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Water and climate change: Resiliency is key

April 23, 2020

Earth Day, every day: 3 ways Stantec is helping communities to manage resources and risks

By Glen Hadiardja, Steve Mathies

Our world’s water supplies are increasingly under threat from pollution, overuse, and environmental factors, including climate change. Here, we share three ways smart planning and design can make the most of this finite, and powerful, resource.

1. We’re pioneering sustainable models for water use

November 2019. The world reacted in horror: a single koala rescued from one of the most devastating Australia wildfires in memory. The fires on our world’s driest populated continent resulted from extreme drought conditions. 11 million hectares (27.2 million acres) burnt. One billion animals killed.

This wasn’t Australia’s first drought. In the early 2000s, the Millennium drought meant there wasn’t enough water to supply most of the country’s major cities or support crop production. Watering restrictions were issued. Farmers were paid to leave their land, shutting up shop on lifelong careers.

Then a property developer, The Peet Group, had an idea. What if they could make their newest inland residential community, Googong, drought-resilient? Our team shared the vision and began to plan, design, and deliver an integrated water cycle (IWC) system that would use 60% less potable water than towns of a similar size.

Creating a newer, greener type of town

When you look around Googong today, you see a growing community with schools, shops, and other amenities. Just a decade ago, it was nothing but farmland. Googong is 13 miles southeast of Canberra, Australia’s capital city. Near a proposed high-speed rail line linking the city with Melbourne and Sydney, its location draws residents looking for an alternative to city life.

Something else catching people’s interest? A whole lot of green. Googong’s lushness is owed to the township’s ambitious plan to recycle wastewater and rainwater. These water sources will be supplementary to the town’s municipal drinking water supply and used in place of treated water for irrigation, toilet flushing, and firefighting. As a result, the community has created lush parks and community gardens—a rare luxury in Australian towns.

Water is a resource we can’t afford to waste. Googong’s water recycling plant is just one piece of the communities integrated water cycle system.

Turning on the water

Stantec and the Peet Group will soon launch Googong’s recycled water reticulation system. This system will connect the town’s 5,000 residents to the recycled water supply. The teams have worked more than 15 years to reach this proud moment. 

And the work isn’t over. The town’s population is expected to grow to more than 18,000 by 2035. Next up? Finding ways to meet the growing water demand and strengthen Googong’s drought-resistance and resiliency in the face of worsening climate change.

2. We’re helping communities stay ahead of the storms

Many thought they’d lived through the storm of a lifetime when Hurricane Betsy hit the Gulf Coast in 1965. Then along came Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The storm flooded more than 80% of New Orleans and was responsible for nearly 2,000 fatalities. Many residents left town with only an overnight bag—expecting to be away for a couple days. But it was months before most returned. And not to the same city they’d left.

Returning home—to an almost-unrecognizable city

A lasting memory? The smell. Famous for its Creole and Cajun cuisine, now rotting garbage, spoiled food, and deteriorating plants filled the air miles before entering the city.

The storm had changed the city in other ways, too. The population plummeted by more than two-thirds. Parks were devoid of children and laughter. Birds and insects were noticeably absent. Life, animal and human, is the heart and soul of any city, and those were missing. For those who returned after Katrina, finding ways to live with the ever-present threat of tropical storms isn’t an abstraction. Always being prepared for the next storm—is the rallying cry for residents to protect their city and distinctive way of life.

The National Institute of Building Sciences claims that for every $1 spent on hazard mitigation, the US can save $6 in future disaster recovery costs.

Looking toward a better tomorrow

To help New Orleans prepare, local Stantec team members, with support from global colleagues, have helped federal, state, and local government execute several flood risk reduction projects, including:

  • The Permanent Canal Closures and Pumps Project (PCCP) simultaneously built three new pump stations that, when combined with the city’s existing infrastructure, provides New Orleans with the largest drainage capacity of any system in the world
  • A range of blue-green infrastructure projects that provide drainage, as well as community play spaces and other amenities, to better support climate adaptation and stormwater management within urban areas
  • The Mid-Breton Sediment Diversion Project will divert water and sediment from the Mississippi River to deteriorating marshes, will help preserve Louisiana’s coastal landscape while buffering communities from storm surge. Like PCCP, the Mid-Breton project is the largest of its type in the world.

After Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, an influx of young architects and engineers have descended on New Orleans, eager to be part of the rebirth of this beloved city. Now that resurgence is happening. The city has transformed. Locals have returned. Abandoned corridors have become parks. Bike paths have sprung up across the city. In New Orleans, the city has rebounded from devastation to prosperity as a result of the actions the community has taken in the face of disaster.

3. We’re improving efficiencies to make every drop count

About 10 years ago, Stantec’s Research team began to investigate how different approaches to energy management might help water utilities achieve cost and energy savings, as well as operational sustainability.

A common theme was clear. Big data was going to be important in the effort to help utilities shift from traditional reactive, data-driven decision-making to a real-time, proactive decision-making approach. A holistic methodology to energy data management would be critical.

Water utilities were eager to digitize and automate their own infrastructure and operations. Yet, many didn’t know how. Now, Stantec is embarking on a water research study to give water utilities a starting point.

Water utilities are anticipated to invest $8.3 billion in smart infrastructure over the next 10 years to satisfy the need for modernization.

Becoming a digital water utility—and the steps to get there

Often, many organizations begin their technology journey in a piecemeal fashion. Not considering the long-term viability or operator usability. The best approach? Take a step back. A utility needs to first map out their business process to understand how each tool or technology solution fits within the organization’s overall data and information architecture.

This new research will help paint a picture of what a successful digital utility looks like at all levels of the water utility enterprise. It will also provide concrete actions utilities can take to better digitize their operations and future-proof their technology platform. The Stantec team will conduct surveys and facilitate workshops with more than two dozen water utilities and companies around the world.

What makes this unique? One outcome will be a digital maturity tool. This will help a utility create a digital transformation program to achieve strategic priorities such as infrastructure resiliency and reliability, operational efficiency, environmental and financial stewardship, and workforce empowerment and engagement.

Understanding water as an essential element for any smart city

The benefits of smart utility transformation are far-reaching. Greater asset visibility helps utilities make better decisions about many aspects of their operations—from the energy they consume to the chemicals they employ. Maximizing resource efficiency to meeting regulatory compliance.

Cities achieve the best results from digitization and digitalization when they are able to unite the people, process, and technology solutions for water, transportation, public works, government, and more. This level of insight will be essential in addressing climate change.

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