Natural Security: International Case Studies
There are many international examples of communities embracing sustainable water management approaches that will make them more resilient to climate change. The following case studies demonstrate some of the leading projects around the world.
Brisbane, Australia – Water Conservation
Since 2003 extreme drought has plagued much of Australia. Combined with rapid population growth, many parts of the country face major water supply challenges. In 2007, water levels in Brisbane’s main reservoir declined to 15% of capacity – a record low. In response, the Queensland Water Commission created a multi-faceted plan that includes conservation and efficiency initiatives and the development of new water projects. Under the plan, the Queensland government has provided rebates for high efficiency fixtures and appliances, enforced water restrictions, required businesses to submit water efficiency management plans and conducted a public education campaign.
The water savings campaign has been a great success. Between March 2007 and July 2008, when severe drought conditions forced drastic water use restrictions, per capita consumption in Southeast Queensland averaged 34 gallons per day compared to over 79 gallons per day prior to onset of the drought. Although restrictions have since eased, water consumption remains low, near 33 gallons per day.
The government is also expanding water supplies by investing in new water reclamation infrastructure. The Western Corridor Recycled Water Project will recycle wastewater from six different wastewater facilities. It will be the third largest water recycling facility in the world and will supply over 230 million liters of recycled water per day.
Netherlands – Natural Flood Protection
With over 25% of the country below sea level and much of the remaining area vulnerable to coastal and river flooding, the Netherlands has long struggled to protect itself from floods. The Dutch have invested nearly $2.5 trillion in dikes, dams, pumps and canals. Yet parts of the country remain at risk. In 1995, high waters threatened to overwhelm unstable levees, forcing over 250,000 people to evacuate their homes and causing over $1 billion in economic losses. Climate change will worsen the problem by raising sea levels and producing more frequent and severe storms. More rain is expected to fall in winter months, which will raise water levels in the Meuse and Rhine rivers and could overwhelm flood defenses. The consequences of failing infrastructure would be disastrous to the livelihood and economy of the nation.
Faced with this daunting challenge, the Netherlands has adopted a sustainable flood control plan called Room for the River, which will lower some dikes, move others further inland and remove obstacles from rivers. The Dutch government is purchasing forty parcels of land along the rivers and allowing them to flood during high water rather than continuing to raise levees. Allowing upstream land to flood will decrease the pressure on downstream levees and reduce the risk of flooding in heavily populated areas.
The Netherlands is also working with neighboring countries to restore riparian corridors. Since 2003, German and Dutch organizations have been working together to restore floodplains along the Rhine River. Over the past few years, 12 pilot projects have been planned or implemented in the two countries to reclaim historical floodplains. Through the “Freude am Fluss” program, universities, municipalities and other organizations in the Netherlands, France and Germany are working to forge a new approach to managing flood risk by improving land use planning and restoring floodplains.
Germany – Green Infrastructure
Germany is widely considered to be the global leader in the development and use of green roof technologies. Since pioneering the modern green roof in the 1970s, Germany has developed a booming industry worth $77 million per year. More than 10% of all flat roofs throughout the country are vegetated. About 14 million square meters of green roofs are installed every year and the industry continues to grow 10% to 15% every year.
Germany has encouraged green roof construction through a variety of requirements and incentives. On the federal level, regulations require developers to compensate for damage to the natural environment through projects such as green roof installation. On the local level, over 80 municipal governments promote green roof construction through incentives or regulations. In Stuttgart, for example, the city subsidizes up to 30% of the material and labor costs for green roof installation. Thirteen cities provide 50%-80% reductions in stormwater fees for construction of the vegetated systems. In Berlin, buildings that pave over a certain amount of ground must install a green roof in order to obtain permission to build.
Germany’s long history with green roofs has demonstrated the many benefits they can provide to communities. Green roofs in Berlin have been found to absorb 75% of rainfall, greatly reducing runoff into sewers. Other studies in the country have found that they provide habitat for numerous insect and bird species. As other countries begin to follow suit, Germany remains an example of the great potential of green roofs.