Distributed Water Infrastructure: A Love Affair with Unconventional Thinking

I’ve been thinking about off-grid water and wastewater infrastructure since 1978 when I stumbled upon the New Alchemy Institute, a collection of scientists who were developing sustainable systems for growing food, treating waste, and capturing energy. At about the same time I read the ode to sanitation in an off-grid world, The Toilet Papers. As a newly minted ecologist, a closed-loop, low-impact approach to water, food, energy, and sanitation was forever seared into my idea of the possible. Though I wandered off into seemingly unrelated pursuits, like the circular nature of ecological cycles, my pursuit of sustainability eventually brought me back full-cycle to thinking about what type of water (including the oxymoronic concept of “waste” water) infrastructure is going to be able to best serve human populations in the future.

In the intervening decades, while I was off daydreaming about the possible, a handful of people had been actually putting their ideas into practice. These pioneers – including the New Alchemy Institute’s John Todd, as well as innovators like  Ed Clerico and Craig Lindell – probably felt like they were shouting in a tornado, finding it hard to get anyone to listen or pay attention.

While it’s still an uphill battle, the voices for innovations in water infrastructure are growing. The challenges we face today – water scarcity, climate change, renewable energy, affordability, land constraints, etc. – need new solutions. Dr. Nancy Love, one of today’s leading voices in sustainable water infrastructure, states it well: “While centralized water infrastructure has served us well, I argue that we should not be constrained to applying 20th century thinking as we plan for the future.” 

There’s a growing buzz about small-scale, flexible water infrastructure.  Whether you call it “decentralized”, “distributed”, or “scalable” water infrastructure matters less than the simple fact that it’s drawing attention. I recently had the opportunity to create a overview of distributed water infrastructure and its applications. If you haven’t seen the report yet, I hope you’ll take a look.

My report, however, is certainly not the only resource on the subject.  For my own sanity, I decided to start a virtual bookshelf which I hope will also serve as a resource to others. On related pages, I’ve created links to distributed infrastructure resources that I hope you will review (what’s missing, what did I get wrong?), share, and bookmark. If you love this subject even half as much as much as I do, please take a look and let me hear your thoughts, either through the comments page or by email to LBroaddus @ BroadviewCollaborative.com (actual email address does not have spaces in it).



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