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All the Water in the World

August 25th, 2010

The world’s water is approximately 97.5% salt water and 2.5% freshwater. Of the 2.5% that is fresh, about 70% is trapped in ice caps and glaciers. This means that less than 1% of the world’s water can meet human freshwater needs, and the majority of this water is buried underground in aquifers. Countries are using their natural water resources faster than they can be replenished. Industrialized nations are familiar with the concept of “peak oil,” but are they familiar with the concept of “peak water”?

Only 2.5% of the world’s water is freshwater, and even less is readily accessible to people

The Sherwood Institute is interested in making water use more efficient and less energy intensive. Every gallon of freshwater delivered through your tap required energy for its treatment and transportation. The Institute investigates policy barriers to conservation and explores ways to transform policy roadblocks into opportunities for change. What is stopping us from reusing graywater? Why isn’t rainwater harvesting more widespread? Visit the Sherwood Institute homepage and blog for interesting articles about water policy and use issues around the world.

John Leys, lead reviewer
Bry Sarté, peer review
Nick Lee, research


New Water Resource: Graywater

August 25th, 2010

According to the US EPA, an average American family of four uses about 400 gallons of water per day to meet indoor and outdoor needs. More than half of the water used indoors is suitable for reuse in non-potable applications like irrigation or toilet flushing. This reusable water, also known as “graywater,” is effluent that has not mixed with human excrement or organics. Water from the lavatory, laundry machine, and shower or bath is considered graywater.

Why use clean, potable water to irrigate the lawn or flush a toilet when graywater will work just as well? There are some sanitary concerns associated with graywater, but with sound research and development graywater reuse has become a safe way to reduce demand on municipal supplies and often fragile water resources.  The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission will become the first building in San Francisco to permit the treatment and reuse of graywater for toilet flushing. A recent article by the Christian Science Monitor discusses this next battle ground as we face dwindling water resources.

A rendering by KMD Architects of the proposed SF PUC building

John Leys, lead reviewer
Bry Sarté, peer review
Nick Lee, research


Advanced Ecologically Engineered Systems

August 25th, 2010

An Advanced Ecologically Engineered System (AEES) is a wastewater treatment system that uses natural processes to treat water. The US EPA has conducted extensive research on AEES and constructed wetlands; and has concluded that these types of natural systems can often-times be the preferred sustainable ecological engineering solution to some of the wastewater problems we are encountering worldwide.  The most commonly known AEES technology is the Living Machine®. These systems are often composed of outdoor ponds and wetlands, but in certain cases they are comprised of biological systems housed indoors where the climate can be more closely controlled. Here are a few reasons why natural treatment systems like the AEES are gaining attention from cities and wastewater experts:

-They require little energy input after construction

-They are cheaper to build and maintain than conventional treatment systems

-They are aesthetically pleasing

-They can provide habitat, evaporative cooling benefits, and improve air quality

John Leys, lead reviewer
Bry Sarté, peer review
Nick Lee, research


PlaNYC

August 25th, 2010

(image: http://www.nyc.gov/html/planyc2030/includes/site_images/features/downloads/the_plan_cover.gif)

On Earth Day, 2007, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced PlaNYC, a comprehensive plan to implement sustainable development practices throughout the city over the next two decades. Some of the goals of PlaNYC include:

i) Implement a water conservation program to reduce citywide consumption by 60 million gallons per day

ii) Open 90% of waterways to recreation by preserving natural areas and reducing pollution

iii) Add 245 million gallons per day to the public water supply by maximizing efficiency at existing facilities

Each of the goals listed above contains a metric. Quantifiable metrics like “gallons of water saved” or “acres of wetland restored” help us gauge the impacts of our activities. Metrics are also especially useful to change public policy; when a project can demonstrate potential in a concrete way, it is more easily accepted. Check out some of the reports at PlaNYC to see examples of metrics.

John Leys, lead reviewer
Bry Sarté, peer review
Nick Lee, research


Materials Red List

August 25th, 2010

A materials “Red List” is a list of construction materials you are discouraged or forbidden from using within a project. The materials listed are typically poisonous to humans, harmful to the environment, and/or deemed unsustainable by the organization administering the list.

The Cascadia Region Green Building Council created a materials Red List for its “Living Building Challenge,” a program that aims to push buildings beyond LEED into higher levels of sustainability. Found on page 12 of the Living Building Challenge, the Cascadia Red List includes materials like cadmium, chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), halogenated flame retardants, and mercury. Many other organizations, such as The Los Angeles Community College District, have also created Red Lists to guide materials selection on future projects.

John Leys, lead reviewer
Bry Sarté, peer review
Nick Lee, research


San Mateo Green Streets

August 25th, 2010

In January 2009, San Mateo County published its “Sustainable Green Streets and Parking Lots Design Guidebook” to encourage use of low-impact development for stormwater management. This guidebook is packed with pictures and visual aids that demonstrate the structure and function of natural stormwater treatment systems in urban and suburban settings.

image: http://www.dnrec.delaware.gov/landuse/PublishingImages/greenstreets.jpg

San Mateo County received both the 2009 Award of Excellence and the 2009 Outstanding Planning Award from the American Planning Association (California chapter) for its 174-page Green Streets guidebook. The guidebook includes design strategies, street and parking lot case studies, design examples in San Mateo County, design and construction details, and other strategies to implement green street and green parking lot projects. Click here to visit the San Mateo Water Pollution Prevention Program homepage.

John Leys, lead reviewer
Bry Sarté, peer review
Nick Lee, research

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