Campus & Community

Designing solutions to fresh water shortage

2 min read

Design School researcher seeks sustainable methods for saving water

Robert France, associate professor of landscape ecology at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, is a scientist who has studied the effect of environmental degradation of various plants and animals. Urban runoff is one of France’s areas of expertise. His knowledge gives him a very different view of the rainwater that flows down our sewers and into our waterways than that of the general public. “The irony is that people are more scared of wastewater than they are of stormwater. In point of fact, the stuff that comes off the streets is worse than what comes from toilets. It’s a cocktail of all sorts of nasties.” Among the most dangerous pollutants, France mentions the toxic particles shed by car tires and brake drums, along with the bacteria contained in dog waste. Instead of the conventional methods of dealing with stormwater – directing it into sewers and drywells – France would like to see it channeled into specially designed rain gardens where the water is purified while it nurtures vegetation. Another beneficial innovation is the use of porous pavements for driveways and parking lots instead of concrete or asphalt, allowing rainwater to infiltrate the surface layer and filter down to the water table.