Saving water and repairing roads isn’t sexy . . .

. . . but the money saved can go toward sexy urban amenities

waterTORONTO, ON Sep 28, 2015/ Troy Media/ – As they say in TV newscasts, the following images may be disturbing for some viewers. It will be worse for readers with vivid imaginations. But now that I’m in to my third sentence, you have fair warning.

I chose to drive down the Wonderful One Highway in California one Christmas about 45 years ago (I know, I look too young). In my mind’s ear Paul Simon is singing “Cloudy, the sky is grey and white and Cloudy . . . From Tolstoy to Tinker Bell/Down from Berkeley to Carmel . . ..” It’s a great drive.

I visited an old Professor in Berkeley and then drove to Carmel and further down to William Randolph Hearst’s castle in San Simeon, and then on to Los Angeles. There’d been a multi-year drought in California and my old business professor in Berkeley introduced me to a rhyming instructions for washrooms – “Yellow is mellow.” This meant that one need not flush a urinal or toilet after urinating – it would be a waste of precious water. I’ve followed this dictum at home and in hotel rooms for decades.

Why we use potable – drinking – water to wash clothes, let alone flush toilets, is a mystery. Regardless, we shouldn’t be. We need ‘white water’ systems which recycle clean, but not drinkable water to water lawns, golf courses, flush toilets, wash cars and so on. We can also save water by using treated effluent for watering golf courses and parks.

Albuquerque is showing the way. Its emergency plan notes that new water sources cost more than $6,000 per acre/foot – an amount that can serve three households. Reusing treated effluent can equal the cost of adding 125 new household users. The city fire department saves hundreds of thousands of gallons of water when testing fire hydrants by being more careful with this precious resource. Many of our older cities feature aging pipes and I’ve lived in a home in which the clay pipe to the street cracked and water backed up into my basement. Fixing these old pipes is a good idea. Many older cities also lose up to 25 per cent of their fresh water out of leaky pipes. We have lots of reason to reduce this waste. If Albuquerque can fix its leaky pipes because residents of the desert can’t afford to waste water, so can all of us.

Some cities offer incentives for homeowners to help save water. Disconnecting downspouts means less rain water in the pipes and treatment facilities. You have to be sure it doesn’t run into the basement, but with a proper pipe at the end, this makes for a good source of water for the garden. Fewer lawns and vegetation that survives with less water is a good idea. So is having a white water system in condos, apartments and homes to flush toilets and wash cars.

While we’re at it, the public works department could coordinate the repair of roads and the maintenance of underground water pipes and conduit for gas, electricity, telephones and other services. An Industry Canada study confirms what we all suspect – 25 per cent of these repairs are wasteful because of a lack of coordination. Ripping up roads can damage perfectly good pipes below. Then the road has to be ripped up again to repair the pipes. Then the construction changed the water table and workers have to start again. It’s not hard to plan for repairs of all these items at the same time.

Saving water and repairing roads is not sexy. But the money saved can go to sexy urban amenities that are much more useful than wasteful make work projects.

Dr. Allan Bonner has consulted on some of the major planning and public policy issues of our time on five continents over 25 years. He loves cities and his next book will be titled Safe Cities.

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