Economist Impact launched the inaugural City Water Optimisation Index, sponsored by DuPont, which will measure how well cities around the world are safeguarding the reliability, accessibility, and sustainability of water resources. The Index can serve as a measurement tool for city leaders, policymakers, and regulators to make resource, investment and policy decisions toward increased access to safe, affordable, and reliable water.
Unlike other indices, which focus on water scarcity or water quality, the City Water Optimisation Index creates a common framework to benchmark numerous factors that contribute to an optimized and ample water supply. Its findings incorporate 47 quantitative and qualitative indicators that assess how well each city's policies and infrastructure safeguard water supply, treatment, and distribution networks.
With climate change increasingly challenging our water supplies and the projected urban population growth, the Index is a powerful tool for decision-makers around the world to measure how well their cities are prepared to deliver safe, reliable, sustainable access to water. The Index can also be used by cities to develop and refine their water strategies, learn from other cities' successes and setbacks, and prioritize projects and policies that will have the greatest impact on water optimization, and thus water security.
Los Angeles earned the highest overall score in the Index, followed closely by Melbourne
The results of the Index are encouraging, with cities with diverse geography, climate, and socioeconomic factors achieving commendable results in two of the three categories—Reliability and Accessibility. The results were mixed, however, in the Sustainability category, measuring how waste is minimized and efficiency is maximized, a key factor in ensuring water accessibility for future generations. Highlights of the findings of the City Water Optimisation Index include:
Los Angeles earned the highest overall score in the Index, followed closely by Melbourne. Both cities are focused on sustainability and creative approaches to mitigate pending water scarcity challenges.
National income is not as important a factor in the pursuit of water systems optimization as one might assume. Low- and middle-income cities frequently ranked among the top performers in at least one of the main categories in the index.
Cities need to think of water management as a circular process, focusing on water reuse and reclamation to mitigate current and impending freshwater shortages. While reclamation and reuse were a key deficiency found in many cities in the Index, the survey revealed high public favorability overall (61%) towards drinking treated reclaimed water.
41 cities have incorporated accounting and auditing of their water systems for water resource management; 33 of those cities have also adopted real-time monitoring. A smaller number of mostly high-income cities have started deploying smart meters, some accompanied by A.I. and machine learning platforms.
There is much opportunity to improve optimization through sustainability—especially through low-cost, high-reward investments. One example is modifying building codes to encourage water conservation, a provision lacking in many cities.
In addition to the report, Economist Impact launched two interactive tools for the public— including city leaders— to explore data and scoring across the first 51 cities featured in the Index. With the City Water Optimiser Tool, users can adjust many of the 47 levers to learn which steps may best improve water reliability, accessibility, and sustainability, and uncover opportunities to optimize a city's water environment—contributing to the planning and prioritization of local water efforts.
"Water is becoming an ever-increasing challenge for city leaders around the world, with climate change and urban population growth further adding to the pressure," said Claire Casey, Global Head of Policy & Insights, Economist Impact. "Though the challenge is daunting, our research makes me hopeful that we can shift our future from the risk and stress of water scarcity to the untapped potential of water abundance. Through careful planning, effective governance and robust technology adoption, city water systems can be optimized to provide clean, abundant and affordable water for all — now and for decades to come."
"At DuPont, our purpose is to deliver solutions that address society's most pressing challenges, including a strategic focus on clean water," said Alexa Dembek, DuPont Chief Technology & Sustainability Officer. "From innovating sustainable water technologies to sponsoring this Index, we see a clear path toward optimizing the global water supply to enable people, industry, and the environment to thrive."
The Index is a key part of DuPont's efforts to lead global collaboration toward a more water-optimized world.
"We envision a future where the world's 7.8 billion people all have daily access to safe, clean water; where makers and producers have the necessary water to make the products, food and energy on which we rely; and together we optimize the circular nature of water in a sustainable, equitable way," said HP Nanda, Global Vice President and General Manager, DuPont Water Solutions. "We believe this starts with a common set of indicators, global conversations on impactful solutions, and collective action inspired by this knowledge."
DuPont has a broad portfolio of sustainable water purification and separation technologies and solutions that enable water reuse and recycling, desalination and groundwater access, including reverse osmosis (RO) membranes, ion exchange resins (IEX), ultrafiltration (UF), electrodeionization (EDI), nanofiltration (NF), membrane bioreactor systems (MBR), membrane aerated biofilm reactors (MABR), membrane degasification, and closed-circuit reverse osmosis (CCRO) systems.
The report is the product of a two-year effort. After formulating the Index, the Economist Impact research team gathered data on 51 cities around the world, incorporating data records, local interviews, and public perception surveys. The team plans to add another 50 cities to the index in 2022.
For the full report, Index, and City Water Optimiser Tool, visit https://impact.economist.com/sustainability/project/water-optimisation