Engineering and Green Infrastructure: How do They Work Together?

GWP Senior Knowledge Management Officer Dr. Danka Thalmeinerova wonders about the connection between headline messages and real action in water management.

small water retention

Water leaders sometimes seem to develop new messages in order to justify holding global meetings. Messages such as “towards sustainable water solutions”, “economic development and water security”, “nexus thinking”, “water for development”, and “sustainable growth” are tailored to present new trends and initiatives. But do these messages make a difference on the ground?

For example, “Green Growth” and “Green Infrastructure” have become popular terms in the last 10-15 years. But these concepts have not yet been introduced in national policies or investment plans. The most common response to water management challenges has been to increase investment in solid engineering infrastructure. That response is attractive to politicians because infrastructure is visible and technologies are well tested. So, after a big flood, bigger dikes are built. After a severe drought, more irrigation channels are constructed or deeper groundwater pumps are installed. Other alternatives to mitigate floods, control erosion, and purify wastewater are not given full attention. Even water managers have little understanding of these “green” terms.

Green infrastructure is usually perceived to be a conservation approach, allocating water to the ecosystem in order to secure biodiversity “gems.” The water sector has not overlooked ecosystems. However, implementation of green infrastructure solutions is not fully embedded in water policies as solutions to water management problems. On the contrary, modern water legislation brings several restrictions to alternative solutions. One reason is that the promotion of green infrastructure pushes water planners beyond engineering and beyond the water sector. Land use enters here and it requires the involvement of agriculture, forestry, and nature protection managers to make changes.

Several existing definitions of green infrastructure do not make it easier to get ownership by decision making processes. The most frequently used definition refers to green infrastructure solutions that “are based on the utilization of ecosystem services.” What does this mean in a concrete situation? How can this compete with traditional requests for reliable water supplies and minimizing the impact of extreme events? Can you be sure that restoration of wetlands will be sufficient to filter effluents and absorb pollution? Some answers are found in a recently published Guide on Green Infrastructure (2014). Green solutions are categorized and examples of green infrastructure solutions are displayed. The guide will probably be read mostly by scholars and researchers (it’s 76 pages!), less by practitioners.

The other day I saw a short video which made me realize that things are happening “on the ground” which show green infrastructure actions. Since 2013, GWP Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) has been implementing the Integrated Drought Management Programme (IDMP), which aims to support governments in the development of drought management plans. GWP CEE experts from four countries are testing small water retention methods in the field and are collecting good practices. In the video, GWP CEE presents these alternative measures – showing real examples of the application, effects, and benefits of green infrastructure. The video addresses the role of small water retention in situations such as erosion control, water purification, flood control, urban storm water control, and drought management. It deserves your attention, so watch the video now. It’s time to promote what is happening at the local level to the global level!

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About globalwaterpartnership

The Global Water Partnership's vision is for a water secure world. Our mission is to advance governance and management of water resources for sustainable and equitable development.
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