Clean and Safe Water


Condition for an Ecocity

Residents have sufficient and continuous access to convenient and affordable clean drinking-water and domestic use water; city water sources, waterways and waterbodies are healthy and function without negative impact to ecosystems.

Suggested Headline Indicator

Quantity and quality of available water supplies

Water is essential for life. Cities cannot be sustained without access to potable water. The IES identifies “clean and safe water” as an essential bio-geo physical condition. Everyone should have “access to clean, safe, affordable
water” (

Ecocity mapping begins with identifying the natural waterways that flow across the land. Although streams and rivers may have been channelized or put underground, a goal of the ecocity is that “water sources, waterways and water bodies, including oceans, are healthy and function without negative impact to ecosystems” ( Therefore, protecting and rehabilitating the natural hydrological systems within the city and its bioregion becomes a priority for ecocity development.

Several cities have found that daylighting streams and celebrating the waterways in the city provides numerous benefits. For example, the River Walk in Austin Texas, USA serves as both a major tourist attraction and a greenway for pedestrians and cyclists (Newman and Kenworthy 1999). Indeed, the ecocity movement arguably got started in Berkeley with daylighting Strawberry Creek in 1980. This was the first opening of a buried creek in the USA, and the project still brings people together and strengthens the local community today.

Conservation of water is also important. Many cities lack efficient water infrastructure, resulting in leaks that represent losses of up to 20% of total urban water demand. In wealthy cities, water use is often metered and a premium is charged for excessive consumption, meaning above a level needed for health and sanitation purposes. Ultimately, ecocity planning requires consideration of the bioregion’s natural hydrological capacity and how this impacts both the total urban population that it can sustain as well as what types of activities it can support. In contrast to the efforts of some cities to conserve water, others have chosen an unsustainable path. For example, building golf courses in the desert represents an inappropriate water use, especially if there are simultaneous challenges pertaining to maintenance of sufficient water levels in-stream to support agriculture and wildlife habitat (National Geographic 2010).

The IES identifies that “water consumed is primarily sourced from within the bioregion” ( In 2005, the Metro Vancouver Region in Western Canada made an important decision to curtail plans to import water from its neighbouring watershed. Instead, it focussed on a “demand-side management strategy” that emphasizes water conservation using a combination of infrastructure improvements, pricing incentives, regulations and education. The goal is to keep the region’s water demand within the capacity of what the local watershed can supply. The plan is working and the region and its citizens avoided costly infrastructure and tax increases as a result (Metro Vancouver 2005).

Metro Vancouver. 2005. Drinking Water Management Plan. Burnaby BC: Metro
Vancouver (
National Geographic. 2010. Collapse: Based on the Book by Jared Diamond (documentary film). Universal City, CA: Vivendi Entertainment.
Newman, Peter and Jeff Kenworthy. 1999. Sustainability and Cities: Overcoming Automobile Dependence. Washington DC: Island Press.

Suggested Ecocity Level 1 Benchmark

The three highest priorities areas of focus when it comes to water are 1) Watershed Health 2), City (what happens within), 3) Receiving Body (may be a source for another city)

It is crucial to develop a methodology to determine locally specific and appropriate targets vs setting hard targets from up above and imposing them downwards.

Some example benchmarks may relate to the following:

● Governance structures and jurisdiction covered
● Water rates and pricing
● Use of the source, mechanisms that protect the source
● How stormwater is used as a resource
● Resilience level of infrastructure
● Health of ecological systems (many indicators for this)
● Quality – probably enough literature on allowable limits for good health.
● But context and measurement can pose an issue.

1. Context matters – the 200 L/p/d certainly does not apply to all cities or nations
2. Health of Citizens and Nature are BOTH key.