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Suburban development raises the cost of water for city dwellers

"City leaders can use our findings to advocate for protecting their drinking water from contamination," said researcher Rob McDonald.

By
Brooks Hays
Suburban development is partially responsible for the rising price of water treatment in cities. Photo by gyn9037/Shutterstock
Suburban development is partially responsible for the rising price of water treatment in cities. Photo by gyn9037/Shutterstock

ARLINGTON, Va., July 25 (UPI) -- When it comes to water treatment, large cities end up paying the price of suburban development.

When ecological buffer zones protecting lakes, rivers and streams are converted into agricultural land and housing developments, the watershed pays a price. And the cost of the ecological degradation, new research shows, flows downstream.

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A new study, published this week in the journal PNAS, suggests cities pay 50 percent more for water treatment as a result of damage to the watersheds that funnel water to city dwellers.

"This increase in cost matters because increases in water-treatment costs are paid for by those living in cities, so watershed degradation has had a real cost for hundreds of millions of urbanites," said Rob McDonald, lead scientist for The Nature Conservancy's Global Cities program.

As more of the world's growing population opts for life in the city, the pressure on municipalities to provide clean and affordable drinking water will grow.

Currently, 9 in 10 cities are paying the price of watersheds made vulnerable by suburban development -- a price researchers estimate globally at some $100 billion.

"City leaders can use our findings to advocate for protecting their drinking water from contamination, rather than spending billions of dollars to clean it up," McDonald said. "Cities can protect their watersheds and avoid treatment cost increases by planning for sustainable development that considers impacts on natural systems."

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