Study: U.S. Cities Face Serious Water Risks

arcadis-logoThe first Arcadis Sustainable Cities Water Index shows that North American cities, threatened by both water scarcity and natural disasters, are among the most at risk in the developed world. In fact, no U.S. cities placed in the top 10 of the global rankings of water sustainability.

The new study measures 50 global cities across a broad spectrum of sustainability issues impacting water resiliency, efficiency and quality. The study highlights the importance of water as a critical urban asset that is imperative to long-term success, economic development and overall sustainability.

RELATED: Poll: Americans Believe Securing Sustainable Water Supplies to Be a National Priority

“The way cities manage their water issues has a direct correlation with quality of life, yet not all are dealt an even hand by Mother Nature,” explains Michael MacPhee, president of Water for Arcadis North America. “For instance, American cities in the index show their vulnerability to natural disasters and extreme weather, with seven U.S. cities falling to the bottom half of the list when measured for their resiliency to natural threats. U.S. cities that carefully and creatively use their water assets for strategic urban advantage will ultimately be more livable, safe and competitive, while attracting tourism and investment.”

The 2016 Sustainable Cities Water Index rankings are as below, with full details available here.


Overall Arcadis Sustainable Cities Water Index ranking:

  1. Rotterdam
  2. Copenhagen
  3. Amsterdam
  4. Berlin
  5. Brussels
  6. Toronto
  7. Frankfurt
  8. Sydney
  9. Birmingham
  10. Manchester
  11. Melbourne
  12. Paris
  13. Washington
  14. New York
  15. Houston
  16. Boston
  17. Philadelphia
  18. Dallas
  19. Madrid
  20. Chicago
  21. London
  22. Singapore
  23. Seoul
  24. San Francisco
  25. Tokyo
  26. Istanbul
  27. Los Angeles
  28. Rome
  29. Moscow
  30. Hong Kong
  31. Beijing
  32. Dubai
  33. Sao Paulo
  34. Buenos Aires
  35. Shanghai
  36. Santiago
  37. Kuala Lumpur
  38. Abu Dhabi
  39. Riyadh
  40. Wuhan
  41. Doha
  42. Jeddah
  43. Mexico City
  44. Rio de Janeiro
  45. Johannesburg
  46. Nairobi
  47. Jakarta
  48. Manila
  49. Mumbai
  50. New Delhi

North American City Highlights

toronto_skylineToronto: #6

Resiliency: 9

Efficiency: 10

Quality: 1

Strengths: Toronto scores highest on the water quality index, largely due to very low levels of source water pollution. With one of the largest per-capita water resources in the world, Toronto also scores high for resilience.

Improvements to increase rankings: Toronto’s limited water reuse to date led to an efficiency ranking of 10. However a six-year mandatory water metering program to be completed this year should result in even greater water efficiency.

dc night Washington, D.C.: #13

Resiliency: 20

Efficiency: 16

Quality: 12

Strengths: D.C. is aiming to be the healthiest, greenest, most livable city in the U.S. by 2032. DC Water is playing a key role in meeting these goals with the implementation of its Blue Horizons 2020 Strategic Plan. For example, DC Water is recovering enough energy from its operations at the Blue Plains Advanced Wastewater Treatment Plant to offset one-third of its energy needs and reduce its carbon footprint.

Improvements to increase rankings: The D.C. metro area region faces combined challenges of aging infrastructure and securing funding for capital improvements. Full implementation of effective asset management programs will be vital to improving long-term sustainability of existing infrastructure and new facilities.

New York City (night shot) New York: #14

Resiliency: 27

Efficiency: 14

Quality: 7

Strengths: The primary source of drinking water is the Catskill/Delaware and Croton watersheds, which are of such high quality that New York City is one of only five large U.S. cities with a surface water supply not requiring filtration.

Improvements to increase rankings: Superstorm Sandy highlighted New York’s natural and built vulnerability to coastal flooding and the threat of sea level rise. New York is expected to incur at least $500 million in storm and flood damages over the next 50 years if no action is taken. In response, government agencies, business leaders and private investors created Rebuild by Design, developing the East Side Coastal Resiliency project to address flood and social infrastructure resiliency as part of a risk-based plan that can serve as a model for other cities.

houston_skyline2 Houston: #15

Resiliency: 34

Efficiency: 11

Quality: 10

Strengths: Houston’s annual average rainfall is nearly ideal for the area, reducing overall water stress. Houston performs well in efficiency and quality, with the highest charges per unit of water as a proportion of income in the ranked U.S. cities.

Improvements to increase rankings: Houston’s resiliency against storms is relatively low in comparison to other cities, challenging the urban drainage system. Houston is considering better protection against the risks of costly hurricanes. Investments in flood protection will have to be balanced against investments to upgrade aging infrastructure in the area.

Boston Boston: #16

Resiliency: 28

Efficiency: 19

Quality: 6

Strengths: Boston has improved its water quality in recent decades by investing billions on wastewater treatment plants such as the Deer Island Treatment Plant, which increased the reliability and volume of wastewater treatment while at the same time reducing combined sewer overflows. Many of Boston’s waterways are now thriving recreational areas again.

Improvements to increase rankings: Resiliency ranks low, particularly with respect to green space and flood risk. However, Climate Ready Boston is an initiative underway aimed at reducing vulnerability to climate change impacts.

philly_skyline Philadelphia: #17

Resiliency: 25

Efficiency: 29

Quality: 3

Strengths: The creation of “Green City, Clean Waters” totally changed the way Philadelphia deals with stormwater, adding green, permeable surfaces to  streets, sidewalks, roofs, schools, parks, and parking lots. According to the Philadelphia Water Department, the work will reduce the stormwater pollution entering waterways by a stunning 85 percent.

Improvements to increase rankings: The utility’s 2016 budget notes that the city’s most critical risk over the next 5-year period is upgrading aging infrastructure with limited capital.

Dalllas-small Dallas: #18

Resiliency: 37

Efficiency: 18

Quality: 11

Strengths: Dallas has invested heavily in the construction of reservoirs to meet high demand. Dallas outranks its regional counterparts for reservoirs in the city’s vicinity and for improved conservation that includes time-of-day watering restrictions.

Improvements to increase rankings: Dallas is unique in that it is susceptible to not only floods along the Trinity River basin but also drought. Both of these issues have serious consequences for the city’s infrastructure, residents and businesses.

chicago skyline 2Chicago: #20

Resiliency: 36

Efficiency: 27

Quality: 2

Strengths: Chicago is close to having almost no pollution in its freshwater sources. The city’s exceptional water quality stands out globally. Chicago’s tunnel and reservoir program handles combined sewer overflows, resulting in very little sewer effluent or pollution flowing into its water bodies.

Improvements to increase rankings: The city’s efficiency vulnerability is being addressed through one of the most ambitious water and sewer line replacement programs, replacing 100 miles of pipes per year. To further increase efficiency and reduce consumption, Chicago implemented a volunteer metering program, incentivizing consumers with rate guarantees to increase awareness and reduce leakage.

San Francisco San Francisco: #24

Resiliency: 44

Efficiency: 7

Quality: 23

Strengths: San Francisco ranks second highest in efficiency in the U.S. and seventh in the overall sub-index, propelled by high scores for wastewater reuse and non-revenue water.

Improvements to increase rankings: Lack of green space and exposure to natural flood risk from the Pacific Ocean and San Francisco Bay curtail the city’s flood resiliency score; however, San Francisco is close to completing a $5 billion investment to make its water supply more reliable and resilient. A recent resilience strategy includes measures to protect and enhance some of the most vulnerable critical infrastructure and urban development in the city.

los angeles cali Los Angeles: #27

Resiliency: 48

Efficiency: 2

Quality: 21

Strengths: Los Angeles ranks second in efficiency for high level of water reuse, large storage capacity, non-revenue water reductions, and a strong conservation program. The city embarked on an Emergency Drought Response over a year ago with an emphasis on local water supplies by expediting increases in recycled water, stormwater capture and groundwater remediation.

Improvements to increase rankings: The implementation of large local water supply projects will take four to 10 years. While the drought response projects are planned and implemented, the City is still relying on importing 85 percent of its water from more than 100 miles away, and Los Angeles still faces sustainability challenges and chronic high water stress during droughts.

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