Highlands Ranch, Colo. — The first Arcadis Sustainable Cities Water Index shows that North American cities, threatened by both water scarcity and natural disasters, are among the most at risk in the developed world. In fact, no U.S. cities placed in the top 10 of the global rankings of water sustainability.
The new study by Arcadis measures 50 global cities across a broad spectrum of sustainability issues impacting water resiliency, efficiency and quality. The study highlights the importance of water as a critical urban asset that is imperative to long-term success, economic development and overall sustainability.
Key findings for North America: Resiliency hampering water sustainability
Toronto, ranked 6th globally, Washington D.C. (13th) and New York (14th) represent North America’s most sustainable water cities while Los Angeles ranks second for efficiency. Cities in North America tend to outperform other world cities when it comes to water quality. In fact, Toronto, Chicago and Philadelphia rank in the top three North American and global cities for ensuring a healthy and clean water supply.
However, U.S. cities are more exposed to natural risks than peers in Europe. For instance, L.A. ranks near the bottom in resiliency because of its susceptibility to drought, earthquakes and storms while Superstorm Sandy’s storm surge and flooding highlighted NYC’s vulnerability to climate change and sea level rise. Fortunately, cities can manage these risks to make themselves more resilient. For example, NYC’s risk-based planning against storm surge will increase resilience and protection for residents, which can deliver significant cost savings long-term, while L.A. is working to improve its water sources and storage.
“The way cities manage their water issues has a direct correlation with quality of life, yet not all are dealt an even hand by Mother Nature,” explains Michael MacPhee, president of Water for Arcadis North America. “For instance, American cities in the index show their vulnerability to natural disasters and extreme weather, with seven U.S. cities falling to the bottom half of the list when measured for their resiliency to natural threats. U.S. cities that carefully and creatively use their water assets for strategic urban advantage will ultimately be more livable, safe and competitive, while attracting tourism and investment.”
The 2016 Sustainable Cities Water Index rankings are as below, with full details available at: www.arcadis.com/waterindex
Overall Arcadis Sustainable Cities Water Index ranking
14. New York
24. San Francisco
27. Los Angeles
30. Hong Kong
33. Sao Paulo
34. Buenos Aires
37. Kuala Lumpur
38. Abu Dhabi
43. Mexico City
44. Rio de Janeiro
50. New Delhi
North American cities show strength but have room for improvement
Strengths: Toronto scores highest on the water quality index, largely due to very low levels of source water pollution. With one of the largest per-capita water resources in the world, Toronto also scores high for resilience.
Improvements to increase rankings: Toronto’s limited water reuse to date led to an efficiency ranking of 10. However a six-year mandatory water metering program to be completed this year should result in even greater water efficiency.
Washington, D.C.: #13
Strengths: D.C. is aiming to be the healthiest, greenest, most livable city in the U.S. by 2032. D.C. Water is playing a key role in meeting these goals with the implementation of its Blue Horizons 2020 Strategic Plan. For example, D.C. Water is recovering enough energy from its operations at the Blue Plains Advanced Wastewater Treatment Plant to offset one-third of its energy needs and reduce its carbon footprint.
Improvements to increase rankings: The D.C. metro area region faces combined challenges of aging infrastructure and securing funding for capital improvements. Full implementation of effective asset management programs will be vital to improving long term sustainability of existing infrastructure and new facilities.
New York: #14
Strengths: The primary source of drinking water is the Catskill/Delaware and Croton watersheds, which are of such high quality that New York City is one of only five large U.S. cities with a surface water supply not requiring filtration.
Improvements to increase rankings: Superstorm Sandy highlighted New York’s natural and built vulnerability to coastal flooding and the threat of sea level rise. New York is expected to incur at least $500 million in storm and flood damages over the next 50 years if no action is taken. In response, government agencies, business leaders and private investors created Rebuild by Design, developing the East Side Coastal Resiliency project to address flood and social infrastructure resiliency as part of a risk-based plan that can serve as a model for other cities.
Strengths: Houston’s annual average rainfall is nearly ideal for the area, reducing overall water stress. Houston performs well in efficiency and quality, with the highest charges per unit of water as a proportion of income in the ranked U.S. cities.
Improvements to increase rankings: Houston’s resiliency against storms is relatively low in comparison to other cities, challenging the urban drainage system. Houston is considering better protection against the risks of costly hurricanes. Investments in flood protection will have to be balanced against investments to upgrade aging infrastructure in the area.
Strengths: Boston has improved its water quality in recent decades by investing billions on wastewater treatment plants such as the Deer Island Treatment Plant, which increased the reliability and volume of wastewater treatment while at the same time reducing combined sewer overflows. Many of Boston’s waterways are now thriving recreational areas again.
Improvements to increase rankings: Resiliency ranks low, particularly with respect to green space and flood risk. However, Climate Ready Boston is an initiative underway aimed at reducing vulnerability to climate change impacts.
Strengths: The creation of “Green City, Clean Waters” totally changed the way Philadelphia deals with stormwater, adding green, permeable surfaces to streets, sidewalks, roofs, schools, parks, and parking lots. According to the Philadelphia Water Department, the work will reduce the stormwater pollution entering waterways by a stunning 85 percent.
Improvements to increase rankings: The utility’s 2016 budget notes that the city’s most critical risk over the next 5-year period is upgrading aging infrastructure with limited capital.
Strengths: Dallas has invested heavily in the construction of reservoirs to meet high demand. Dallas outranks its regional counterparts for reservoirs in the city’s vicinity and for improved conservation that includes time-of-day watering restrictions.
Improvements to increase rankings: Dallas is unique in that it is susceptible to not only floods along the Trinity River basin but also drought. Both of these issues have serious consequences for the city’s infrastructure, residents and businesses.
Strengths: Chicago is close to having almost no pollution in its freshwater sources. The city’s exceptional water quality stands out globally. Chicago’s tunnel and reservoir program handles combined sewer overflows, resulting in very little sewer effluent or pollution flowing into its water bodies.
Improvements to increase rankings: The city’s efficiency vulnerability is being addressed through one of the most ambitious water and sewer line replacement programs, replacing 100 miles of pipes per year. To further increase efficiency and reduce consumption, Chicago implemented a volunteer metering program, incentivizing consumers with rate guarantees to increase awareness and reduce leakage.
San Francisco: #24
Strengths: San Francisco ranks second highest in efficiency in the U.S. and seventh in the overall sub-index, propelled by high scores for wastewater reuse and non-revenue water.
Improvements to increase rankings: Lack of green space and exposure to natural flood risk from the Pacific Ocean and San Francisco Bay curtail the city’s flood resiliency score; however, San Francisco is close to completing a $5 billion investment to make its water supply more reliable and resilient. A recent resilience strategy includes measures to protect and enhance some of the most vulnerable critical infrastructure and urban development in the city.
Los Angeles: #27
Strengths: LA ranks second in efficiency for high level of water reuse, large storage capacity, non-revenue water reductions, and a strong conservation program. The city embarked on an Emergency Drought Response over a year ago with an emphasis on local water supplies by expediting increases in recycled water, stormwater capture and groundwater remediation.
Improvements to increase rankings: The implementation of large local water supply projects will take four to 10 years. While the drought response projects are planned and implemented, the City is still relying on importing 85 percent of its water from more than 100 miles away, and L.A. still faces sustainability challenges and chronic high water stress during droughts.