Tuesday, 21 Jun 2022  |  Reading time:  10 mins  | Read online

Freshwater management

This week, we’re putting the spotlight on all things local water management, from clearing pollution and improving biodiversity to securing the supply of fresh, safe drinking water.

Almost half of the world’s population already live in areas suffering from water scarcity, but this number is predicted to approach 60% by 2050. Global and local trends, such as consumerism, agricultural intensification and climate disruption, present significant challenges to local government in respect of ensuring citizens have an adequate supply of potable water. Climate change generates adaptation challenges, from scarcity, flooding, worsening water quality or shifts in hydrologic cycle timings. 

Over the last few decades, water has been identified as one of the most strategic resources and focuses for resilience. In 2018, Cape Town was on the precipice of becoming the world's first major metropolitan area to run out of water (“Day Zero”), renewing discussions on how to build and maintain resilience far into the future. 

While the sprawling nature of river basins means that water requires management from regional and national actors, in most countries local government has some responsibility for water management; be that protection of watercourses, monitoring water quality, or managing wastewater and distributing drinking water.

In this week’s Global Local, we take a deeper look at three municipalities’ water management strategies from the US, Australia and Ireland. In addition, we’re providing useful resources on wetland management, canal cleaning technology, and why local authorities are well-placed to try integrated water resources management (and what this means).

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This week's featured content

From snow that only melted yesterday:
Water management in Chicago

By Kim Fellows, LGIU

This week's article explores the importance of local waterways to Chicago’s development, how they are tackling ongoing challenges of water pollution, and some of the projects developed by local authorities to improve water management in and around the city.

This historical and personal exploration examines how Chicago continues to battle the physical and political consequences of its violent and polluting birth with dependence on the very same waterways that shaped it – and why local government is key to protecting that legacy.

LGIU Global Local Highlights


Recognising the importance of our uplands to our water supply
While Irish local government is losing many of its critical roles with the effective nationalisation of water and wastewater treatment, innovation in the management of critical areas of Ireland's uplands can be found, building upon best practice in local collaboration between Government bodies and local communities. Click here to read this briefing.

Urban wetlands for liveability, biodiversity and fighting climate change
This briefing looks at how the provision of green infrastructure, including urban waterways and wetlands, can both stimulate the economy through ‘building back greener’ at the same time as helping to mitigate climate change and biodiversity loss. Click here to read this briefing.

Becoming a water-sensitive city: lessons from the City of Gold Coast
This briefing explores City of Gold Coast's water strategy which articulates clear and tangible actions to be completed by 2024 and aligns them with long-term goal of becoming a water-sensitive city – moving into a sustainable future whilst maintaining its unique water-abundant lifestyle. Click here to read this briefing.

Innovation & Inspiration

Curated case studies and news from around the globe

Netherlands: Bubble barrier blocks plastic pollution 

The Westerdok Canal flows through Amsterdam to the North Sea, taking a significant amount of the city’s plastic waste with it. Yet in 2019, the local municipality and water authority commissioned The Great Bubble Barrier – a Dutch social enterprise – for an innovative solution: a “curtain of bubbles” that traps and directs rubbish to a catchment system. Likened to a jacuzzi, it doesn’t interfere with aquatic life or passing ships, and limits noise with a contained compressor 50 feet away. 86% of the waste that would normally reach fresh water is now caught and ready for recycling. Authorities are still reviewing The Great Bubble Barrier for larger applications, but it’s set for a trial in Portugal this summer, collecting plastic down the Porto region’s rivers. 
CNN | The Great Bubble Barrier

USA: Community-led activism keeps clean water in public hands 

Pittsburgh United – a group consisting of labour, faith and district leaders – has successfully fought for pledges on the city’s water supply, taking it away from private ownership. The Pittsburgh Water & Sewer Authority (PWSA) has agreed that community advisory committees will oversee quality, distribution and payment plans, as well as a moratorium on water shutoffs during winter. This is not only a hard-fought response to outdated infrastructure, but more notably, a private-sector contract that placed profit over the health of those it served. Internal discussions, social media groups and meetings with local officials all helped residents form a plan for public control. Pittsburgh United and PWSA’s alliance shows how roles for clean, reliable water management can take shape – an alternative to corporate monopoly. 


Mexico: Rainwater harvesting reaps rewards for environmental stability 

Mexico City is highly vulnerable to floods and droughts: two challenges that are worsening as the planet warms. But the city government’s Climate Action Programme and Local Climate Action Strategy 2020-2040 are revolutionising long-term defences against unstable conditions. Officials have struck a partnership with Isla Urbana, a non-profit organisation, to build and implement advanced rainwater harvesters. To date, over 21,000 harvesters have been installed, storing and disinfecting rain that falls on rooftops. This enables Mexico City’s households to become self-sufficient for five to eight months on average. Rangefinder data was used to scan roofs in at-risk neighbourhoods, helping the initiative target the best areas for its collection system.  
Knowledge Hub | Columbia Climate School

Policy & Resources

Case Study Bank: Global Water Partnership
Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) is a process that promotes the coordinated development and management of water, land and related resources in order to maximize economic and social welfare in an equitable manner without compromising the sustainability of vital ecosystems. This extensive global case study bank from the GWP’s IWRM Hub contains regional and local case studies filterable by theme, tool, and location –and even has the option to select and compare multiple case studies simultaneously.

Toolkit: Water Resilience Assessment Framework
Pacific Institute’s framework aims to facilitate a shared understanding of water system resilience and allow practitioners to develop common measurable goals and outcomes for stakeholder and resilience planning. It consists of four steps: visualizing the system; developing a resilience strategy; testing the resilience strategy; and evaluating.

Report: Fording the rapids: charting a course to fresher water
This report from the New Zealand Initiative argues for cap-and-trade approaches to freshwater management for cleaner rivers and aquifers. The report argues that a smart, catchment-level cap-and-trade market in water quality where farms and councils would be provided with traceable rights could lead to a durable, cost-effective system for freshwater protection.

Resources: Cap-Net’s ‘Knowledge for All’
This collection from the UNDP’s International Capacity Development Network for Sustainable Water Management (Cap-Net) contains publications on a breadth of topics from groundwater management to addressing flood and drought risks, including incorporating gendered, indigenous and human rights considerations into water management.

Thanks for reading!

Next week, we’ll be beginning the first in a monthly series on community engagement, this time with a focus on citizens' assemblies.

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