American Rivers names Seattle one of nation’s top ‘water wise’ communities
Report shows how city is using sustainable water strategies to prepare for climate changeSeptember 17th, 2009
Amy Kober, 206-213-0330 x23 or Will Hewes, 202-347-7550
Washington, DC — American Rivers today named Seattle as one of the nation’s top “water wise” communities protecting clean water and public health with innovative green solutions. The city was chosen for its cost-effective water conservation and efficiency measures. The report, “Natural Security: how sustainable water strategies are preparing communities for a changing climate,” comes as Congress is gearing up to consider a climate bill including so-called “adaptation measures” that will help communities get ready for the floods, droughts, and waterborne diseases that come with global warming.
“We are at a transformational moment for our nation’s rivers and water infrastructure, and Seattle is forging the path to a healthier, more secure future,” said Rebecca Wodder, president of American Rivers.
Population growth in the Seattle metropolitan area has strained water supplies during the past several decades. To maintain a consistent supply and ensure enough water remains in streams for ecosystem health, Seattle Public Utilities has undertaken a number of water conservation and efficiency measures. The city has reduced water consumption by 26 percent and per capita water use by 33 percent since 1990. Combined with protecting the lands surrounding drinking water sources and taking a flexible approach to planning, water efficiency and conservation measures will allow Seattle to maintain a safe and consistent supply of water even as rising temperatures reduce the snowpack that the city relies on to fill its reservoirs.
Other water-smart communities include:
• Portland, Oregon’s “green street”, eco-roof and downspout disconnection programs, combined with other investments, will dramatically reduce sewage overflows.
• Boston, Massachusetts protected wetlands along the Charles River and as a result saves $40 million in flood damage every year.
• Clayton County, Georgia beat the drought with an innovative water recycling system.
• Soldiers Grove, Wisconsin moved 49 homes and businesses out of the floodplain to higher ground, and now enjoys better protection from floods.
• Staten Island, New York uses streams and wetlands to help transport and treat stormwater runoff.
• Augusta, Maine is enjoying improved water quality, healthier fish and wildlife and better recreation, thanks to the 1999 removal of Edwards Dam.
• Grand Junction, Colorado is cleaning up and reclaiming its rivers as social, economic, and recreational amenities.
“These cities recognize that there is more to water infrastructure than big pipes, dams and levees. They see the value of natural infrastructure like healthy rivers, forests, and wetlands and they are proving that by helping nature, we actually help ourselves. The successes of these water-smart communities prove that green solutions like floodplain restoration and water efficiency are often cheaper, more reliable, and more effective than traditional approaches,” Wodder said.
Even with the most aggressive and successful greenhouse gas reduction efforts, climate change will have profound impacts on the nation’s communities. These impacts will hit rivers and freshwater first and worst. Rising temperatures and changing precipitation patterns will threaten both the quality and quantity of water supplies for drinking, agriculture, and municipal use. Floods will become more frequent and severe. Drought-induced wildfires will threaten communities. The risk of waterborne diseases will rise.
Each of the communities showcased in “Natural Security” is reaping the benefits of green infrastructure – an approach to water management that works with nature, not against it, and has three critical components:
1. Protect healthy landscapes, like forests and small streams, that naturally sustain clean water supplies.
2. Restore degraded landscapes like floodplains and wetlands so they can better store flood water and recharge streams and aquifers.
3. Repair natural water systems in urban settings to capture and use water more wisely, and prevent stormwater and sewage pollution.
“We need a fundamental shift in the way our country manages water,” said Wodder. “This report provides a blueprint for how communities can make the shift away from expensive, unreliable, outdated approaches of the past and toward 21st century solutions that benefit people and the environment.”