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Water Pressure

Canadians feel no urgency to conserve water, but they should, says architecture prof

Unlike cities in the U.S. southwest, Canada’s urban areas don’t face water shortages. An abundant supply of fresh water from Canada’s lakes, rivers and aquifers mutes discussion here about urban water conservation strategies.

For Aziza Chaouni, a professor at the John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture and Landscape Design, Canadian municipalities could and should be learning from cities in arid regions. A principal with Bureau E.A.S.T. (Ecological Architecture & Systems of Tomorrow), Chaouni argues that Canadian cities aren’t designed to protect water as a precious resource, as must be done in very dry climates.

Taps can be left running, toilets consume large quantities of water for each flush, and there’s little innovative technology that allows residents to monitor their usage, as is increasingly done with electricity. “The interface between users and water sources is the problem,” she observes. “It needs to be redesigned.”

Professor Chaouni is participating in a May 20th panel discussion at the Royal Ontario Museum, moderated by philosopher Mark Kingwell, on urban biodiversity and the question of building “ecologically invisible cities.”

Through Bureau E.A.S.T., Chaouni has worked with Middle Eastern municipalities on conservation projects, including an award-winning plan to revive an highly polluted river running through Fez, Morocco, by transforming hundreds of open tanning vats into planters. In her view, cities like Toronto could do far more to find ways of conserving water in public spaces if civic officials marshaled the energy of community organizations.

She also notes that Canadian cities must become more aggressive about adopting conservation technology, such as grey water systems and compostable toilets. Increasingly commonplace in countries such as The Netherlands and Japan, they are capable of recycling organic waste materials, thus reducing reliance on chemical water treatment agents and power-hungry treatment facilities. “They’re beyond this thing about low-flush toilets not working,” Chaouni says.

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