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​Richard Luthy: Reinventing the water supply for dry cities

​Four ways to modernize urban water infrastructure for the 21st century.

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Re-inventing the nation's urban water infrastructure | iStock/cesaria1

Stanford professor of civil and environmental engineering Richard Luthy says that all water problems — and solutions — are local.

For example, the water challenges of the San Francisco Bay Area are quite different from those in Los Angeles or San Diego. “The reason for this is because of climate conditions and also because of existing infrastructure and politics and policies,” he says. The best way to ensure a healthier water supply now and in the future, Luthy argues, is to find ways to reduce our dependence on imported water.

The water systems of the last century, Luthy explains, largely took one pass at water by treating it, using it, and discharging the wastewater. “In the 21st century, we realize we’re really at the edge, at the limit of what the existing infrastructure can provide in terms of our water.” A new, more diversified approach could transform water reclamation by incorporating stormwater capture systems for urban water supply, reusing more wastewater for potable and non-potable uses, designing advanced desalination plants for other than seawater, and improving water use efficiency, Luthy says. “In order to advance these ideas, we need to be able to do things at scale. We need partnerships with utilities who will step out and say, ‘I will try this.’”

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