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🔬 The Importance of Rivers

(don't) Waste Water!

Photo by Aman Sharma / Unsplash

Host: Antoine Walter
Guest: Michael Stanley Gallisdorfer | Water Researcher | University of Buffalo
Category: 🔬 Research

Podcast’s Essential Bites:

[15:15] “People typically weren't drinking water out of rivers, because of the […] upstream downstream problem […], but people were using spring water. So people would find freshwater sources that were outside of the main stem of the river. And that's how they typically overcame the problem of drinking water. And you may see in a lot of older cities, a lot of large reservoirs were built to capture spring water, which was then either fed by gravity or pumped later in time to the population. That's what allowed these cities to grow, […] access to this clean water. And then rivers, of course, became routes for transportation and sources of food.”

[16:02] “Flooding is a big problem, but we've overcome flooding, at least historically. In many ways the easiest way to overcome flooding is you just don't build on the floodplain. […] And we stopped doing that recently. […] We lose all of the ecosystem services of the river by simplifying the river system. By disconnecting it from its floodplain, we lose all of the nutrient processing capacity in the floodplain, we lose a lot of the breeding and juvenile habitat for the fish species that we used to be able to fish out of rivers. And […] we also aren't thinking long term, when it comes to those sort of large scale diversion and flood retention projects. […] We understood the mathematics, we understood the engineering, and it worked, but we didn't see the downsides.”

[18:20] “Digital modeling allows us to get a sense of how these [river] systems behave, without having to actually wait for the flood to happen. And because we have more complex means of understanding how […] these rivers work, we could then regulate them in more natural ways. So […] the US Army Corps of Engineers’, Engineer, Research and Development Center (ERDC) [has an] initiative called the Engineering with Nature Initiative and it seeks to understand how to more effectively and […] efficiently […] use nature and natural methods to regulate floods. […] The big term right now is biomimicry.”

[25:05] “When we put our streams into concrete boxes, what we're getting is […] conveyance. […] We're optimizing our engineering design for flow conveyance, […] but we're losing the dynamism of the river, we're losing its ability to, to refresh and restore the land, to return it to life. And what happens when we don't work in cycles, because nature works in cycles, just like we do, when we take the cycles away, and linearize a natural system so that we can predict it and control it, we think at least, we lose its ability to regenerate and to restore itself.”

[25:50] “There's this concept of urban stream deserts. […] So let's hold the thought [that] a river has to run free in order to rejuvenate the land. […] Now that there's this parallel concept of the food desert. So when there's food deserts, say, in an inner city, where people just don't have access to food, they don't have easy access to the resources they need to survive. Now, when we don't have rivers in cities […] we lost access to those critical environments, those human habitats that help us to recover from stress, […] restorative experiences. Remember, a river doesn't just refresh a floodplain, it refreshes the mind. […] And so a stream desert is a lack of access to a restorative blue water landscape. […] People are suffering because we need to be around ideal human habitat, that's water, and forests. […] And this is a form of environmental justice also.”

[31:50] “There's also evidence out there, that restoring rivers and restoring water features in cities has economic value. […] I think the University of Michigan found that in cities like Buffalo, and Detroit, it adds $4 for every $1 spent on [river] restoration work to the economy.”

[49:02] “Sponge cities […] replicate parts of the natural hydrological cycle. So instead of falling on impervious surface, […] those trenches and gutters and roads, the water has a longer flow path between say, the rooftop of a skyscraper and the natural channel or the semi artificial channel that we build. So a sponge city acts like the land, and the watershed should act in a nature like way in a naturalistic way to create a more natural urban hydrological cycle. So the water works more naturally in cities as opposed to just going […] at the speed of water into a drain and killing everything around and washing everything away. That's called the urban stream syndrome. So sponge cities soak up the water and release it more slowly so that we can have a more natural hydrograph.”

[1:10:41] “There [are] three things I think that we should be looking at, in the water industry in general. A big one is diversity and water. […] Also [we need to] keep an eye on digital transformation. […] As we see more Internet of Things solutions roll out and we see more digital twinning of our water systems, I would expect to see a lot of growth in that area. […] The third one [is] forensic hydrology. Looking at the past hydrology of cities, [so] we can do a better job of bringing rivers back to cities. […] Why reinvent the wheel, if we can just open up an old water course and re-water it? […] So the three are diversity and water, digital transformation and forensic hydrology.”

Rating: 💧💧

🎙️ Full Episode: Apple | Spotify (Original Title: "What's Maybe the Best Way to Make Four Dollars out of One?")
🕰️ 1 hr 18 min | 🗓️ 05/05/2021
✅ Time saved: 1 hr 16 min