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Water Soft Paths: Planning Beyond Demand Management

Congress: 2008
Author(s): Paul A. Kay, David B. Brooks
Paul A. Kay, MIWRA, Chair, Department of Environment & Resource Studies, University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada David B. Brooks, MIWRA, Director of Research, Friends of the Earth Canada, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
AbstractConservation technologies, such as water reuse, and demand management tools, such as economic instruments, are important approaches for matching water demand to supply. With growing population and climatic change, such tools may not be sufficient to ensure sustainability of water resources. The water soft path (WSP) is both an analytical technique and a proactive planning tool that can identify much larger savings in water use. Whereas demand management asks "how" to conserve water and be more efficient in the use of water for given purposes, WSP adds the question "why" water should be used at all to attain those purposes. This paper describes a recent water soft path study conducted in Canada. We believe this to be the first full study to consider all the main distinguishing characteristics of WSP: ecosystem preservation is given priority over resource exploitation; water is treated as provider of services rather than as an end; quality of water delivered is matched to that required by the end use; and, backcasting rather than forecasting is used to specify the future. As well, the study allowed the assessment of administrative-spatial scale (municipality, watershed, province) appropriate for WSP study. Canadian provinces have most constitutional responsibility for water management, and thus should be an appropriate scale for policy making. Yet, too often water policy arises by default. Issues of data quality and quantity, and spatial variability, however, make detailed analysis difficult at provincial scale. Indications for Ontario, however, are that a future with population and economic growth but using the same amount of water as at present is conceivable. Watershed scale is ecologically appropriate for analysis, and in some cases existing management institutions exist. In Nova Scotia's Annapolis Valley, standard demand management measures would not likely be adequate to ensure an ecologically, socially, and economically secure and prosperous future, or to prepare for unforeseen water conditions. Full soft path principles, however, would permit a reduction in water use to less than half current levels without requiring any constraints on population, economic, or agricultural growth. Many efficiency and conservation measures are in place, or readily available, in municipal (residential and institutional) settings. Detailed study in a small city in British Columbia suggests a WSP future of one-third to one-half less water than now with no constraints on population or economy. Our results are indicative rather than definitive, yet they clearly show that: 1) WSP analysis is indeed feasible and distinct from conventional analyses; 2) potential savings can be demonstrated that go well beyond those available with demand management and that also take direct account of such issues as ecological protection and economic development; and, 3) there is potential for even more impressive results with further and stronger studies. As an analytical study, soft paths show a potential for reducing water use in modern societies. As a planning tool, they shift our practice from water policy by neglect to policy by specific choice for sustainability.
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