How to Achieve Urban Water Security

Insight into water security for urban areas. Addresses key elements such as collaboration, preservation, and demand management.

Updated: May 14, 2023
Robert Brears


[Originally published on Medium]

Around the world, locations are implementing a range of smart water policies to achieve urban water security.

The concept of ‘water security’ was first introduced in the Ministerial Declarations of the Second World Water Forum in the Hague in 2000.

The declarations stated water is vital for the health of humans and ecosystems and a basic requirement for the development of countries; however, water resources and related ecosystems are under threat from pollution, unsustainable use, land‐use changes, climate change and other forces.

As such, to achieve water security the declarations stated: water resources and related ecosystems need protecting and improving, sustainable development and political stability are to be promoted, every person needs access to enough safe water at an affordable cost and the vulnerable are protected from water‐related hazards.

The United Nations has defined water security as the ‘capacity of a population to safeguard sustainable access to adequate quantities of acceptable quality water for sustaining livelihoods, human well‐being and socio‐economic development, for ensuring protection against water‐borne pollution and water‐related disasters, and for preserving ecosystems in a climate of peace and political stability’.

Key Elements of Achieving Urban Water Security

The key elements of achieving urban water security include:

  • Access to safe and sufficient drinking water at an affordable cost
  • Protection of livelihoods, human rights and cultural and recreational values
  • Preservation and protection of ecosystems in water allocation and management systems
  • Water supplies for socioeconomic development and activities,
  • Collection and treatment of used water to protect human life and nature from pollution
  • Collaborative approaches to transboundary water resource management
  • The ability to cope with uncertainties and risk of water‐related hazards
  • Good governance and accountability and the consideration of the interests of all stakeholders

Nonetheless, achieving water security is not a static goal; instead, it is an ever-changing continuum that alters with numerous challenges, both non‐climatic and climatic.

Therefore, future water security depends not only on meeting increased demand but also on how effectively humans can use limited water resources to meet these needs.

Demand Management

Traditionally, urban water managers have relied on large-scale, supply-side infrastructural projects to meet increased demands for water.

This supply-side approach is under increasing pressure from a variety of mega-trends. To enhance urban water security, water managers are turning towards demand-side management which aims to improve the provisions of existing water supplies before new supplies are developed.

There are two types of policy tools available to achieve urban water security:

  • Fiscal tools include water pricing and the use of subsidies and rebates to modify water users’ behavior in a predictable, cost-effective way
  • Non-fiscal tools include regulations as well as education and public awareness.

Fiscal tools: Vancouver's seasonal water rates

In Vancouver, the price of water increases by around 25% during the drier months, compared to the low-peak rate from November through May, to reflect the added cost of supplying water to the city.

The summer surcharge enables the city to meet its Greenest City 2020 goal of reducing water consumption by 33%, which has two benefits for all of Vancouver residents:

  • It helps reduce the strain on the city’s existing water system, eliminating the need for costly system upgrades that could lead to higher utility rates
  • It helps the city live within its water means, ensuring all residents have access to abundant safe, clean water no matter how much the city grows

Non-fiscal tool: City of Boston’s Building Energy Reporting and Disclosure Ordinance

Boston / odd kent / Unsplash

Boston / odd kent / Unsplash

For example, the City of Boston’s Building Energy Reporting and Disclosure Ordinance (BERDO) requires Boston’s large- and medium-sized buildings to report their annual energy and water use. It also requires buildings to complete a major energy savings action or energy assessment every five years.

To enhance transparency, the City of Boston allows the public to search the publicly disclosed energy and water database.

This helps property owners and interested stakeholders to understand how a buildings’ performance compares with similar buildings nationally.

They also learn, after public disclosure, how the building compares with other Boston buildings.

The take out:

Demand management is a key aspect of achieving urban water security.

Join the conservation on the following LinkedIn groups: Urban Water Security, Our Future Water, Circular Water Economy, Blue and Green, and Nature-Based Solutions.

Urban Water Security is available at:

Thank you for taking the time to read our article on urban water security. We'd love to hear your feedback in the comments section below.

Find more of Robert Brears' work on Medium and Our Future Water.

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Robert C. Brears is the author of Urban Water Security (Wiley). He is the founder of Mitidaption, Mark and Focus, is Director on the International Board of the Indo Global Chamber of Commerce, Industries and Agriculture, and a Visiting Fellow (non-resident) at the Center for Conflict Studies at MIIS, Monterey, USA. He has published widely on water security, water resources management, and related issues, and has conducted field research around the world, including Antarctica.
Robert Brears
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