New waterworks designs deliver larger environmental change

The designers and operators of water infrastructure have been forced, in a cost-cutting era for public works, to think outside the pipe, writes Natural Security columnist Chris Wood. And what they’ve learned hold lessons for all of us. An excerpt of Wood’s new column, Thinking Outside the Pipe: Reflections on flood season in the Pacific Northwest:

Water pipe in Brisbane Glen, U.K. via Wikimedia
Water pipe in Brisbane Glen, U.K. via Wikimedia

Infrastructure is an ugly word, but a big part of what governments do — especially those we live closest to, our town or city government. ‘Infrastructure’ is also the service backbone of everything else we do in our active lives — the bridges we drive over to work and the internet connections we jump on when we get there, the pipes that bring water to the tap and the others that carry away the toilet flush. It’s a mostly unglamorous subject. But it’s about to revolutionize, in ways that will also revolutionize how we deal with environmental issues. 

Three forces are driving that revolution. The first is the effect of time on the infrastructure that serves us now: a lot of it in North America is crumbling or obsolete. The second is climate destabilization: most of that same infrastructure, even if it’s not past its design life, was designed for climatic conditions that went out with the last century. But third, and most hopefully, thinking about urban infrastructure design has broken out of the single dimension in which it has been trapped for decades, and discovered the extraordinary potential of thinking in all four … Log in first to continue reading Thinking Outside the Pipe (subscription required*).

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