wHAT MAKES A “mULTI-BENEFIT” SOLUTION?
As a drought-prone and heavily urbanized region, San Diego County faces many challenges related to water quality, water supply, and habitat degradation. These challenges are further exacerbated by the unpredictable and extreme impacts of climate change, as well as the pressures of steadily increasing urbanization.
Despite these myriad water challenges, many potential solutions exist that address multiple environmental and community needs simultaneously. These “multi-benefit” projects take many forms and address several challenges at once, resulting in more than one beneficial outcome.
One of the most relevant examples for San Diego is stormwater capture. Projects designed capture and treat stormwater improve water quality by limiting opportunities for stormwater to carry accumulated urban pollutants into our waterways. Additionally, treated stormwater can be used as a local water supply, augmenting our freshwater resources for use in either our communities or our environment. With stormwater capture, a substance that was once viewed as a pollution problem and flood nuisance is re-purposed as a water supply benefit, and improves water quality in the process. As such, stormwater capture is a multi-benefit solution.
From Many Waters, “One-Water”
Since its inception, water management in San Diego County has commonly been compartmentalized into separate agencies that treat water, wastewater, and stormwater as distinct and isolated management areas. Despite great overlap in these constructed categories of water, and vast potential for collaborative management if all these aspects of water were viewed as one integrated system, there is often little or no collaboration between San Diego’s water management agencies.
This fractured approach has proven largely ineffective at identifying innovative opportunities for San Diego to meet its need for reliable supply of clean, sustainably sourced freshwater. This need is projected to increase as the region becomes more populous and climate change yields longer, more severe periods of drought.
In order to address existing and projected threats to our region’s water supply and water quality, San Diego Coastkeeper advocates for an integrated, “one-water” approach to water management that prioritizes multi-benefit solutions, community health, and environmental resilience.
Projects that offer multiple benefits and improve water quality while bolstering local water supply may exist on many scales and take many forms. Smaller multi-benefit projects are often decentralized, spread throughout communities, and designed to mimic natural ecosystem functions. These are often referred to as “green infrastructure” projects. For example, a healthy riparian zone along a free-flowing stream naturally serves to control erosion, remove pollutants from water, and give excess flood water a chance to soak into the ground and recharge groundwater. A healthy riparian zone also provides critical wildlife habitat for birds, aquatic insects, and juvenile fish. Green infrastructure projects that are designed to mimic the functions of a healthy riparian area that may have been lost to urbanization can provide many of these environmental benefits, as well as provide communities with access to urban green space.
Multi-benefit solutions may also take the form large-scale, centralized infrastructure projects such as wastewater recycling plants. Wastewater recycling is a municipal-scale multi-benefit solution that serves to reduce polluted discharges while generating clean freshwater for reuse in communities and the environment. Regardless of their size and shape, multi-benefit solutions seek to meet community needs and provide a holistic approach to water quality and water supply challenges.