Saturday, 6 September 2014

The Circular Economy ... and looking after our water at a local level

During this year's set of hearings on the draft Local Plan, concerns were expressed at the lack of attention given the myriad issues around that most important resource of all - water:
Futures Forum: Public Examination of the New East Devon Local Plan ... CLIMATE CHANGE

Last year saw the Sustainability Shield go to a student at Sidmouth College for a project on water:
Futures Forum: SVEAG Sustainability Shield: presentation to Sidmouth College: the report
Olympian hand out Sidmouth Sustainability Shield - Education - Sidmouth Herald

Meanwhile, there have been one or two 'water-issues' in Sidmouth:
Futures Forum: Sidmouth and sewage

And in Budleigh Salterton, there has been discussion about how more development will strain the infrastructure:

Cllr A L Jones asked if there had been a response from South West Water (SWW) regarding the amount of lorries transporting sewerage from the town.
The Clerk said she had not received a response and would send a chaser to SWW.
Cllr Richards added when he had been Town Mayor he had contacted SWW about the same thing and the response had been that SWW took each application on its merits.
Cllr Jones said he was not talking about planning, he was just concerned that the town’s system was not suitable to handle everything.

Budleigh Salterton Town Council - planning - 30sep13

Indeed, there have been concerns about how the local sewerage system will cope - and that the danger of polluting the sea will increase with every extra inhabitant of the area...
Budleigh Salterton needs action to meet new bathing water standards - Press releases - GOV.UK
Beach at Budleigh Salterton could fail water tests | Western Morning News
Beaches excluded from guide book - News - Exmouth Journal

See also:
BeachLive - Beach Live

Meanwhile, an international conference has just closed:
World Water Week in Stockholm | Stockholm International Water Institute
2014 World Water Week in Stockholm

Rob Hopkins of the Transition Network has been to California and has been impressed with what they've been up to:

Putting a stop to water waste: why local initiatives are key

Cities facing drought can generate water and jobs by planting trees, and installing tanks and rainwater harvesting systems

Rob Hopkins theguardian.com, Friday 22 August 2014 09.52 BST
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Cistern fences can store 5000 gallons of water, and could help form a decentralised reservoir system. Photograph: Rob Hopkins

Los Angeles imports 89% of its water. Every year it spends over $350m (£211m) disposing of the perfectly acceptable rainwater that falls upon it, water valued at between $300-400m. At the same time, it spends $785m importing the water it needs from many miles away, a process that uses the largest amount of electricity in California.

Meanwhile, here in the UK, as the climate warms the likelihood of drought is increasing. If the raised beds in my garden are anything to go by, this is turning out to be a very dry summer already. A recent Water Resources Management paper by researcher Muhammad Rahiz and Professor Mark New, looked at future drought trends and concluded that “both drought intensity and the spatial extent of droughts in the UK are projected by these climate models to increase into the future”. The South East of England is of particular concern.

Perhaps we should be looking to places where drought is a more regular fact of life, for inspiration for how to develop a more resilient relationship with water. Although LA may lack a coherent city-wide strategy for rethinking its water system, it doesn’t lack people working on solutions. Andy Lipkis has spent 20 years looking at LA in its wider context as a water catchment. California is currently suffering an historic drought, the worst for 500 years, which has brought to the fore many of the issues thatTreePeople, the organisation he founded over 40 years ago, has been working on for years. With support for widespread conservation slow to emerge, and growing pressure for energy-intensive desalination plants which can cost up to $4bn a piece as the solution, Lipkis visited Australia to see what lessons could be learnt from the country’s recent 12-year drought.

Rather than the linear thinking that underpins LA, Australian cities such as Adelaide have started to think of themselves more as forest ecosystems. When rain falls on a forest, the impact of its fall is broken by the trees. An oak tree with a 100ft canopy can hold more than 57,000 gallons of water just in its rootmat, like a sponge, and more in its leaves which act almost as a floating lake. Flooding downhill is reduced, water is filtered and aquifers are replenished. Could our cities shift their relationship with rainwater in this direction? Rather than seeing rainfall as a problem, might each downpour be the opportunity to capture and store as much of it as possible?

This was the approach taken in Australia. People were incentivised toharvest and store rainwater, with tanks and cisterns being heavily discounted. As a result, 45% of homes in Adelaide now have rainwater harvesting. In Brisbane, average water use fell from 80 gallons per person per day to 33. In Sydney, the installation of water cisterns is one of the sustainability changes required in order to get planning consent for changes to existing buildings.

The ‘cistern fence’ is set deeply into the ground, giving it extra capacity. Image: Rob Hopkins

Back in LA, Lipkis tells me: “Essentially the model we’re intending to overlay onto the city is a model of how a forest ecosystem works, within which all energy, all water, all nutrients are recycled.” It’s an approach which, he argues, could create 50,000 new jobs. TreePeople are busy working towards a target of LA generating 50% of its own water (today it’s 11%) through unpaving neighbourhoods, planting trees, installing tanks and rainwater harvesting systems.

So where do the garden fences come in? One of the strategies TreePeople is promoting is the ‘cistern fence’, replacing garden fences with long thin water tanks. 100 feet of cistern fence could hold 5,000 gallons of water. While not yet available, Lipkis proposes that these tanks be made in the city using locally recycled plastic. “The key innovation I’m promoting is to have the tanks electronically networked with remote control technology so you can have a fully decentralised system, but manage it very nimbly as a huge networked reservoir – making it functional for water supply, flood protection and stormwater quality protection. The technology now exists to network one million tanks as a single system,” he tells me.

It’s this decentralised thinking that is increasingly coming to the fore. Does it make more sense to build large power stations, or local networks of interlinked renewable energy systems combined with ambitious energy conservation? Similarly, does it make more sense to build new reservoirs, or even – as was proposed during the UK’s last drought – a pipeline from Scotland heading south? Or would smaller distributed ‘reservoirs’ in hundreds of thousands of gardens make more sense?

Lipkis believes that great things are possible. Indeed, as he puts it, “A new, resilient, local water supply is not only possible, it’s beginning to happen.” Cistern fences as standard in all new-build housing developments in the UK? It may not be as far away as you might think. I’ll drink to that.

Putting a stop to water waste: why local initiatives are key | Life and style | theguardian.com

These ideas are linked to the notion of the 'circular economy':

The Next Big Paradigm Shift: From Linear to Circular Economy, The Water-Energy-Resources Nexus

The linear economy is reaching the limits of a finite supply of resources, including water and energy. Circular economy thinking offers promising new perspectives for a renewed social and economic dynamic, where population and economic growth are balanced with environmental protection.

Moving away from the traditional consumptive models requires an increase in recycling and reuse of materials and water. It also demands creativity to overcome the divide between industry and community, and the silos of water, energy and resource management. Exploring such largely untouched spaces will make it possible to transform the mismatch between resources and growth into an exciting new economic, social and environmental revolution. In order to achieve this, we need to change our thinking and address these issues in a collaborative manner.

The Next Big Paradigm Shift: From Linear to Circular Economy, The Water-Energy-Resources Nexus | World Water Week
The similarity between circular economy and water stewardship | Guardian Sustainable Business | theguardian.com

See also:
Futures Forum: The Circular Economy
Circular Economy - Ellen MacArthur Foundation

And in the news:
Use and reuse: the real zero effect economy - Hindustan Times
EU to set resource productivity target | Resource Magazine
Circular economy theme for the Scottish Resources Conference 2014 | Resource Magazine

And from the industry:
Welcome to the circular economy—where objects never die - Quartz
Packaging Europe News - Resource to Unearth Emerging Circular Economy Innovators with the 'Launch Pad'
Circular economy expert appointed to supervisory board of Desso

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