Water Watch

Cooper Union Stock Photo

The purpose of the Water Watch series is to give a special focus to issues of water sustainability, with special attention to the sustainability of water management in New York City and the New York City region, and with respect to what is sometimes referred to as the worldwide water crisis. 

ISD has chosen to give this focus to water sustainability for several reasons.

First, ISD is concerned not only with the theory of sustainability, but with the process of making sustainability an organizing reality of 21st Century society.  This will require a whole new economics, one in which profit flows from sound environmental management, from the wise investment of the earth’s natural resource capital. Because of its financial structure, which is based on user payments, water infrastructure has an especially strong potential for being restructured on sustainable lines. For example, watershed protection lowers water treatment costs, thereby lowering the amount water and sewer rates must charge. This user based system of water financing makes it possible for the water consumer to directly benefit from wise environmental management.  It is this ability to capture the financial benefits of wise environmental management that makes water resource management uniquely well-suited to become a model for the transition to overall sustainable resource management.  Water Watch will seek to promote that transition to sustainability by publicizing examples of wise, economically successful environmental management of water resources; by showing how systems of water resource management can be successfully built around environmental sustainability; and demonstrating the benefits to water consumers that this will provide.

Second, the New York City water system gives the Cooper community a living laboratory of actual and potential sustainable water management. The New York City water system is not only an engineering icon among urban water utilities, it has pioneered in a number of critical sustainability options.  It is not overreaching to say that the financial viability of the New York City water systems already rests on its sustainability innovations, such as its watershed protection program, New York City’s achievements in urban water conservation, where it boasts the world’s most successful urban water conservation program, and the Staten Island Bluebelt, a pioneering effort in using green infrastructure as a substitute for expensive concrete and steel engineering solutions.  Together, these innovations have not only improved the New York City environment, they have saved billions of dollars in avoided capital costs, thereby making New York City’s water system not only the best in terms of sustainability and water quality, but also one of the world’s most affordable. New York City therefore provides a wealth of preexisting opportunities for research on innovative water management practices, and a focus on water reinforces the ISD’s focus on New-York-based sustainability issues.

Third, Cooper is uniquely positioned, through the ISD, to play a role of intellectual and scientific leadership in water sustainability debates.  Kevin Bone, Professor of Architecture at Cooper and Director of the ISD, has long been a student of the New York City water system, and not only did pioneering work in preserving the engineering archives of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (NYCDEP), the manager of the New York City water and sewer system, but also edited a groundbreaking book that documented his work, Waterworks (see the Bone discussion below as well as the Links and Resources section). Albert Appleton, Director of the ISD Center for Sustainability Entrepreneurship, is a former Commissioner of DEP where he was responsible for many of the sustainability innovations that DEP now relies upon, including the world renowned Catskill watershed protection program, New York City’s urban water conservation program  and the Staten Island Bluebelt.

Fourth, The Cooper Union brings important intellectual capital to the study of water sustainability through its combination of architecture and engineering skills and its tradition of applying knowledge to benefit the New York City community. Water management is inherently an exercise in good engineering, engineering in the great 19th century traditions of engineering as a problem solving and a tool for wise resource management. As a school that supports this tradition both ideologically and through constant practice, a focus on water management is particularly appropriate for The Cooper Union.

Water Watch is not a blog, or at least it will not start out as a blog.  It is  organized as follows: Part I, Resource Content, will consist of materials relevant to the topic of water sustainability, and the water sustainability of the New York City Water system.  For particular materials, see the Table of Contents at the head of the section.  Park II, Links and Resources, will consist of links to a select handful of water resources, described at the start of the section, and a number of key books, publications and reports for those interested in the topic. Later on, as material is accumulated, these parts may be further subdivided.  But it is the ISD’s hope that Water Watch will be kept simple, easily accessible and user friendly.

Water Watch invites submissions of materials by readers, including information and comment pieces.  Materials will be reviewed by the Water Watch Committee and incorporated as appropriate.  Non-factual advocacy pieces and general pieces praising water sustainability are discouraged, however. It is assumed that our readers understand the basic tenets of sustainability. The focus of Water Watch is how to achieve it.

* Part 1: Resource Content

* Part 2: Links and Further Resources

  • Founded by inventor, industrialist and philanthropist Peter Cooper in 1859, The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art offers education in art, architecture and engineering, as well as courses in the humanities and social sciences.

  • “My feelings, my desires, my hopes, embrace humanity throughout the world,” Peter Cooper proclaimed in a speech in 1853. He looked forward to a time when, “knowledge shall cover the earth as waters cover the great deep.”

  • From its beginnings, Cooper Union was a unique institution, dedicated to founder Peter Cooper's proposition that education is the key not only to personal prosperity but to civic virtue and harmony.

  • Peter Cooper wanted his graduates to acquire the technical mastery and entrepreneurial skills, enrich their intellects and spark their creativity, and develop a sense of social justice that would translate into action.