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Article

Data Infrastructures in Ecology: An Infrastructure Studies Perspective  

Florence Millerand and Karen S. Baker

The development of information infrastructures that make ecological research data available has increased in recent years, contributing to fundamental changes in ecological research. Science and Technology Studies (STS) and the subfield of Infrastructure Studies, which aims at informing infrastructures’ design, use, and maintenance from a social science point of view, provide conceptual tools for understanding data infrastructures in ecology. This perspective moves away from the language of engineering, with its discourse on physical structures and systems, to use a lexicon more “social” than “technical” to understand data infrastructures in their informational, sociological, and historical dimensions. It takes a holistic approach that addresses not only the needs of ecological research but also the diversity and dynamics of data, data work, and data management. STS research, having focused for some time on studying scientific practices, digital devices, and information systems, is expanding to investigate new kinds of data infrastructures and their interdependencies across the data landscape. In ecology, data sharing and data infrastructures create new responsibilities that require scientists to engage in opportunities to plan, experiment, learn, and reshape data arrangements. STS and Infrastructure Studies scholars are suggesting that ecologists as well as data specialists and social scientists would benefit from active partnerships to ensure the growth of data infrastructures that effectively support scientific investigative processes in the digital era.

Article

Basin Development Paths: Lessons From the Colorado and Nile River Basins  

Kevin Wheeler

Complex societies have developed near rivers since antiquity. As populations have expanded, the need to exploit rivers has grown to supply water for agriculture, build cities, and produce electricity. Three key aspects help to characterize development pathways that societies have taken to expand their footprint in river basins including: (a) the evolution of the information systems used to collect knowledge about a river and make informed decisions regarding how it should be managed, (b) the major infrastructure constructed to manipulate the flows of water, and (c) the institutions that have emerged to decide how water is managed and governed. By reflecting on development pathways in well-documented transboundary river basins, one can extract lessons learned to help guide the future of those basins and the future of other developing basins around the world.

Article

Hybrid Modes of Urban Water Delivery in Low- and Middle-Income Countries  

Alison Post and Isha Ray

Most urban residents in high-income countries obtain piped and treated water for drinking and domestic use from centralized utility-run water systems. In low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), however, utilities work alongside myriad other service providers that deliver water to hundreds of millions of city-dwellers. Hybrid modes of water delivery in urban areas in low- and middle-income countries are systems in which a variety of state and nonstate actors contribute to the delivery of water to households, schools, healthcare facilities, businesses, and government offices. Historically, the field has evolved to include within-utility networks and outside-the-utility provision mechanisms. Utilities service the urban core through network connections, while nonstate, smaller-scale providers supplement utility services both inside and outside the piped network. The main reform waves since the 1990s—privatization and corporatization—have done little to alter the hybrid nature of provision. Numerous case studies of nonutility water providers suggest that they are imperfect substitutes for utilities. They reach millions of households with no access to piped water, but the water they deliver tends to be of uncertain quality and is typically far more expensive than utility water. Newer work on utility-provided water and utility reforms has highlighted the political challenges of private sector participation in urban water; debates have also focused on the importance of contractual details such as tariff structures and investor incentives. New research has produced numerous studies on LMICs on the ways in which utilities extend their service areas and service types through explicit and implicit relationships with front-line water workers and with supplemental nonstate water suppliers. From the nonutility perspective, debates animated by questions of price and quality, the desirability or possibility of regulation, and the compatibility (or lack thereof) between reliance on small-scale water providers and the human right to safe water, are key areas of research. While understanding the hybrid nature of water delivery is essential for responsible policy formulation and for understanding inequalities in the urban sphere, there is no substitute for the convenience and affordability of universal utility provision, and no question that research on the conditions under which particular types of reforms can improve utility provision is sorely needed.

Article

Urban Landscapes and Green Infrastructure  

Stephan Pauleit, Rieke Hansen, Emily Lorance Rall, Teresa Zölch, Erik Andersson, Ana Catarina Luz, Luca Szaraz, Ivan Tosics, and Kati Vierikko

Urban green infrastructure (GI) has been promoted as an approach to respond to major urban environmental and social challenges such as reducing the ecological footprint, improving human health and well-being, and adapting to climate change. Various definitions of GI have been proposed since its emergence more than two decades ago. This article aims to provide an overview of the concept of GI as a strategic planning approach that is based on certain principles. A variety of green space types exist in urban areas, including remnants of natural areas, farmland on the fringe, designed green spaces, and derelict land where successional vegetation has established itself. These green spaces, and especially components such as trees, can cover significant proportions of urban areas. However, their uneven distribution raises issues of social and environmental justice. Moreover, the diverse range of public, institutional, and private landowners of urban green spaces poses particular challenges to GI planning. Urban GI planning must consider processes of urban change, especially pressures on green spaces from urban sprawl and infill development, while derelict land may offer opportunities for creating new, biodiverse green spaces within densely built areas. Based on ample evidence from the research literature, it is suggested that urban GI planning can make a major contribution to conserving and enhancing biodiversity, improving environmental quality and reducing the ecological footprint, adapting cities to climate change, and promoting social cohesion. In addition, GI planning may support the shift toward a green economy. The benefits derived from urban green spaces via the provision of ecosystem services are key to meeting these challenges. The text argues that urban GI planning should build on seven principles to unlock its full potential. Four of these are treated in more detail: green-gray integration, multifunctionality, connectivity, and socially inclusive planning. Considering these principles in concert is what makes GI planning a distinct planning approach. Results from a major European research project indicate that the principles of urban GI planning have been applied to different degrees. In particular, green-gray integration and approaches to socially inclusive planning offer scope for further improvement In conclusion, urban GI is considered to hold much potential for the transition toward more sustainable and resilient pathways of urban development. While the approach has developed in the context of the Western world, its application to the rapidly developing cities of the Global South should be a priority.

Article

Stormwater Management at the Lot Level: Engaging Homeowners and Business Owners to Adopt Green Stormwater Infrastructure  

Anand D. Jayakaran, Emily Rhodes, and Jason Vogel

The Clean Water Act of 1972 was the impetus for stormwater management in the United States, followed by the need for many cities to comply with consent decrees associated with combined sewer overflows. With rapidly growing urban centers and the attendant increasing costs of managing stormwater with larger stormwater facilities, green stormwater infrastructure (GSI) was deemed a useful measure to distribute the management of stormwater across the landscape. The management of stormwater has evolved from simply removing it as quickly as it is generated in order to prevent flooding, to intentionally detaining stormwater on the landscape. Typically, low-frequency large events are detained in central stormwater holding facilities, while GSI is employed to manage smaller high-frequency events, slowing and treating stormwater on the landscape itself. Installing GSI close to the source of runoff production ensures that stormwater directed towards these facilities are small enough in volume, so as not to overwhelm these systems. Within these GSI systems, the natural assimilative capacity of soils and plants slows and breaks down many of the pollutants that are found in stormwater runoff. The requirement for a broad spatial distribution of GSI across the landscape necessitates an acceptance of these technologies, and the willingness of the managers of these urban landscapes to maintain these systems on a continual basis. The policies put in place to transfer the responsibility of stormwater management onto individual lot owners range from regulations imposed on those that develop the landscape for commercial and industrial purposes, to incentives offered to individual lot owners to install GSI practices for the first time on their properties. GSI is, however, not a silver bullet for all stormwater ills, and care has to be taken in how it is deployed in order not to exacerbate systemic environmental and racial inequities. A careful and considered adoption of GSI that includes the desires, values, and the needs of the community in conjunction with the environmental goals they are designed to address is critical.

Article

Valuing the Benefits of Green Stormwater Infrastructure  

Amy W. Ando and Noelwah R. Netusil

Green stormwater infrastructure (GSI), a decentralized approach for managing stormwater that uses natural systems or engineered systems mimicking the natural environment, is being adopted by cities around the world to manage stormwater runoff. The primary benefits of such systems include reduced flooding and improved water quality. GSI projects, such as green roofs, urban tree planting, rain gardens and bioswales, rain barrels, and green streets may also generate cobenefits such as aesthetic improvement, reduced net CO2 emissions, reduced air pollution, and habitat improvement. GSI adoption has been fueled by the promise of environmental benefits along with evidence that GSI is a cost-effective stormwater management strategy, and methods have been developed by economists to quantify those benefits to support GSI planning and policy efforts. A body of multidisciplinary research has quantified significant net benefits from GSI, with particularly robust evidence regarding green roofs, urban trees, and green streets. While many GSI projects generate positive benefits through ecosystem service provision, those benefits can vary with details of the location and the type and scale of GSI installation. Previous work reveals several pitfalls in estimating the benefits of GSI that scientists should avoid, such as double counting values, counting transfer payments as benefits, and using values for benefits like avoided carbon emissions that are biased. Important gaps remain in current knowledge regarding the benefits of GSI, including benefit estimates for some types of GSI elements and outcomes, understanding how GSI benefits last over time, and the distribution of GSI benefits among different groups in urban areas.

Article

Big Data in Environment and Human Health  

Lora Fleming, Niccolò Tempini, Harriet Gordon-Brown, Gordon L. Nichols, Christophe Sarran, Paolo Vineis, Giovanni Leonardi, Brian Golding, Andy Haines, Anthony Kessel, Virginia Murray, Michael Depledge, and Sabina Leonelli

Big data refers to large, complex, potentially linkable data from diverse sources, ranging from the genome and social media, to individual health information and the contributions of citizen science monitoring, to large-scale long-term oceanographic and climate modeling and its processing in innovative and integrated “data mashups.” Over the past few decades, thanks to the rapid expansion of computer technology, there has been a growing appreciation for the potential of big data in environment and human health research. The promise of big data mashups in environment and human health includes the ability to truly explore and understand the “wicked environment and health problems” of the 21st century, from tracking the global spread of the Zika and Ebola virus epidemics to modeling future climate change impacts and adaptation at the city or national level. Other opportunities include the possibility of identifying environment and health hot spots (i.e., locations where people and/or places are at particular risk), where innovative interventions can be designed and evaluated to prevent or adapt to climate and other environmental change over the long term with potential (co-) benefits for health; and of locating and filling gaps in existing knowledge of relevant linkages between environmental change and human health. There is the potential for the increasing control of personal data (both access to and generation of these data), benefits to health and the environment (e.g., from smart homes and cities), and opportunities to contribute via citizen science research and share information locally and globally. At the same time, there are challenges inherent with big data and data mashups, particularly in the environment and human health arena. Environment and health represent very diverse scientific areas with different research cultures, ethos, languages, and expertise. Equally diverse are the types of data involved (including time and spatial scales, and different types of modeled data), often with no standardization of the data to allow easy linkage beyond time and space variables, as data types are mostly shaped by the needs of the communities where they originated and have been used. Furthermore, these “secondary data” (i.e., data re-used in research) are often not even originated for this purpose, a particularly relevant distinction in the context of routine health data re-use. And the ways in which the research communities in health and environmental sciences approach data analysis and synthesis, as well as statistical and mathematical modeling, are widely different. There is a lack of trained personnel who can span these interdisciplinary divides or who have the necessary expertise in the techniques that make adequate bridging possible, such as software development, big data management and storage, and data analyses. Moreover, health data have unique challenges due to the need to maintain confidentiality and data privacy for the individuals or groups being studied, to evaluate the implications of shared information for the communities affected by research and big data, and to resolve the long-standing issues of intellectual property and data ownership occurring throughout the environment and health fields. As with other areas of big data, the new “digital data divide” is growing, where some researchers and research groups, or corporations and governments, have the access to data and computing resources while others do not, even as citizen participation in research initiatives is increasing. Finally with the exception of some business-related activities, funding, especially with the aim of encouraging the sustainability and accessibility of big data resources (from personnel to hardware), is currently inadequate; there is widespread disagreement over what business models can support long-term maintenance of data infrastructures, and those that exist now are often unable to deal with the complexity and resource-intensive nature of maintaining and updating these tools. Nevertheless, researchers, policy makers, funders, governments, the media, and members of the general public are increasingly recognizing the innovation and creativity potential of big data in environment and health and many other areas. This can be seen in how the relatively new and powerful movement of Open Data is being crystalized into science policy and funding guidelines. Some of the challenges and opportunities, as well as some salient examples, of the potential of big data and big data mashup applications to environment and human health research are discussed.

Article

Water as a Merit Good  

Michael Hanemann and Dale Whittington

In economics, a merit good is a good which it is judged that an individual or group of individuals should have (at least up to a certain quantity) on the basis of some concept of need, rather than on the basis of ability or willingness to pay. Examples include public elementary education and free hospitals for the poor alongside access to safe, affordable, and reliable water and sanitation. Exactly how a merit good is provided can be subjected to an economic test, but not whether the merit good should be provided. While there are some overlaps in application, the concept of a merit good is distinct from other economic concepts: A merit good may or may not be a public good, and it may or may not involve an externality. However, water and sanitation infrastructure may indeed be viewed as a form of social overhead capital. A merit good is an economic concept; the human right is an ethical concept—and, sometimes, a legal concept. That said, the concept of a merit good and the judgment that a particular item is a merit good clearly have an ethical component. If one accepts the existence of a human right to water and sanitation, that could certainly motivate a government decision to make the provision of water and sanitation a merit good. Even if a commodity is deemed to be a merit good, that still leaves open questions: To which group of people should it be provided as a merit good? In what quantity should it be provided? At what price, if any? By whom should it be provided? And how should the cost be funded?

Article

Smart Cities and Water Infrastructure  

Katherine Lieberknecht

Water infrastructure is the system of physical (both built and environmental), social (e.g., governance), and technological elements that move water into, throughout, and out of human communities. It includes, but is not limited to, water supply infrastructure (e.g., pipe systems, water treatment facilities), drainage and flood infrastructure (e.g., storm sewers, green infrastructure systems, levees), and wastewater treatment infrastructure (e.g., pipe systems, wastewater treatment plants, reclaimed water facilities). Smart city approaches to water infrastructure emphasize integration of information and communication technologies with urban water infrastructure and services, usually with the goal of increasing efficiency and human well-being. Smart water meters, smart water grids, and other water-related information and communication technologies have the potential to improve overall infrastructure efficiency, to reduce water use, to match new water supplies with appropriate water uses, to innovate wastewater treatment, and to protect residents from floods and other water-related climate events. However, without stronger attention to issues of equity, social systems, governance, ecology, and place, a smart city approach to water infrastructure may achieve efficiencies but fail to generate broader socioecological values or to contribute toward climate adaptation.

Article

Transcontinental Meteorology Infrastructures From Ancient Mesopotamia to the Early Modern Age  

Robert-Jan Wille

The current global infrastructure of meteorology partly builds on older transcontinental structures of weather science and meteorological philosophy. For several millennia, the large belt stretching from East Asia, through mountains, silk roads, and the Indian Ocean, to the seas and river deltas where Western Eurasia and North Africa border on each other, has formed a key region. From Ancient Mesopotamia to the 16th century, a continuous and multi-site infrastructure emerged that was organized around meteorological texts, including not only scrolls, papyri, and manuscripts, but also ideas and concepts, as well as meteorological writers and readers traveling between institutions and storehouses. Not considering the long history of orally transmitted pre-Mesopotamian weather knowledge, the first large-scale textual infrastructures were inseparable from astronomical tabulation and dynastical prognostication. In later millennia, in the city states and empires of Greece, Rome, China, and India, “meteorology” became a distinct subject, with its own language and concepts, even though it remained allied to agriculture and statecraft as knowledge practices. At the beginning of the Common Era, the first distinct meteorological instruments appeared, first in East Asia and later in the Near East and Greece. In the 15th and 16th centuries, new regions were added to this knowledge infrastructure, with or without force, making it almost global: the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, their Eurasian and African shores, and the Americas. This changed the power dynamics, with European empires controlling the transatlantic infrastructures of knowledge and labor. Ideas that were transcontinental in origin now became part of a Western European program to conquer the globe.

Article

Green Infrastructure for Stormwater Runoff Control in China  

Haifeng Jia and Dingkun Yin

In the early 21st century, high-intensity human activities have led to the rapid development and expansion of urban areas in many countries, and these have had several adverse impacts upon the water environment. In particular, urban runoff quantity and quality control have emerged as key concerns for municipal officials. China, as one of the countries with rapid urbanization, faces many challenges in this process. Since the year 2000, China has been promoting the protection of its urban water environment using ecological construction. Use of green infrastructure (GI) to solve urban stormwater issues have become the priority of urban green and sustainable development. The Sponge City (SPC) approach was proposed to emphasize the comprehensive construction of multi-objective stormwater drainage and flood mitigation systems, and to consider water ecology, public safety, environmental protection, and preservation of water resources. The goal of GI is to achieve storm runoff quality enhancement and pollution control, which is similar to the sustainable development concept of SPC. According to its major functions, GI can be divided into infiltration and retention GI, regulation GI, transmission GI, pollution interception and treatment GI. GI should be planned and designed according to the long-term runoff volume capture ratio, which is determined by the annual rainfall depth and the level of catchment development at the project site. Different structural layer materials and spatial layout of GI have significant impact on their effects. Upon the completion of a project, long-term monitoring is recommended for evaluating its effectiveness. In order to ensure the continuous efficiency of GI, it is necessary to carry out regular maintenance. Different types of GI demand various maintenance methods and frequencies. Appropriate maintenance methods can effectively extend the service life of GI.

Article

The Economic Value of Water  

Michael Hanemann and Dale Whittington

In economics, the value of an item—including water—to a person is defined as the most of something else of value (typically money, but sometimes time) the person is willing to give up to obtain that item (willingness to pay) or the minimum compensation the person would want to receive in exchange for forgoing the item (willingness to accept). These are measures of gross value; they are in principle quantitative; and they are subjective and idiosyncratic to the individual and the circumstances. The economic value of an item is not measured by its price. It is likely to vary with the amount of the item and should not be taken as a constant. A core conceptual distinction is between use value and nonuse value. A person’s use value for an item is the value that she places on the item from motives connected with the use of the item by someone, whether her own use or that of someone else. Nonuse value is the value she places on an item from motives not directly connected with the use of that item by anybody in any tangible way. For example, a person may value water to drink (a use value), but he may also value having water remain in its natural state (a nonuse value). Consumptive uses are use values, but nonconsumptive uses can also be use values (e.g., swimming in a lake). Other conceptual distinctions include that between wet water and paper water (water that exists on paper but is not actually accessible or usable), and that between raw water alone versus water accompanied by the infrastructure necessary to store it and convey it so as to make it available for use.