November 26, 2014--Five cities where ‘natural infrastructure’ improved the water supply (Next City)

Where does your city’s water come from? The question is simple but, as with food or energy, many of us don’t know the answer. Beyond faucets, pipes and municipal treatment facilities, the average H2O consumer probably isn’t aware of all the rivers and lakes that form her vast watershed. A new project by The Nature Conservancy could change that. Titled the Urban Water Blueprint, it maps dozens of city watersheds and makes a compelling argument for a greener approach to engineering the flow to our tap. Instead of relying on costly capital projects to filter sediments and pollution, urban officials should invest in the “natural infrastructure” of riverbanks, forests and farmlands that affect the quality and quantity of their water before it even reaches city boundaries. According to Daniel Shemie, one of the project’s architects, a growing number of agencies are gravitating toward this upstream “treatment.” “Utilities are generally aware of where their water comes from,” he says, adding that many realize it’s not just better for watershed health to address pollution and sediment at the source —  it’s also cheaper. Here are five cities from the massive report that successfully utilize their watershed’s natural infrastructure to purify and conserve. From Santa Fe’s fire prevention strategies to San Diego’s farm incentives, these regions benefit from a number of low-tech but highly creative solutions.

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