Imagine a Day Without Water. It’s hard to do. From the moment you wake up, most of your your everyday routines wouldn't be possible: the water you’d need to brush your teeth, make your coffee, eat your breakfast, and shower. Not to mention most of your belongings that wouldn't be possible- your cotton sheets,  plastic toothbrush, and laptop.

October 10, 2018 is the fourth annual Imagine a Day Without Water campaign. Intended to remind everyone of the essential value of water to our lives and communities, this campaign also highlights the need for strong infrastructure and a robust support network of utilities and cities essential to ensuring that we receive clean, reliable water every single day.

Severe drought, intensified flooding, and compromised water quality are becoming more common across the United States, meaning that for many, A Day Without Water may not seem that far off. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Green and distributed water infrastructure programs are an essential strategy for cities to develop integrated, sustainable water portfolios, now and into the future. These programs are often significantly cheaper than traditional built infrastructure, easier to build and maintain, and can enhance existing benefits from the natural environment, increasing climate resiliency, protecting our environmental resources, and promoting healthy and safe communities.

Check out the examples below for examples of successful programs that cities have implemented to meet their water needs, and the ways in which we can collectively ensure that a Day without Water never comes.

Water Supply

The looming deadline of Cape Town’s Day Zero dominated headlines this year. California and much of the West are in drought again, leading some experts to call this new normal in the West not just drought, but "aridification". Concern about water supply is strong and growing, and the public is beginning to understand that we need to change our relationship to water. The future is likely to be characterized by less water, not more, and one of the best ways to ensure water supply in the future is to save it now, which is why water efficiency and conservation programs are so important.

Rebate programs for high-efficiency home appliances and fixtures are a relatively simple and effective option to help lower water use for all. Despite increasing populations, Los Angeles’s water use has remained relatively steady over the past 20 years, due in large part to WaterSmart fixtures and toilets.

Other rebate programs like “cash for grass”/turf replacement programs have been incredibly successful in enabling communities to reduce their outdoor water consumption. The Southern Nevada Water Authority has one of the most robust turf replacement programs in the country, and over the past 20 years has been able to remove 185 million square feet of grass, saving over 119 billion gallons of water.  

Water Quality

Since the water crisis in Flint, MI in 2015, water quality has been on many people’s minds. But pollutants can enter waterways through many sources, including stormwater and wastewater. Stormwater is a ubiquitous problem and can lead to increased pollution, flooding, and treatment plant costs. Green stormwater management has been one of the most commonly adopted solutions to this problem throughout the county.

The City of Lancaster, PA invested heavily in distributed infrastructure (DI) to address their stormwater challenges. The city had combined stormwater and sewer systems, with chronic combined sewer overflow issues and was under consent decree by the EPA due to discharge pollutants in local rivers and streams. Lancaster had been investing in traditional gray infrastructure to deal with these issues but in 2009 they realized that it was going to cost more than $300 million to continue on this path, mainly due to the cost of increasing the capacity of their conveyance and treatment infrastructure. So the City decided to consider greener alternatives.

Today, Lancaster has completed numerous GI projects - permeable pavement, park upgrades, and conversion to community gardens - reducing their discharges by an average of 529 million gallons/year and saving on expensive treatment and overflow costs. You can read more about the success of this program here.

DI Solutions
There are many examples of how green and distributed infrastructure options have already met the individual needs of communities around the country. Traditional gray infrastructure is essential, but to ensure that we truly are able to meet the needs of the future, it’s also essential that cities and utilities have all options at their disposal to drive home the value of water with their customers and to ensure a secure water future for us all. DI programs encompass all this, and include permeable pavements, green roofs, rain gardens, smart meters, drought-tolerant landscaping, leak detection devices, water efficient appliances, graywater systems, rainwater catchment, point-of-use water treatment and more.

For many communities, developing DI program has been hindered by their inability to pay for them. Many utilities believe that they have to pay for green and distributed infrastructure programs out of operating cash, limiting their ability to invest. This is no longer the case.

As we recently shared on our website, a new financing clarification has opened the door to capital financing opportunities for these programs. You can read more about the clarification here, but the important takeaway is that this means that communities now have the ability to spend at far greater scale on DI initiatives than they would if limited to annual cash from operating budgets.

Tapping this opportunity to scale up distributed infrastructure strategies is a key strategy to ensuring we never have to see a Day Without Water.

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Here at WaterNow, we know and understand the importance of water and the need to maintain sustainable resources, now and into the future. Is your community working to promote a sustainable water future and to educate residents on the value of water? Share your story with us at [email protected]

You can also check out these additional resources on how to share the value of water in your own community.

  • Check out the Imagine a Day without Water website to find ways you can sign up to participate
  • For social media graphics, check out some free images to share here. Be sure to use the #ValueWater hashtag.
  • AWWA is sharing images and resources that can be used to engage with consumers about the value of water and its importance to daily lives and everyday products.
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