral pressures.

(Again, in DC the expansion in social service spending since williams era could have paid for a separate blue line several times over)

At 5:20 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

... one of the only intelligent things said by Leo Alexander when he was running for Mayor in 2010 was that every 10% reduction in the number of people on welfare would reduce costs by $150 million. You can support a lot of bonding authority with increments of $150 million in annual savings...

At 11:35 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"(Again, in DC the expansion in social service spending since williams era could have paid for a separate blue line several times over)"

@Charlie: Despite having been the Art Director of a major corporate finance journal for 20+ years (wherein I created all the charts and graphs--referred to as "infographics"--for the articles), along with counting a number of multinational banks and financial firms among my clients during that time, it all seemed like a bunch of smoke and mirrors to me. After nearly two decades of community volunteering, public finance and budgeting seem even more bogus and tenuous than the so-called private sector. I'd be interested to know how you came to your above conclusion, e.g. numbers, sources, etc. if you would be so kind.


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