Knowledge sharing to overcoming urban water challenges 

City at nightWorld cities have no time to waste in working together on clearly defined solutions to long-term water issues, international water researchers warn. 

Principal Scientist Kees van Leeuwen from the KWR Watercycle Research Institute said the window of time to implement a smarter urban approach was “narrow and rapidly closing”.

“The longer political leaders wait, the more expensive adaptation will become and the danger to citizens and the economy will increase,” van Leeuwen said.

“This together with the high costs for water infrastructure and its maintenance make water a high priority, where procrastination … will not do.”

Van Leeuwen's recent paper recommended city-to-city learning as the most efficient way to improve urban water-cycle services.

“The challenges require a multi-level water governance approach, a long-term strategy, a bottom-up approach and collaboration among cities and regions,” he said.

“Cities are encouraged to participate in learning alliances to actively share knowledge and experiences on implementation of state-of-the-art technologies (city-to-city learning).”

The paper outlines that urban water management challenges are a global issue, with key challenges relating to water scarcity and sanitisation expected to worsen with population growth and climate change. 

“Cities are concentrated centres of production, consumption and waste,” the paper states.

“This creates enormous pressure not only on water supply, solid waste recycling and wastewater treatment, but also on nature and the built environment too, including soil, air and water pollution.”

Water scarcity is expected to increase to a 40% supply shortage by 2030, with unforeseen effects of climate change having the potential to worsen global sanitation issues and water hazards. 

The pressure is growing with as population increases, with the global population expected to be 67% urban in 2050.

The paper, co-written with KWR Researcher Stef Koop, highlighted the relevance of cities in producing more than 80% of gross world product, and advocated for developing a cohesive set of long-term objectives.

Van Leeuwen said realigning water governance and institutions with this approach would be central to overcoming future challenges in urban water management. 

The upcoming Ozwater’16 will feature an array of speakers discussing Liveable & Sustainable Cities of the Future, including presentations from Bureau of Meteorology Urban Water Manager Matthew Hardy and Augira Consulting Director Robert Humphries. 

See the full program here.