Fighting Drought with Stormwater: From Research to Practice
The worsening water crisis in California comes at a time when engineers, architects, planners, elected officials, and managers are ill-prepared to design, build, and maintain urban water infrastructure responsive to the many challenges that lie ahead. Deeply ingrained "tried and true" approaches for buffering against historical climate variability and population growth-augmenting water supply by building reservoirs, pipelines, and desalination plants, for example-are energy and carbon intensive, disrupt ecosystem health and function, and may diminish a society's overall resilience to water supply disruptions and changing patterns of precipitation. The water challenges facing California demand creative, low energy, multi-disciplinary, and multi-benefit approaches for sustaining adequate water resources. Southern California's stormwater drainage system, in particular, is ripe for innovation. Like many urban areas around the world, cities in Southern California are underlain with a network of pipes that rapidly convey stormwater runoff from the urban landscape to streams, lakes, and the coastal ocean. These conventional drainage systems-technically known as municipal separate storm sewer systems or "MS4s"-were built for a good reason. By reducing local evapotranspiration and infiltration, urbanization increases the risk of flooding during storms; MS4s counter the risk by quickly moving stormwater away from cities. Unfortunately, they also cause enormous environmental harm. MS4s are a leading cause of surface water impairments in the US and a primary driver of the so-called "urban stream syndrome", a constellation of water quality, ecological, and geomorphic symptoms often observed in urban streams. The hidden costs of MS4s-measured in human and ecosystem health, as well as pollution cleanup and abatement, are staggering. Eliminating fecal pollution discharged to Southern California's iconic ocean beaches alone could cost taxpayers over $100 billion. MS4s also "throw away" a precious resource. By one estimate, harvesting stormwater runoff in Los Angeles would provide enough water for one-third of the city's nearly 4 million residents. In this project a multi-disciplinary team of senior, mid-career, and early-career researchers from the five southern California UC campuses have joined forces to catalyze a revolution in the form and function of urban stormwater infrastructure in Southern California and beyond, transforming it from a leading cause of environmental degradation into a multi-functional green system that augments urban water supply, protects human and ecosystem health, minimizes flood risk, and ensures public safety.
February 23, 2018
Checkley Production and Media