Water from the Fissures: Conservation and Skyscrapers

architecture, groundwater, india, international, rainwater, sustainability

The new Bank of America Building at One Bryant Park in New York City is often billed as the “greenest skyscraper” in the world. Modeled after Four Times Square, another sustainable structure in the vicinity, the Bank of America Building recycles waste, air, water, and energy. This sustainable concept will result in a 50 percent decrease in potable water required for the building, as well as a reduction in stormwater output by over 95 percent. No small feat for the second largest building in New York City (just below the Empire State Building) scheduled to open sometime this year.

The Durst Organization, developer of the project, states One Bryant Park will be the “world’s most environmentally responsible high-rise office building, focusing on sustainable sites, water efficiency, indoor environmental quality, and energy and atmosphere.”

Such sustainable development will greatly lower water consumption. To meet LEED Platinum designation, for which this project strives, many measures will be implemented that focus solely on water conservation.

A living roof used to retain water during rain events, eliminate the need for stormwater retention, and regulate temperature in the building naturally. Additionally, rainwater will be collected for storage in four locations. This water will be used for flush toilets and a cooling system. Greywater will be treated and re-used for maximum net benefits.

Inside the building, waterless urinals and low-flow fixtures will decrease use of this precious resource. The waterless urinals alone will save over 3 million gallons of water each year!

In the basement, there will be 44 ice-tanks (each as big as a room) filled with treated greywater and frozen at night. These over-sized ice-cubes are a low-cost way to cool the building during the day as they melt.

And, as contractors excavated a large portion of the ground to build a solid base for the 54-story building, pockets of water were found in fissures of the rock. Instead of the usual pumping and dumping of this “fissure-water”, they were connected to a storage system in the base of the building. This groundwater, combined with steam condensation and air-conditioning condensation, will be mildly treated for use with flush toilets and the cooling system.

Water-savings at One Bryant Park are huge!

The New York City Department of Environmental Protection agrees. Accordingly, they reduced water-fees for the Bank of America Building by 25 percent. Overall, the Durst Organization states the project has been economically reasonable, with payback to occur in less than five-years and considerable long-term savings in water and energy costs.

It gives me hope to see massive high-rises implementing such sustainable building techniques. It affirms that technology is available and economically viable. If humans can build sustainable structures over 1,200 feet (366 meters) tall, then certainly we can build sustainable small buildings and homes. This makes me happy.

One Bryant Park is not the only superstructure on Earth implementing “green-building” techniques with such progressive methods of water conservation. This informative web-blog post, 15 Greenest Buildings in the World, on Geek About highlights fourteen others. There are many quick contenders around the world including the India Tower and the Residence Antilla in Mumbai.

Some of the background for this article came from the great series on PBS, ‘design – e2: the economics of being environmentally conscious‘.

‘Voices from the Water’ Film Festival: Call for Submissions

film, india, international, sustainability

The 3rd annual ‘Voices from the Water‘ Film Festival is officially announcing a call for submissions.

The world’s largest international water film festival will be held in August of 2008 in Bangalore, India. Individuals are invited to enter films in categories ranging from water scarcity to water and life. Please e-mail bangalorefilmsociety@gmail.com or waterjourneys@rediffmail.com for submission instructions.

For more information on films and film festivals pertaining to water issues, see the Water Films tab at the top of this page.

Can you imagine?

drinking water, drought, india, rainwater

Can you imagine if rainwater harvesting was as prevalent in the United States as in India?

It would be, and very well could be, an entirely different place if we started to promote and construct widespread rainwater catchment systems across the country.

Prolonged drought occurring in the southeast and southwest of the United States has reminded us that we are not as water-secure as previously thought. And, maybe, we will have to start to think “inside-the-water-catchment-box” to ensure potable water supplies into the future. Most likely, we could probably take a cue from countries, such as India, that are already implementing such progressive systems.

One Country’s Answer to Growing Water Shortages

india, international

India, out of necessity, has encouraged the construction of rainwater catchment systems throughout the country. This short public service announcement, produced by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) in India, highlights the importance of rainwater harvesting in the region.

With rise of global population, changing seasonal weather patterns, and fluctuating economic conditions, rainwater catchment could prove to be one cutting-edge option to ensure adequate water supplies throughout the world.

People in India have been harvesting rainwater for thousands of years. Presently, many organizations in India are continuing to promote rainwater as a sustainable water supply.

Previously on this web-log, I briefly introduced an organization, Sustainable Innovations, that is developing rainwater harvesting systems for many in need in rural and arid Rajasthan, India.

Another organization spearheading several campaigns relating to rainwater harvesting is the Centre for Science and Environment in India. They host the web-site rainwaterharvesting.org and publish the magazine, Down to Earth. The director of the institute, Sunita Narain, won the 2005 Stockholm Water Prize for her work with rainwater harvesting in rural areas.

Indeed, India is taking many progressive steps forward regarding water conservation and alternative water supply techniques. So much so, that many throughout the world could do well to follow the lead, including the United States…

Year of River Rejuvenation in India

india, sustainability

Community-born environmental movements often bring about most significant change, particularly in countries with a lack of stringent environmental regulations.

As in the Times of India, one of many examples is a grassroots driven river restoration project occurring in Bangalore, capitol of the state of Karnataka in India. Environmentalists in the region are staging a campaign to bring attention to conservation and preservation of the Arkavathy River, tributary of the Cauvery River. Water levels in the Arkavathy River have been dropping over the past several years, as well as nearby groundwater aquifers. This campaign is part of a larger event planned for India in 2008, by leading India water scholar Rajendra Singh, called Lokadesh.

Rajendra Singh said under Lokadesh 2008, experts will take up one dead, dying or polluted river in every state for rejuvenation by adopting a decentralised, community-driven approach. Singh called for the declaration of Year 2008 as Year of River Rejuvenation.

Holy River: Disease Fighting Water

india, international

Many in India look to the Ganges (Ganga) as a sacred river. The river is mentioned in early Hindu texts, and bathing in the river holds much religious significance. Millions partake in this ritual each year. With such numbers bathing in the river, it is unbelievable that diseases such as dysentery and cholera are not wide-spread. However, the Ganges carries abnormally high amounts of bateriophages which eliminate most water-borne illnesses before they are spread. The fourth report in a six-part series on Weekend Edition – NPR is a must listen.


Above Photo: thovie333 on flickr

Previous parts of the series on the Ganges in India include:

In Himalayas, Ganges Began with Divine Help

Pollution, Indifference Taint India’s Sacred River

Ganges’ Most Sacred Stretch Rich with Tradition

Nepal Discontent Over Climate Change Talks in Bali

asia, climate change, india, united nations

Nepal is a land on the edge of the mighty Himalayas. Although rather small, only the size of Arkansas, Nepal is known the world over for Mount Everest which is the highest mountain globally at an elevation of 29,029 feet.

As the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change wraps-up in Bali, Nepali officials are worried water supplies may become even more stressed with loss of glacial sources in the Hindu-Kush. Their concerns are exasperated with the hesitancy of the US and Canada to agree to any definitive carbon emission cessation.

Water shortages in Nepal are nothing new. The diverse elevation and terrain leaves lowlands hot and humid while alpine regions are cold and remote. Sanitation and water infrastructure have continuously presented difficulties in places such as Madhyapur Thimi and areas of Kathmandu Valley. Approximately 13,000 children die each year from lack of potable water.

Individuals who reside in mountainous regions in Nepal use less than 5 liters (1.3 gallons) of water per day. Still Nepal’s rivers, driven by snow-melt, are already showing signs of decreasing flows. Further, water wars are expected to ensue between many countries that rely on glacial melt in the Himalayas for water supply including India and China.

A step in the right direction, organizations such as Nepal Water For Health are encouraging better access to sanitation and utilization of alternative water supply systems such as rainwater collection and fog collection systems (such as the one depicted below), and water conservation measures as drip irrigation.

Rainwater Harvesting for all Household Needs

india, sustainability

An industrious friend of mine is planning life off of the grid. She will grow her own food, utilize alternative forms of energy, and supply her own water (without having to dig a well). Recently she questioned, is it possible to provide water for a home using only rainwater? In my neighborhood in Washington, many people use barrels under gutters to collect rain for simple gardening needs, but homes in this area that harvest rainwater for all household needs are few and far between.

Above Photo: World Hunger Year

The average American uses 80 to 100 gallons of water per day for cooking, washing, bathing, and cleaning. Still, it is possible to build a home in the United States that uses only rainwater (with a few water conservation measure implemented) for all daily needs. The amount of water supplied through rainfall events depends largely on location. Even areas with little precipitation are able to capture sufficient amounts of rainwater during seasonal occurrences as evidenced in India. If you know average precipitation , it is possible to calculate the amount of rainfall available for capture using simple math as shown in this post on Rain Barrel.net. After determining the amount of rainfall possible for capture, system design should evaluate the following parameters:

1. Collection Methods
2. Storage Methods
3. Water Conveyance
4. Treatment Process

This guide published by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality provides a wonderful overview of “Harvesting, Storing, and Treating Rainwater for Indoor Domestic Use”. While homes in the US relying on rainwater for all needs are not very common, there are people using such systems with great success. Understanding and installing rainwater catchment systems now could greatly reduce risks associated with decreased water availability in the future.

Water Guzzlin’ Biofuels

agriculture, asia, india

Initially, biofuels (such as biodiesel and ethanol) were thought the holy-grail of the environmental and energy movement. After further review, several problems arise that may negate any positive environmental outcome of the use of biofuels.

Negative aspects of biofuel production include increased water shortages, food shortages, and energy shortages. Such issues are evaluated in this article written by Fred Pearce (author of When the Rivers Run Dry). Developing countries have the highest rate of biofuel production, and thus endure most negative environmental consequences. As stated in Down to Earth, environmental journal of India:

A paper “Biofuels: Implications for agricultural water use” by researchers from the International Water Management Institute in Sri Lanka, under the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research, predicts China will face shortage of land while India is likely to have severe water crisis. The study was released on October 11, 2007.

Photo courtesy of rrelam on flickr.

Walking for Water

drinking water, drought, india, international

This evening, while reviewing yet another small town in India to endure water scarcity, this particular article caught my eye: Sundernagar faces acute water crisis.

Gujarat, located in West India, is bordered by the Arabian Sea and Pakistan. Citizens claim the town of Sundernager is facing water shortages because of mismanagement of water treatment facilities, in combination with recent drought in the area.

Often, for Europeans, Americans, or anyone with ample and seemingly endless supplies of water, it can be difficult to fathom life without access to water. Indeed, we hear about towns enduring desiccated traumas daily (especially on my water web-log), but do we understand…

In this particular article about Gujarat, the words of a local woman clarified well the plight of villagers:

“Our district suffers from a water crisis. Being a woman, I can understand how tough it is for a woman to fetch water from a stretch of two km,” said Tripti Shukla.

She speaks of hiking two kilometers for water, which equates to a distance of 1.3 miles. Obviously, hiking a mile with large water containers is going to be very tiring. There are also many others across the globe that hike long distances to deliver water rations to their homes daily.

In March of 2007, WaterAid premiered this 7.5 hour long film in Union Station that chronicled the journey of a young women from Sudan on her usual walk for a whole day to retrieve enough water for her family.

As they say, how far would you be willing walk for water?

Kashmir Region Prepares for Harsh, Dry Winter

asia, drinking water, drought, groundwater, india

The region known as Kashmir is experiencing water shortages as there has been little rainfall over the past three months. Weather outlooks for the coming weeks predict more dry weather, and main rivers and lakes in the region have water levels that are decreasing.

In Srinagar, the summer capital of Jummu and Kashmir, the central River Jhelum has been reduced to a mere drip through the city. Government officials have implemented some water rationing programs in preparation for water shortages. Researchers at the University of Kashmir are reviewing climate change and possible links to increased fires and weather changes in the Kashmir Valley.

Sustainable Innovations: Rainwater Harvesting in India

drinking water, india, sustainability

Thanks to Nilam Agrawal for informing me about the important work of Sustainable Innovations:

Sustainable Innovations is a non-profit corporation committed to serving vulnerable populations through innovations in systems, science, engineering and social enterprises. We take pride in finding out-of-box approaches to problems that have defied solution.

This organization is currently working on developing rainwater harvesting systems for villages in arid Rajasthan, India.

Check the Sustainable Innovations website for updates.

New Delhi Water Utilities Shut Down

drinking water, india, water treatment

Two major water utilities servicing New Delhi, India shut down last week due to high and untreatable ammonia concentrations in the Yamuna River. Many in New Delhi, an approximated tens of thousands of people, were without water for three days straight, and uncertain supplies of water for hours at a time over the weekend.

Yamuna Sacred
Large industries dumping waste-water into the Yamuna upstream of New Delhi, are thought to be the culprit for unexpected rises in ammonia concentrations. Water problems are not unusual in New Delhi, as the New York Times so succintly states, infrastructure is in disrepair, sources are polluted, population is on the rise, and the government is blamed with poor water management. The Yamuna River, the central source of water for New Delhi, has been battling pollution problems for many years.

Check out this recent NPR piece on the Yamuna River.

Print: Yamuna Maharani holding a garlands of lotus petals near the Yamuna River, artist unknown.

Water Crisis in India: Is There Water in the Well?

agriculture, audio, india

In this brief Earth and Sky radio short, the topic is India and the severe drop in groundwater tables. As researcher from Columbia Casey Brown states, the primary reason for the decrease in groundwater supplies is the widespread use of water for agricultural purposes. 90% of India’s water supplies to be exact.


Above Photo: Waiting for drinking water in India. Rupert Taylor-Price on flickr.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization maintains AQUASTAT, an extensive online database for global agriculture and water information. The FAO map below shows the extent of water withdrawn for agricultural uses (over 2/3 of global water supplies). The FAO map also provides detailed country specific information, see an overview of India’s agricultural economy here.

India has the second largest irrigated area in the world, but due to the rapid expansion of irrigation with its emphasis on new construction, irrigation performance and the sector’s increasing management needs have not received adequate attention. The development impact of irrigation has been well below its potential, and deficiencies in implementation have accumulated over time.

– Food and Agriculture Organization

The above-quote indicates, at that time, India’s agriculture was well below potential. However, groundwater pumping has become popular over the last two decades in India. With groundwater tables dropping as they are, this does not seem a dependable resource to sustain current agricultural activities.

Above Photo: FAO.

Central India’s Agricultural Nightmare

agriculture, india

Today, I read a review of a documentary produced by PBS on the agricultural crisis near the region of Vidarbha in Central India. This review, published on the blog Intercontinental Cry, evaluated the background of the agricultural crisis and the connected increase of suicides by farmers from the region. The film is called, India’s Dying Fields.

There are many underlying reasons farmers from Vidarbha are unable to produce viable crop-yields including extreme debts from loans, lack of governmental support, free-trade policies, and a shortage of water for irrigation.

Although, the lack of water is not the only issue for these farmers, cotton is a water-intensive crop usually grown in arid locations. With the advent of the Green Revolution, we as a society have had dwindling concern with actual inputs needed for food production. Additionally, the global economic system is set up in a manner to gain profit on these inputs, such as pesticides, herbicides, GM seeds, etc.

One possible solution could be a utilization of less water-intensive crops and employment of alternative or traditional cropping methods. Many farmers in Central America facing similar prospects have had great success using cooperative, organic, sustainable, diversified, and value-added techniques. These techniques usually have more viability in the global-market, require less financial input, utilize natural barriers to pests, and are less water-intensive. Could this be a possibility for Central India?

Watch the full documentary, India’s Dying Fields, here.