Permeable Surfaces and Energy Innovation Key to Water Reduction

Written by Laura Hancq

One person can make a difference in the water security of a community. According to Lynn Scarlett, the co-director of the Center of Ecological Wealth, Philadelphia is a primary example of how change at the micro level can positively shape the outlook of a community, region, and ultimately, a country.

“There are things you can do at the micro level and those tier up to the urban level and then large landscapes,” Scarlett said. “You can think to have permeable surfaces, not thinking everything needs to be paved over.” defines a permeable surface as, “any ground treatment that allows for surface water to soak into the ground through the pavement. Alternatively, traditional methods of ground treatment such as non-porous concrete does not allow for permeability.”

Changing traditional pavement to permeable surface is a primary example of positive water change at the household level and ultimately the regional level.

Scarlett cites Philadelphia as a larger geographic area that is at the forefront of this type of movement.

“Philadelphia, looking at it’s landscape, is trying to shift about 30% of its surface area to being permeable,” Scarlett said. “The idea being that it will capture the water, the water will filter through, reduce runoff and also help to purify the water.”

In addition to water filtration, purification and reduction of water, the innovation of permeable surfaces has benefits on existing infrastructure. Replacing and refurbishing existing infrastructure is an expensive ordeal for any city. If permeable surfaces can release stress on infrastructure, taxpayers will benefit.

An example a permeable surface. Photo credited to

An example a permeable surface. Photo credited to

“Permeable surfaces significantly reduce the load on the old fashioned infrastructure,” Scarlett said. “It reduces the need to build or rebuild the infrastructure.

You can bring that back to the household level and do that in your own backyard too.”

On the large scale of water reduction, Scarlett believes that energy investment is crucial.

“The nexus between water and energy, the fastest growing sector in terms of water use, is actually energy production, “ Scarlett said.

Scarlett adds that the realm of energy investment includes things like renewables and biofuels. Big water users in energy production include solar thermals, natural gas and hydrofracking.

“Where there is big water usage in energy production, there are opportunities to think of reduction,” Scarlett said. “Pioneering technology and management approaches at the macro level can reduce water.”

While it is necessary to be informed on innovative technologies, Scarlett’s greatest insight is that the micro and macro levels of water consumption can work together to both be positive players in securing a more water secure future for communities, regions and ideally, the world.  


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