Beyond greater efficiency: The concept of water soft paths

Posted January 2006

By David B. Brooks

Even in “water-rich” Canada, many jurisdictions are having trouble providing adequate, clean fresh water as their populations not only grow, but also exhibit higher expectations for water availability and water safety. The conventional approach to such problems accepted the history of constantly growing demand for water and responded by extending pipelines, constructing more dams and drilling deeper. The alternative to this engineering approach is to put greater emphasis in demand-side policies promoting water efficiency and conservation.

Full-cost pricing along with better information and education programs can help a great deal, but will not likely be sufficient to meet future water problems. Fortunately, there is a stronger, albeit normative, demand-side alternative called the “water soft path”, which is modelled on the highly successful approach known as the soft energy path. Soft paths can be described as approaches to natural resources management, that rely on a multitude of relatively small-scale and renewable sources of supply, coupled with ultra-efficient ways of meeting end-use demands. This paper, which appeared in the Spring 2005 edition of the Canadian Water Resources Journal, will contrast water soft paths with the conventional (hard path) approaches, and then review the methodology and feasibility of soft path analysis.

For access to the complete paper, visit www.cwra.org.