Water Wise

They paved paradise, put up a parking lot, and then what?

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

One of the many ways modern societies lose valuable drinking water is through toilets. So says environmental engineer Stanley Grant of the University of California, Irvine. He and colleagues study ways to manage the water supply in urban areas. And given increasing drought due to global warming, the topic has never been more urgent.

See, before industrialization, rain or snow soaked into the ground everywhere and slowly restocked rivers, lakes, and aquifers. But modernity has paved over a lot of fields and forests. These impermeable surfaces just flood the nearest storm drain and concentrate pollutants.

In their new paper, Grant and coauthors summarize ways urban areas could do better. Permeable pavements and green roofs are good examples.

In Melbourne, Australia, people catch rainwater from their roofs and use that to flush their toilets. Rain catchment is known as a LID, or low-impact development technology.

Of course, a lid would keep my dog from drinking water straight out of the toilet but—behavioral study for another day.