Water Conservation & The Water Soft Path
Communities around the world are beginning to realize the economic, social, and environmental benefits of water conservation. Planners and water managers are increasingly moving away from supply-side solutions to meet water demand (e.g. expanding physical infrastructure, such as pipes, pumps, dams, and reservoirs) Instead, they are looking toward long-term, comprehensive water management approaches that will ensure adequate quantities of water for the future.
The WSP’s water conservation work is largely focused on ways that communities can effectively implement tailored water soft path stategies to sustainably manage their water resources, now and into the future. The water soft path concept offers a holistic and comprehensive approach to water sustainability planning, and takes into consideration the complex interactions that occur between the natural environment and human activity.
Peeling Back the Pavement: A Blueprint for Reinventing Rainwater Management in Canada’s Communities is part of POLIS' water sustainability handbook series for decision makers, community leaders, and municipal water management staff. It was developed in partnership with the Environmental Law Centre (ELC) at the University of Victoria and is based on the ELC's 2010 report Re-inventing Rainwater Management: A Strategy to Protect Health and Restore Nature in the Captical Region.
The handbook outlines the problems with conventional stormwater management and examines solutions for moving toward sustainability. It provides a comprehensive blueprint that outlines the crucial steps necessary to change the way communities manage and, importantly, govern stormwater. The blueprint describes detailed actions that local and senior levels of government can take to move from the current system of stormwater management to one focused on rainwater as a resource. A main focus is addressing the fragmented responsibility for fresh water across and within jurisdictions—one of the greatest challenges to reinventing rainwater management.
Check out the October 2011 Peeling Back the Pavement webinar here.
Worth Every Penny: A Primer on Conservation-Oriented Water Pricing provides an overview of conservation-oriented water pricing for decision makers, water utilities and service providers in Canada. It explains how water pricing works, what the benefits are, and how water utilities can implement conservation-oriented water pricing structures as a key tool in the water manager's toolkit. As well, it offers advice on how to address implementation challenges, including how to avoid penalizing low-income families and how to maintain revenue stability for water utilities. Check out the Worth Every Penny webinar here.
Making the Most of the Water We Have is the first book to comprehensively present and apply the water soft path approach. Edited by the POLIS Project on Ecological Governance’s David B. Brooks and Oliver M. Brandes, and environmental consultant Stephen Gurman, it compiles the writings of more than 20 water scientists, policy advisors and analysts, and political ecologists. The publication focuses on detailed Canadian studies, and also takes a global perspective by looking at examples and experiences from around the world. Making the Most of the Water We Have demonstrates that soft path analyses are both analytical and practical, and emphasizes that soft paths are not only conceptually attractive, but can also be economically and politically feasible.
First published in June 2009, the paperback edition was released in March 2011. It is available at Chapters and Amazon, and can be purchased directly from the publisher for 20% off the list price.
- Four book reviews, published in The Environmental Forum, Water International, Critical Policy Studies, and Journal AWWA are provided below as downloadable PDFs.
- This book served as the backbone for an April 2010 Continuing Studies course on Contemporary Issues in Water Management and Protection offered at the University of Victoria. The course information is provided below.
The Soft Path for Water in a Nutshell provides an overview of the steps involved in soft path planning, illustrates how soft path planning differs from conventional supply-side management, and discusses the potential for this innovative approach to develop water sustainability in Canada. Originally published in November 2005, a revised and updated version was released in September 2007.
This handbook provides a practical resource on how individuals, utilities, and, most importantly, communities can save water and money. Designed for community leaders, water managers, and policy makers, this handbook seeks to inspire and facilitate action. It promotes an expanded definition of "urban water infrastructure" that includes innovative physical components, water sensitive urban design, and conservation programs designed to complement existing water supply networks.
This report focuses on identifying benefits as well as the barriers to water demand-side management in Canada. The interconnected and interrelated nature of barriers creates a gridlock that resists the adoption of a comprehensive approach to demand management for urban water in Canada. The report exaplains why a comprehensive and long-term approach to demand-side management is necessary and provides action plans for all levels of government and other stakeholders for implementation.
Urban water management poses many logistical and financial challenges in Canadian communities. By increasing water use efficiency, Demand Side Management can mitigate many of the impacts of human water use on overstretched municipal infrastructure and overstressed aquatic systems. Despite these benefits, Demand Side Management is seriously underutilized in Canada. What the Experts Think draws on interviews with Canadian experts in the field of water resource management and initiates a national network of water demand management practitioners.
The majority of Canadians live in large urban and regional centres, and municipal water use represents a significant portion (12 percent) of overall water withdrawals in Canada. Urban users in Canada use more than twice as much water as their European counterparts, with significant levels of wastage and inefficiency. Such high levels of urban water use have resulted in expensive supply and disposal infrastructure expansions, ecological impacts in developed areas where environmental stresses are already high, and increasing pressure on water treatment facilities to treat all water to drinking quality standards. Demand-side management (DSM) is an alternative (or, more accurately, complementary) approach to increasing supply infrastructure. It involves decreasing the demand for water through a mix of education, technology, pricing reform, regulation and recycling. This report provides insight into water use and supply in Canadian cities and the potential for demand side management.
Co-authored by the WSP's Carol Maas and Sarah E. Wolfe (Assistant Professor, Department of Environment and Resource Studies, University of Waterloo), this policy paper provides a concise and integrated summary of emerging research on social and process changes in water management.
Intended as a resource for water, planning, and building practitioners, this paper summarizes labelling and certification programs and policies for encouraging water efficiency and low-impact development practices in new and redeveloped buildings. It offers a summary of how water-related measures are incorporated into green building programs in Canada.
The purpose of the ActionH2O Water Sustainability Charter is to commit local government councils across Canada to achieving local water conservation goals. The ActionH2O Water Sustainability Charter Toolkit gives an overview of how community groups can use the Charter to engage local governments, including quick tips and strategies.
The Water Conservation Planning Quick Guide highlights some of the leading available resources that support effective water conservation planning including Planning Manuals and Case Studies.
In February 2009, Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson launched the Greenest City initiative, with a goal to develop innovative solutions that tie economic growth to new technology, green solutions, environmental stewardship and vision. WSP submitted a series of recommendations to the Water Working Group in June 2009.
This seven step "how to" guidebook for British Columbian communities enhances local government capacity to develop and implement effective water conservation plans by summarizing core research on water-wise tools and practices in an easy to use step-by-step guidebook. The guidebook helps municipal water staff and active citizens get started on water conservation planning, and communities who are looking to strengthen existing water conservation plans. This publication is a collaboration between the POLIS Water Sustainability Project and Ministry of Community and Rural Development.
A report for the Capital Regional District's Water Advisory Committee outlining ways to apply the soft path in a municipal setting.
Brandes, O.M., & Brooks, D.B. (2006). The Soft Path for Water: A Social Approach to the Physical Problem of Achieving Sustainable Water Management. Horizons (Policy Research Initiative Backgrounder), 9(1), 71–74.
Soft path planning employs backcasting, a planning approach that begins by envisioning possible future states, then works backwards to connect a desired future to the present by integrating policies, programs and technological innovation. This report applies the Urban Water Soft Path “Back of the Envelope” Backcasting Framework (BEBF) to compare various possible scenarios of future water use at the community scale (i.e. municipality or region). The framework involves the application of an analytical tool—the Water Soft Path Scenario Builder—to determine the macro impact of different “packages” of micro measures (i.e. policies, programs and technologies) on total water use. The main goal is to illustrate the potential of a comprehensive approach to water conservation and efficiency, with the initial results pointing to recommendations for specific actions in the future.
The POLIS WaterSmart Scenario Builder tool for communities was launched in May 2009! See WSP Toolkit for details.
The WSP team contributed to a Foundation Research Bulletin on the topic of Water Conservation in Oliver, BC published by Smart Growth on the Ground in April 2006.
The POLIS Water Project and BC's Ministry of Water Land and Air Protection collaborated on this presentation at the CWRA conference "Water - Our Limiting Resource" in Kelowna, BC in February 23-25, 2005.
A briefing paper presented at a workshop for BC's Ministry of Water, Land and Air Protection on July 20, 2004. The WSP team presented POLIS' proposed action plans for the provincial government to implement urban water demand management.
This background paper for Environment Canada provides viable action plans with federal leadership for a comprehensive and long-term approach to freshwater management in Canada.
A joint submission briefing note presented to the Prime Minister's Office by the POLIS Project and Friends of the Earth Canada on March 16, 2004 in anticipation of the federal budget.
This water soft path case study examines the innovative water strategy planning process used in York Region, Ontario. In 2011, York Region set a forward-looking target of No New Water and is, to the authors’ knowledge, the first community in North America to explicitly approach its water strategy planning process from a soft path perspective. This case study marks the first investigation into the successes and challenges of putting soft path principles into practice.
The soft path pilot project for Fergus-Elora was initiated by the Grand River Conservation Authority (GRCA) in partnership with the POLIS Project on Ecological Governance, the Township of Centre Wellington (TCW), the Elora Environment Centre, and the University of Waterloo.
In Fergus-Elora, population and water use are expected to double between 2008 and 2040. The region is dependent on groundwater and if no conservation measures are taken the existing groundwater supply will likely require expansion by 2028.
The recommended approach for Fergus-Elora is to “use the same water tomorrow we use today,” which accommodates all future population and economic growth to 2040, and beyond, using the same amount of water used in 2008.
Click the links below to download PDF files of the report and technical appendices.
A 2010 report summarizing the results and analysis of a GRCA residential water use survey for Fergus-Elora is also provided. The survey focused on the usage of water-using fixtures and appliances, as well as water conservation efforts made by residents in the community.
The WaterSmart Scenario Builder is a spreadsheet-based calculator that allows users to explore the potential for water and greenhouse gas emissions savings through the application of water efficiency and conservation measures.
The Scenario Builder is designed to develop and test various future water scenarios using a backcasting framework. The calculator is not intended to replace a detailed conservation audit or water efficiency plan, but assists communities with a preliminary evaluation of various scenarios under a water soft path planning approach.
To download the Quickstart Guide, click the link below.
This Soft Path Strategy for Salt Spring Island was developed by the Water Sustainability Project team in collaboration with the Salt Spring Island Water Council. Salt Spring is the largest and most populous of the Gulf Islands and has a year round population of approximately 10,000 which doubles during the summer with tourists and temporary residents. Water supply and quality are issues on parts of Salt Spring, with some drinking water lakes being close to their capacity to meet current demand and future commitments for additional supply, and difficulties with private wells particularly on the north end of the island.
This strategy offers direction to Salt Spring's growing water use by recommending a commitment to “preserving water supplies for the next generation.”
This case study investigates the water supply contexts and water conservation programs of three large cities in California: Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego. It is part of ongoing efforts by the Water Sustainability Project to highlight communities that are incorporating comprehensive demand management and “new water infrastructure” into their water management programs. Each city faces both growing populations and mounting water scarcity due to climate changes, new regulations and environmental concerns. Though they developed as cities in part thanks to supply-side approaches, each is now applying elements of the water soft path approach to address concerns about future water supplies.
This Soft Path Strategy for the City of Abbotsford and District of Mission was developed by the Water Sustainability Project team in consultation with Abbotsford Mission Water and Sewer Commission (AMWSC) staff beginning in December 2008. Heavy growth has increasingly strained the region’s water supplies, forcing the AMWSC to choose to either build costly infrastructure or to defer a need for new infrastructure by engaging in long-term water conservation planning.
The Strategy seeks to provide direction to this second option by recommending a commitment to “preserving water supplies for the next generation.”
This case study is a “real world” application of the soft path concept for the Town of Oliver in the Okanagan Basin, British Columbia. In this semi-arid area, the “myth of water abundance” remains firmly entrenched even though the region’s water supplies and aquatic ecosystems are under stress. Fortunately, a new paradigm of water management is emerging—an approach focused primarily on water conservation and efficiency, with the potential to ensure long-term sustainability and social and economic prosperity. This report provides an overview of the soft path approach, an analysis of three potential scenarios in the Okanagan, and recommendations for the community to take steps towards developing a sustainable approach to water management.
A new article about applying the water soft path in an agricultural region of Canada, co-authored by Sheila Forsyth and POLIS' David B. Brooks, was published in the special, 40th anniversary issue of Water International (available online November 2011).
The current study extends past work on water soft path analysis in breadth and in depth: in breadth by studying an area devoted to large-scale prairie agriculture, and in depth by adding direct interaction with water managers and citizens of the Pembina Valley Conservation District in the Province of Manitoba, Canada. The main conclusion from the study is that the region can continue to be a prosperous and attractive place in which to live and to farm for at least 30 years without a single additional drop of water.
To download a copy of the full article, please click here.
A new article about the water soft path, co-authored by POLIS' David B. Brooks and Oliver M. Brandes, was published in the June 2011 issue of International Journal of Water Resources Development (available online April 21, 2011).
The best way to achieve a sustainable future for fresh water is to develop decision-making processes, institutions, and technologies that emphasize both efficiency and conservation. These two terms are commonly treated as synonyms, but, respectively, they reflect anthropogenic and ecological bases for making decisions. Recognizing that both perspectives are valid, this article outlines a new approach to water planning and management called the water soft path. This approach differs fundamentally from conventional, supply-based approaches. The article reviews the transfer of the original soft path concept from energy to water, and summarizes the first applications of water soft path analytics to specific geographic areas: one urban area, one province, and one watershed in Canada. The article concludes with suggestions for further research, as well as steps to improve recognition of the water soft path as a planning tool that can move management and policies towards economic, ecological, and social sustainability.
To download a copy of the full article, please click here.
Eau Canada: The Future of Canada’s Water, (K.Bakker ed.) Vancouver: UBC Press
Brandes, O.M., & Kriwoken, L. (2006). Changing perspectives--changing paradigms: taking the "soft path" to water sustainability in the Okanagan Basin. Canadian Water Resources Journal, 31(2), 75–90.
An article in Environment Policy & Law Journal, Vol 15, No 8, November 2004, p.669.