On 11th March we held the second in a series of workshops exploring the seven key performance areas of the Living Building Challenge (LBC), otherwise known as petals (more about Petals & the Petal workshops here). This session focussed on the water petal.
The purpose of the water petal is to realign how people use water and to redefine “waste” in the built evironment so that water is respected as a precious resource. Attendees to the petal workshop discussed how elements of the water standard can practically be applied using real life examples from the Bullitt Centre in Seattle. This was presented via weblink by Martin Brown, Green Vision Ambassador, who happened to be visiting the centre at the time, more info here .
We asked one of the attendees to the session to summarise some of the current thinking & initiatives around water management & conversation in the UK.
The launch of the new UK Water Partnership signals a growing awareness of the need to think seriously about this most precious of our natural resources.
Launching the new body in February, its chair Lord Smith of Finsbury said:
“There’s nothing more important than water. With expanding urban concentrations around the world and the growing impacts of climate change, we need to get better at managing water, conserving it, cleaning it, delivering it, and using it. That’s where innovation is going to be so important. The UK Water Partnership will bring together people across the UK water community to stimulate ideas and develop the products and services that will take on these challenges for the future.”
I am the Innovation Manager for water@leeds, the cross-disciplinary water research centre at the University of Leeds. With over 150 members from across the different faculties of the university, we have a wealth of talent thinking about water in all its forms and for all its purposes. We work internationally and with the UK water community to incorporate the latest research findings in those products and services that will help to meet the challenges Lord Smith mentions.
My particular interest is in ‘water sensitive design’ – that is how we can better incorporate water into our thinking for new developments, and in retrofitting, to help improve water quality, reduce flooding, provide water resources and create better places to live.
The concept of ‘Water Sensitivity’ has been embraced through holistic philosophies such as Water Sensitive Urban Design (WSUD) in Australia and Low Impact Development (LID) in the USA. Currently, water management in the UK is compartmentalised, and surface water management in particular is not prioritised. This is not surprising, given the way in which our water services have evolved over time along with urban development. We have ensured in the UK that our cities are supplied with water, that wastewater is removed and treated to a high standard and we do our best to keep our cities well-drained (though are often thwarted by nature on this last point).
This is summarised in a neat diagram by Rebekah Brown at Monash University, who has considered in depth how we can move towards caring for the water resource in our urban environments whilst continuing to utilise it for our needs.
If this illustration is seen as a timeline, we can see that we somewhere around waterways cities where we are working hard to tackle pollution, but we are a way off the future vision of a Water Sensitive City.
Innovation in the built environment will help us get better at managing our water resources and this is supported by initiatives such as the The Living Building Challenge, which is described by its American developers as ‘a building certification program, advocacy tool and philosophy that defines the most advanced measure of sustainability in the built environment possible today…’
The Challenge comprises seven performance categories called Petals: Place, Water, Energy, Health & Happiness, Materials, Equity and Beauty.
The aim of the ‘Water Petal’ is ‘to meet all water demands within the carrying capacity of the site and mimic natural hydrological conditions, using appropriately-sized and climate-specific water management systems that treat, infiltrate or reuse all water resources on-site’.
So this is not just about getting better at managing water, but about being the best we can. The idea is to make sure all the needs for the development are met by the site. Used water must be reintroduced so that it does not compromise natural systems in any way.
Green Vision is currently looking at developing the methodology for a UK landscape. This type of thinking lays down the gauntlet for innovation in the built environment. When integrated into a holistic catchment scale approach of water management, linked to green and blue infrastructure, embracing the flexibility and adaptability to deal with future changes and aligned with the aims of each of the petals, It will help us move toward the vision of water sensitive cities. This is getting serious about water.
 Brown, R.R., Keath, N., Wong, T., 2009, Urban water management in cities: historical, current and future regimes, Water Science And Technology [P], vol 59, issue 5, IWA Publishing 2009, England, pp. 847-855.
You can find out more about Water@Leeds & connect with Louise and the team here