March 22 is World Water Day
March 22, 2023
This World Water Day is about accelerating change to solve the global water and sanitation crisis (Sustainable Development Goal 6). As Canadians, we don’t have to look globally to make a difference.
Water is more precious than we think. When we look at an image of our blue planet from space or stand beside a large body of water, it is easy to think we live on a planet with an abundance of water.
This image by David Gallo, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, handily shatters that belief. For a sense of scale, if the world was the size of a basketball, all the water on the planet would amount to the size of a marble; freshwater would be considerably less.
Water is essential for life. Despite progress, we still have much to do as a nation to ensure clean, safe drinking water in Indigenous communities. Indigenous peoples have always honoured water. They have always understood how precious it is. The United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 6 states that "access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene is the most basic human need for health and well-being." This Goal is asking us to follow in the footsteps of Indigenous leaders throughout the world, and protect our sources of freshwater because they are sacred to us all.
Water sensitive cities take a holistic approach to urban water management. A significant amount of energy is required to collect, clean, move, store, and dispose of water. By considering the whole urban water cycle – groundwater, water supply, stormwater, and wastewater management along with water supply — we can promote the sustainable use of water resources and reduce energy consumption and emissions.
Promoting sustainable water use
There are several actions we can take to promote sustainable water use.
- Fixing leaks in a municipal water distribution is the first line of defence to ensure water and energy is not wasted.
- Reduce potable water consumption and its use for irrigation. Water efficient appliances, smart metres, smart irrigation, and greywater reuse all reduce water consumption and associated energy use.
- Disconnecting downspouts and stormwater drains from overflowing into sanitary sewers also reduces the energy use associated with wastewater treatment.
- Planting drought tolerant and native landscaping and capturing and storing rainwater in cisterns and tree pits reduces the use of municipal water for irrigation. Non-potable water should be used for irrigation.
- Increasing infiltration into groundwater using source and site control features like green roofs, roof gardens, rain gardens, rainwater harvesting, and permeable pavement as well as conveyance features like small ponds, swales, ditches, rills, large ponds, and wetlands can make a contribution to reducing energy consumption with the urban water system while increasing carbon sequestration.
- The increase in evapotranspiration provided by living walls, street trees, parks, community gardens and water features reduces the urban heat island effect.
- Digital stormwater management optimises the capture, reuse, and treatment of stormwater.
- Raising awareness of residents and businesses to promote wise choices about water is an important feature of water sensitive cities.
Benefits of taking a holistic approach
There are numerous benefits to taking a holistic approach.
Natural landscape features (blue and green infrastructure) enhance human health and wellbeing. They promote better mental health, encourage physical activity, improve air quality, and provide recreational areas and places for people to connect with each other and the natural environment. They also reduce the urban heat island effect, reducing the need to cool homes and buildings while providing an important adaptation to rising global temperatures.
Integrated infrastructure provides protection against climate-related weather extremes — including heavy rainfall — by maximizing capture of stormwater on site, safely guiding runoff and preventing flooding.
Encouraging rainwater capture and the recycling of water resources helps to mitigate against times of drought.
As well, healthier natural ecosystems in the urban environment are created by ensuring pollutants in stormwater are removed prior to discharge into the natural environment, conserving water resources, and increasing carbon sequestration.
Natural landscapes that use green and blue infrastructure also enhance the value of residential and commercial districts and improve local productivity.
Not least of which, though, we begin to honour water through our actions.
All the Earth’s water (middle blue sphere) and freshwater (right blue sphere).