This is how to drought-proof your city 🌵

Adaptation 5 min read, July 16, 2020

Having less water will pose a big problem and health risk for cities across the globe. But, it turns out that concrete and impactful measures can help cities adapt to present and future droughts. At Futureproofed, we dived into our database for a drought-proofing package. 👇

Droughts will become the new normal. We’ll have to deal with that.

Why minding droughts?

Water is essential for life. Some regions in the world are drier than others, and that’s perfectly natural. But what happens when the natural water cycle is disturbed? Climate change means that the natural water cycles… well, are not natural anymore. 😕

Changes in the climate are already being observed. Annual rainfall -particularly in Southern European countries- has been decreasing since 1950. In Central and Western Europe, the spring of 2020 was remarkably dry: in some regions it only rained 20% of what was to be expected.

Future climate scenarios for rainfall are scattered, but one thing is almost certain: extreme events, such as longer periods of droughts, are expected to increase. Dry spells are projected to increase by 32 days by the end of the century for some areas — this means an extra month of very dry conditions. Even when annual rainfall is expected to increase in Northern European countries, warmer temperatures will evaporate the water, creating dry conditions.

Even when annual rainfall in Northern European countries increases, there will be more evaporation too.

How do cities fit in this context?

Urban areas are densely populated and contain a lot of paved surfaces. This means that inhabitants need vast amounts of water to supply their needs. On the other hand, paved surfaces lead rainfall quickly to sewers, even before it can infiltrate and recharge groundwaters. This is the case in regions like Flanders, where the availability of water is almost 4 times smaller than the neighbouring countries. With 70% of the world’s population expected to become urban by 2050, we might want to consider some adaptation measures in the climate plan basket.

Spoiler: we know that planning measures for 30 years is hard to sell. People want to see benefits today. The good news is that measures for adapting to droughts can be seen and enjoyed immediately. ⏰

Summer in the city: hot and dry.

FutureproofedCities’ measures to deal with droughts

The secret for a successful adaptation to droughts is simple: work on optimising the use of water and recharging more water. We screened which climate measures in our database can help your city adapt.

Making more efficient use of water we have available is the first and most obvious thing to do. This means using water saving technologies and applying the power of design to make low water consumption the default. By the way, saving water also means saving money.

🌇 Buildings

Water is used for multiple purposes in buildings. In European countries, 60% of the domestic use goes to bathing, personal hygiene and flushing the toilet. A big portion (15%) goes to washing clothes. Cities can promote a mindful use of water via campaigns, highlighting the financial savings that it brings.

💡 Zaragoza (Spain) launched a Water Saving City programme which included voluntary public commitments by citizens and businesses. The result after 15 years: 30% less water consumption.

🦋 Environment and biodiversity

Green is good, but adapted green is better. With cities and their inhabitants wanting more green, it’s important to choose plants that don’t require a lot of water and strengthen local biodiversity. In addition, public gardens can be irrigated during dry periods with smart systems that optimise water use.

💡 The British Royal Horticultural Society made a handy list of drought tolerant greenery.

💡 Smart irrigation systems in public gardens. The city of Victoria-Gasteiz set up a smart irrigation system, with European help. 30% less water, less labour and energy savings are expected.

👩‍🌾 Agriculture

Agriculture uses 70% of freshwater worldwide. Producing more biomass while using less water is the way to go. This can be done by first selecting crops adapted to drier conditions, and then by using smart irrigation systems.

💡 Smart irrigation. In Emilia-Romagna (Italy) a smart irrigation program helped to save 20% of agricultural water demand.

💡 In the Netherlands, researchers from Wageningen University pointed out that drought-resistant crops like quinoa could replace potatoes. 

Feeding the groundwater and soil with more water can stabilise and potentially increase water availability. For that, no high-tech is needed: just let the natural process of infiltration do its work.

Implementing water permeable soils dramatically helps to increase infiltration. This can be done in new constructions and in retrofitting spaces. Wadis help to keep rainwater on site, giving it the opportunity to feed the groundwater. Another example of water retention are rain water tanks. These tanks can capture rainfall and store it for later use in domestic purposes.

💡 Eeklo (Belgium) has made sure rainwater can infiltrate in the soil, after it has filled a series of (connected) rain water tanks in the neigbourhood.

💡 The city of Herent (Belgium) promotes the installation of rain water tanks.

Regional action 🤝

Ensuring water availability for a whole region is challenging. Therefore, measures on a wider city and regional context are needed. First, city-wide de-hardening (reducing soil sealing) regulations are needed. This implies breaking down the concrete and replace it with porous surfaces -such as wadis- where water can be retained. Also, clearly stated no-build zones can help create water infiltration basins, while delivering recreational benefits.

💡Reopening rivers. Cities such as Mechelen (Belgium) have invested in getting more water in the city by opening up medieval brooks.

💡The city of Ghent (Belgium) appointed a depavement contractor, and wants up to 15% less hardening and concrete on its territory each year

💡No build zones. The project of Kristalbad in Enschede (the Netherlands) helps store 187k m3 of water in a multifuntional purpose.

These measures can help your city become more resilient to droughts. At the same time, they can also bring economical savings and improve the liveability in the short term. How is your city doing? Let us know! At FutureproofedCities, we’re happy to share your insights and examples. In our online tool, we help streamline climate measures across the different policy departments, starting from your most urgent challenges.

Apart from the droughts, cities will also have to deal with summer heat. Check our package for beating city heat.

☀️FutureproofedCities makes it easy to organise, delegate and keep track of climate measures. Drop us an email if you want to see in our tool how you can tackle drought with our suggested list.

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