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Integrating Water Infrastructure in a New Paradigm for Sustainable, Resilient Communities

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The advancement toward more sustainable communities continues to gather strength as business and government plan for continued CO2 reduction, designers and developers embrace green building principles, reclaimed water use increases, and green infrastructure gains favor particularly in urban areas seeking to reduce wet weather flows. With green building in particular, the development industry already appears to be making the transition to a new paradigm of sustainable practices. However, the current emphasis is generally on green building rating systems – achieving LEED certification, in particular - and may be problematic from a water management perspective. Because green building rating systems focus on prescribed design features and practices, priority sustainability needs for the watershed may go unaddressed despite achieving LEED certification. Without a paradigm that places land and water infrastructure development design in the context of sustainable community and watershed needs, the nation risks moving further away from its sustainability goals.

Research conducted for the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) under a grant from the Water Environment Research Foundation (WERF) is aimed at identifying the foundation and support structure for sustainable water infrastructure at the community and watershed scale. For this project, the communities of Tucson-Pima County AZ and Northern Kentucky along with an expert advisory panel were recruited to participate in a retreat to flesh out ideas for a new water infrastructure paradigm.

The research team and its community and expert advisory panel representatives identified key principles that provide a foundation for a new paradigm for sustainable water infrastructure. The principles contrast with past and current practices and include: valuing all water as a resource, moving toward a performance-based regulatory framework, aspiring toward better outcomes, and recognizing true costs while maximizing the value of action. A framework for supporting this new sustainable water infrastructure paradigm has been developed and includes as core elements an integrated planning structure that connects institutional entities that are currently often siloed, a technical toolbox to use in the context of performance-based requirements at the watershed and community scale, regulatory flexibility to encourage innovation and affect better outcomes, research and demonstration to build knowledge and capacity, new partnerships and funding mechanisms, and a variety of means for engaging the community stakeholders to broaden support and affect better outcomes.

This paper presents a summary of the results of this research and shares recommendations for advancing a sustainable water infrastructure paradigm. Community case studies are used as examples to illustrate the principles and supportive framework.
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Keywords: framework for supporting sustainable communities; integrated technological architectures; new paradigm; sustainability principles; sustainable water infrastructure

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 01 January 2010

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