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Effective water management makes resilient cities

Even in a 2-degree global warming scenario, the cities of the world will face enormous challenges related to drought, flooding, provision and management of water. On November 8, the City of Stockholm and Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI), gathered a range of international experts at the Nordic Pavilion at COP22 to shed light on some of the solutions needed to develop sustainable water management and climate-resilient cities.

Yadid Levy/

The International Water Association (IWA) has developed seventeen Principles for Water Wise Cities, intended to assist leaders to develop and implement their visions for sustainable urban water. The principles address increasing pressure on water resources due to a growing urban population, issues and opportunities of city densification, and unpredictability in planning due to population growth and climate change. According to Diane D’Arras, President of IWA, water is an underlying theme in all seventeen UN development goals.

“The 6th goal directly addresses the need for clean water and sanitation, but it’s also clear that you cannot have good health and wellbeing without good drinking water and efficient waste water management,” she said. “We have the means to address urban water issues. What we need from the cities is a clear vision and political willingness to take action to make them resilient.”

The City of Stockholm’s strategic work with water management dates back to 1973. In 2015, it adopted a new stormwater strategy to prepare for a 30 per cent increase in rainfall by 2100.

“It’s important to improve stormwater quality to achieve the environmental quality standards for water in the city,” says Katarina Luhr, Vice Mayor for the Environment. “Also, surface water management must be adapted to the changing climate conditions with increased rainfall and higher water levels in lakes, coastal waters and rivers.”

This is highly relevant for Stockholm, she says, as the city’s drinking water comes from lake Mälaren, which is only separated from the Baltic Sea by the Slussen Lock. Stockholm’s largest climate adaptation project is a reconstruction of the lock, enabling it to release larger quantities of water to prevent urban flooding.

“The water level of the lake is currently 70cm above the sea,” Luhr says. “If, when sea level rises, brackish water starts to flow into the lake, it will destroy our fresh water supply. By building a new lock and increasing its capacity dramatically, we’re avoiding future water management problems.”

Seth Schultz, Director of Research, Measurement and Planning at the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group explained that the C40 megacities are focusing on wastewater-to-energy and water recycling and reclamation.

“Water is a top priority for C40 members, due to reasons such as access, security, treatment, and scarcity. One in four of our cities is already water stressed, and in some cases, infrastructure is so deteriorated that the cities have leakages of up to 70 per cent. This needs to be solved through an integrated process, addressing land use planning, infrastructure, energy generation and waste.”

“Cities are key implementers, and therefore you need to put in place the mechanisms that can help translate national strategies and climate goals into local realities,” added Aziza Akhmouch, Head of the OECD’s Water Governance Programme. “But cities are also designers. This is not only about measuring progress but also about the ways in which city leaders use the sustainable development goals to discuss sustainability and tailor their own policies according to their vision of the future. It’s about using these instruments to rethink the concept of sustainability and climate resilience.


Heidi Orava
Phone +45 21 71 71 48