Innovations in Infrastructure: Appreciating the Value of Water

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With the 2016 Summer Olympics in full swing, water quality is at the forefront of viewers’ minds. Obstacles of polluted water, trash and pollution-related illness are hindering the Olympic games and remind us all of how critical clean water and effective water treatment is to the health and welfare of society. In contrast to Brazil, our nation’s water quality remains very high, however our drinking water and wastewater infrastructure is in definite need of improvement. Fortunately, many have seen this as an opportunity for innovation.

Lawrence Technical University in Michigan is leading a multi-state demonstration project that focuses on using green infrastructure design that can reduce stormwater runoff from parking lots. According to the Great Lakes Stormwater Institute, around 90 to 95 percent of all rainwater that hits surfaces such as asphalt and concrete runs off into storm drains, pipes and water bodies with little to no treatment, depositing high concentrations of pollutants into a community’s water supplies. This project meets these issues by using penetrable replacements for asphalt in campus parking lots that will promote infiltration down into the soil as opposed to having mass amounts of runoff into the water systems. The key component in this project is applying green infrastructure to mimic the natural hydrology of a site.

In addition to innovative uses of green infrastructure to help manage stormwater, there have been other successful projects addressing water quality and infrastructure. A prime example is the ISI Envision Award-winning Brooklyn Wastewater Treatment Plant upgrade. New York City has had many instances of not properly dealing with wastewater and pollution in its rivers, harbors and bays. In an effort to change that, the New York City Department of Environmental Protection invested $150 million in upgrading the city’s wastewater treatment plant to more effectively receive, clean and disinfect up to 170 million gallons of combined sanitary and stormwater flow each day. The upgrade also aimed to increase resiliency against flooding, improve reliability and protect the ecological health of Jamaica Bay.

While these are only two examples of successful water infrastructure projects, they represent the power of innovation to meet very real infrastructure needs. As seen in Brazil, water quality is critical to a functioning society and therefore worthy of investing time, energy and creativity towards improving it.

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