Slowing the flow
Issued: 16 Feb 2018

Matt Damon in “The Martian” was testament to the importance of water, and ingenuity, for survival with limited resources. But how can thinking of cities as a human with a fast metabolic rate help find better solutions here on earth?

Matt Damon in “The Martian” was testament to the importance of water, and ingenuity, for survival with limited resources. But how can thinking of cities as a human with a fast metabolic rate help find better solutions here on earth?

Steven Kenway from The University of Queensland gives us food for thought on water storage in our cities

Modern cities are not well designed when it comes to water. In Australia for example, most water rushes through the city with a single use like a Baby Born feeding doll. Everything that goes in, comes out again… and fast.

Of every 100 Litres supplied, only 5 are recycled. Of the rain that falls directly on our cities a lot less than one percent is harvested. If our cities were designed to be less wasteful of this water, then less water infrastructure would be needed, and costs of water could decrease.

Now, nearly three years since I first described how Australian cities perform like a Baby Born, a report for the Co-operative Research Centre (CRC) for Water Sensitive Cities creates a clearer way for city authorities to quantify “urban water performance”. And they have initiated a research project, with strong industry engagement, to look at how we can plan for the significant challenge of urban growth.

As Australia’s population is forecast to double by 2060, most new homes will be built within existing urban areas. This is creating tremendous challenges for livability, and also for water. As the “skin” of the city hardens into concrete and tin, the rate of stormwater runoff accelerates. There is also less evaporative cooling, less vegetation and shade, less “natural” waterways and overall less natural recreational-space and amenities.

Improving metabolism

Better planning and management of development can provide solutions. We are working with industry and government to help improve the “metabolic performance” of the city by slowing water flow and helping to reduce related energy use. We are looking to include in our plans for future cities more:

  • more green areas that allow water to soak into the ground
  • less artificial structures that don’t allow water to pass through
  • more ways to re-use stormwater (and wastewater).

A new report released discusses phase two of the project — the application of the work into water metabolism in three cities in Australia.

Ways to get involved

Read the CRC report to learn about “metabolic performance” and how different it is from the way authorities, utilities and most professionals currently look at water.

Talk about and question “how efficient” your own city is.

Check out the CRC website or contact s.kenway@uq.edu.au if your work is related and you want to help “slow the water flow”.

Australian cities can, and must, be more water-innovative. The significant growth forecast for our cities will put this to the test. Can our cities learn from science and grow up — and no longer be like a Baby Born?

Thanks to Associate Professor Kenway for his blog to help us promote the great science happening in Queensland. If you’d like to submit a blog email info@chiefscientist.qld.gov.au. And don’t forget to follow us on Queensland Science Facebook.