New technology identifies how city infrastructure impacts water

Posted 8 September 2017

High-Resolution Modeling assesses impact of cities on river ecosystemsNew mapping methods developed by US researchers offer urban planners a tool to minimise the environmental impacts of a city’s water and energy demands on surrounding ecologies. 

Developed by researchers at the US Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), the high-resolution geospatial modelling technology quantifies the effects of land, energy and water infrastructures on the nation's rivers and streams.

Researchers mapped changes to natural hydrology using national streamflow data, assessing how water and energy infrastructure impacts the surrounding environments. 

Initial results indicate that urban land transformation and electricity production affect 7% of streams in the US, influencing the habitats of more than 60% of all freshwater fish, mussel and crayfish species.

ORNL Aquatic Ecologist and lead author of the study Ryan McManamay said results from initial modelling indicate huge implications for environmental impact. 

"When you consider that most of these streams include big rivers and their major tributaries with abundant species, the environmental impacts are staggering,” he said. 

"Cities have overlapping impacts on the environment, and we want to understand how much energy a single city consumes or how its land cover and electricity production contribute to the overall picture.”

Analysis showed that ecosystems are not impacted in relation to urban populations, indicating that larger cities do not necessarily have bigger impacts on surrounding environments. 

The researchers have emphasised the importance of cooperation between cities in efforts to create urban development policies sensitive to regional ecosystems. 

"Both the source and solution to global environmental challenges may lie in the hands of cities," McManamay said. 

"Our goal here is to give cities a way to look at the big picture, so to speak, and to generate metrics that will help them move toward more environmentally sound policies as they continue to develop."

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