Water Futures for Sustainable Cities

A group to provide an independent international forum for government, industry and the community to address the issues of water sustainability.

Population growth, rapid urbanisation, increasing prosperity and associated increased resource use, environmental and social impacts combined with climate change are challenging the water futures of the world’s cities.

Universitas 21 members directly engage with a large number of cities that are facing a diversity of water challenges affecting their sustainability and encompass a wealth of expertise (humanities, engineering, physical, life and social sciences) that, if properly integrated, provides a unique opportunity to develop a portfolio of interdisciplinary, outcome-focussed research to provide international solutions to these challenges.

The aim of this group is to provide an independent international forum for government, industry and the community to address the complex issues of water sustainability.


Strategic Importance

This initiative on water futures for sustainable cities and its planned outcome of influencing policy and practice aligns with the strategic priorities of Universitas 21. It is directly relevant to the UN Millennium Development Goals as well as to important environmental regulations such as the European Union Water Framework Directive.


Interdisciplinary research to improve the water sustainability of cities

The first step in developing an interdisciplinary portfolio of research projects will be to review the challenges to water sustainability of the cities where Universitas 21 members are located. These reviews will provide the foundation for developing outcome-focussed research designed to address the diversity of challenges to water sustainability. The challenges to sustainability span physical, environmental and social sciences. These include but are not limited to: climate change; decreases in rainfall; rising sea levels; more frequent storms and flooding; rapid increases in population and urbanisation; renewal of ageing cities; degradation of rivers and coastal water resulting from water diversions, storm water runoff, and effluent discharges; inadequacies in planning, regulation and management systems; resource inequalities and social exclusion.

Development of techniques for assessing water sustainability will be a common theme for the initiative. These techniques will inform comparison of options for improving water sustainability, and the inevitable trade-offs. Options could include improvements in water treatment technology, improved water literacy in the community, recycling, desalination, flood risks, marine pollution and water sensitive urban development. The techniques for assessing water sustainability will be progressively applied to support self-assessment, benchmarking and peer review, and ultimately to third party accreditation of the sustainability of a city’s water system.

Dr Graham Steed
WFSC Project Co-ordinator