Written by: Andrea Kopaskie, undergraduate student at The University of North Carolina, where she is pursuing a degree in Environmental Science with a concentration in energy and sustainability

image of illustrated city to represent Envisioning the Future of Water: Three Lessons about Water Management Learned from One City

In March, the UNC Institute for the Environment hosted the Clean Tech Summit, a multi-day event in which students and professionals convene and foster leadership and discussion among the Southeast’s clean tech industry. Many summit panels incorporated and focused on the topic of water management in all its forms: drinking water, stormwater, and wastewater.

During the Smart Cities Day, a pre-summit workshop, the idea of one water management was emphasized. Panelists stressed the importance of interconnected systems, especially in relation to water. The one water management movement involves operating water management systems in a conjunctive and integrative manner. It recognizes the interdependence of our water supply reservoirs and the importance of utilizing smart systems to track the movement of water.

Not far from UNC Chapel Hill, the City of Charlotte, NC is making big changes to incorporate the one water management system. In order to reduce water consumption and more effectively manage water availability, the initiative called Envision Charlotte was born. This initiative does not solely focus on water consumption, but nonetheless, Charlotte has committed itself to address the issue of sustainable management of its liquid resources.

The master plan created by Catawba-Wateree Water Management Group in 2014 incorporates several baseline scenarios and other scenarios that improve upon existing water management strategies. By measuring population growth and climate change, along with integrating current water supply infrastructure and past drought data, the plan concluded that the City of Charlotte is predicted to reach unsustainable water use by 2060. Measured in water supply capacity, water consumption levels would reach an unsafe level causing overall system failure in fewer than 50 years.

Envision Charlotte aims to alter their route and hopes to achieve long-term sustainable water use. Proposed management strategies of the master plan include reducing water use, improving drought response, and expanding water availability. If implemented, these strategies would extend water sustainability by 40 additional years, or through 2100.

In all, the three lessons learned from Charlotte’s Master Plan and the Clean Tech Summit are:

  1. Consider the triple bottom line: people, planet, profit.
  2. Technologies can and should be adapted to all areas, both urban and rural. The idea of creating smart cities emphasizes social equity. More effectively managing resources is important for all people and improves overall human wellbeing.
  3. Effective utilization of information is key. Data collection can better support community resilience, help set targets (i.e. developing water reduction and management strategies), and create dynamic and adaptable systems. This is good for both our planet and profit.

Charlotte is not alone, as many urban centers are threatened by depleted lakes, rivers, and aquifers. According to a study completed by the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, cities in southern California, southern Nevada, and the Front Range of Colorado are especially vulnerable to problems associated with water systems under stress.

Check out the Envision Charlotte website for more information on its proposed energy, waste, and air conservation programs.