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Designing sustainable infrastructure to meet the water demand of future generations

Climate change, adapting, water management, infrastructure, architecture

Adding in green infrastructure systems is not only good for managing water, but also good for communities.

Climate change, urbanization, population growth and higher water consumption per capita, the energy infrastructure and so much more. We do have big advantages and increasing problems in the world. 

But clean water supply is getting a bigger problem day by day.

To make urban area ‘future proof, engineers should collaborate with architects and city planners.

Working with different disciplines means learning and advising from a bigger perspective. This is what future generations need because the metropols Tokio, Delhi, Mexico City, Shanghai, LA, Rio, New York and Moscow are in the top 20 of water stressed cities of the world.


According to a report from the Sustainable Business Network of Greater Philadelphia, one inch of rainwater hitting one acre of asphalt over an hour yields 27,000 gallons of water!

In many communities, this water flows into combined stormwater / sewer systems, which channel both sewage and rainwater together through underground pipes to central treatment facilities.

A sustainable infrastructure:

  • doesn’t spill a drop of water
  • stores the water in (temporarily) bassins
  • uses separate underground pipes
  • and prevents pollutant/sewage water to enter basements again, creating major public health issues in the process

Green infrastructure

The term “Green infrastructure” describes how networks of natural ecosystems also function as crucial community infrastructure, providing ecosystem services and improving environmental sustainability.

In the context of managing stormwater, green infrastructure can be defined as man-made systems that mimic natural approaches.

  • green roofs
    Green roofs can retain 40-60 percent of stormwater hitting rooftops
    These roofs are covered with vegetation and are ideal for a range of flat or gently sloping roofs, and are well-suited for urban areas where space is limited. These roofs are capable of removing pollutants from rainwater by filtering, adsorption onto the substrate and retention by plants
  • bioswales
    can absorb water and channel or hold excess run-off, cleansing pollutants in the process
    A typical swale is a broad and shallow channel, which is lined with suitable vegetation such as grass. As in the case of filter strips, the vegetation that covers the swale slows down the rate of surface runoff, thus reducing peak flows, as well as filtering the particulate pollutants contained within it
  • bioretention ponds
    A series of swales and bioretention ponds collect and treat stormwater runoff from parking areas
    These water bodies act as a form of passive treatment. They are usually cost effective (due to a high volume to area ratio) SuDS techniques making them popular to control storm water runoff. Ponds are able to provide enhanced wildlife and amenity benefits and should be designed to do so without compromising the primary function of it being part of a storm water management system. The degree of treatment achieved depends greatly on the residence time of the temporary storage, which typically ranges between twenty-four and forty-eight hours
  • permeable pavements
    These systems allow surface runoff to infiltrate through their surface and underlying construction layers, as opposed to flowing over it. They are mainly used for car parks and roads where traffic intensity is relatively low. The infiltrated rainwater is usually treated and subsequently stored before it infiltrates into the ground, reused or released to a drainage system or surface watercourse
  • trees can absorb more water and reduce runoff
    adding extra trees, which consume lots of water, help. Evergreens and conifers were found to intercept 35 percent of water hitting them
  • Water retention: Small filter strip in urban area

    Small filter strip in urban area

    Filter strips
    These techniques are a form of passive treatment, which are designed to treat runoff from adjacent impermeable areas. A typical filter strip is a wide area of grass, or other dense vegetation, that is characterized by its gentle slope. Filter strips are usually located between surface water bodies, small car parks and at the side of roads. High groundwater levels and steep gradients can generally be overcome by filter strips.

  • Constructed wetlands
    These structures contain water of varying depth across their area and consist of marsh or wetland vegetation. This is one of the most effective SuDS techniques at providing diverse wildlife habitat and pollutant removal. However, there are also long-held concerns over the dangers of using wetlands designed for pollution accumulation as wildlife habitat. Wetlands are able to eliminate pollutants by both plants and aggregates filtering and screening particles. Inlet and outlet sumps are recommended to deal with excessive sediment, which can quickly overpower the shallow ends of the wetland
  • Water playgrounds
    These SuDS have little effect on managing the quantity and quality of surface runoff. Their main purpose is, however, to enhance amenity value through recreational benefits by providing a variety of water features that individuals (particularly children) can interact with

Green infrastructure win/win

Adding in green infrastructure systems is not only good for managing water, but also good for communities.

  • Green infrastructure can lower air temperatures, which is crucial in cities facing the Urban Heat Island effect
  • Green roofs can double-up as roof-top parks, farms, and natural habitats for wildlife, providing a range of benefits.
  • For communities facing tight budgets, green infrastructure systems are also the most cost-effective way to manage stormwater when compared with rebuilding crumbling underground pipes
  • Urban forests
    Toronto’s urban forests are a significant asset to the city. Valued at $7 billion they produce, each year, $28 million worth of ecosystem services for the city, including carbon sequestration and flood protection. The challenge is many people, including policy and decision-makers, fail to make the connection between urban forests and the numerous economic, environmental, cultural and recreational benefits they provide. Toronto has found a way to overcome this.
    To increase awareness the city has increased stewardship of the city’s urban forests through two programmes:

    • The Parkland Naturalization Program holds each spring the ‘Trees Across Toronto’ event in which volunteers, with financial support from corporate partners, plant trees across the city.
    • The Community Stewardship Program where volunteers maintain, monitor and restore urban forests. Activities include invasive plant removal, watering of planted vegetation, planting of native plants and installation of bird boxes.

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