Dunedin and USF Explore Water Management

Longtime partnership between USF and the City of Dunedin contributes to global sustainability initiative.


By Mary Beth Erskine

USF.edu News Writer


TAMPA, Fla. (June 21, 2010) – Situated about 30 miles west of the University of South Florida, Dunedin is one of the oldest towns on the gulf coast of Florida. Officials and residents are proud of its ancestral ties to Scotland – a heritage that is reflected throughout the quaint, village-like city where annual Highland Games and a city bagpipe band are part of the tartan fabric of Dunedin life.


While tradition is at the essence of Dunedin, so is leading-edge technology and innovation, especially when it comes to sustainability. Dunedin was one of the first in the state to earn the designation as a green city from the Florida Green Building Coalition, and its community center was one of the first green buildings in the Tampa Bay region. And for more than 20 years, USF and Dunedin have been partners in sustainability education and research as it relates to coastal urban water management. USF researchers use the city’s water management facilities as a working laboratory.


Recently, Dunedin was named the first city in North America to become part of a large, international network of 33 partners from 15 countries focused on creating sustainable urban water management practices for cities of the future. The news was the result of the initiative of Daniel Yeh, assistant professor in the College of Engineering – as well as Dunedin’s commitment to the management of its water resources as a sustainable city asset.


The project, called SWITCH, is funded in part by the European Union and aims to bring about a paradigm shift in urban water management away from existing ad hoc approaches and solutions toward a more coherent and integrated approach that covers all aspects of the water cycle.


“Dunedin has always been forward-thinking and a pioneer in innovative coastal urban water management techniques,” said Yeh, who serves as USF’s primary liaison with UNESCO-IHE Institute for Water Education, one of the SWITCH consortium of global partners. “The city was one of the first in the region to use reverse osmosis technologies for its water supply, has an aggressive program on water conservation using the latest wireless tools, and is also a ‘poster child’ for reclaimed water use.”


These factors, plus the fact that the city operates its own urban well field independent of other area and regional systems, made Dunedin an ideal candidate to join the international initiative. An action-oriented research program that represents academics, urban planners, water utilities and consultants, SWITCH includes 10 demonstration cities around the globe. These cities will translate the results of research activities, implementing innovative scientific, technological and socio-economic solutions, which can be replicated around the world.


And that’s where Dunedin already is contributing to one of the program’s specific research activities.


“Through a collaboration with Professor Rae Mackay of University of Birmingham (UB) in the United Kingdom, we are modeling all of the city’s water resources and infrastructure in an integrated fashion using a scoping tool called CityWater Balance,” said Yeh. The tool is intended to provide city planners and engineers with a means of integrating previously disparate data. It will enable them to look at the entire water balance of the city and explore a broad range of outcomes regarding demand, quality, energy consumption and cost as they plan for the future.


First, however, the system needs to be tested. Mountains of data about virtually every aspect of a city’s water systems need to be collected and run through the system.


Which is why Ellen Spencer, a graduate student from UB, made the journey “across the pond” during Florida’s steamiest time of year.


While her fellow students were doing the same in Accra, Ghana, Lodz, Poland and Alexandria, Egypt, Spencer spent two weeks in Dunedin gathering data about virtually every aspect of the city’s man-made and natural water systems. Working with city officials – including City Engineer Thomas Burke, Water Division Director Paul Stanek and Wastewater Division Director Ken Stidham – she criss-crossed Dunedin, learning first-hand about the city’s water systems, how they connect, and how they impact each other.


“We needed to cast a really wide net, so the data I collected is quite a big list,” said Spencer, ticking off an inventory including maps of city land use and pipe systems for potable water, waste water and reclaimed water; data about soils, storm water catchments, aquifer properties and the volumes of water pumped; and information about lakes, ponds, creeks, road runoff and infiltration. “I was even lucky enough to be shown some of the sewage pumping stations and given a guided tour of the storm water catchment area,” she added, grateful to have had the opportunity to observe otters playing in some of Dunedin’s creeks.


“Hopefully, I will be able to successfully model the current water balance for the city and then go on to look at future management options which go further on improving the sustainability of the system for Dunedin in response to possible scenarios,” said Spencer. “I also want to make sure it will be easy for planners and people in cities to use.”


In addition to Dunedin officials and Yeh, Spencer worked with USF graduate student Pacia Hernandez. While Spencer focused on the hydrology components of the city’s water systems, Hernandez concentrated on the water/wastewater connection for related research she is conducting on the water-energy nexus.

“You need energy to move water, and you need water to create energy. It’s kind of a vicious cycle. That’s why there is a big push for reusing water and for alternative water uses like rainwater and air condensate recovery,” said Hernandez. “Using the CityWater Balance model, we hope to see where we can incorporate these uses and cut down on energy usage and carbon footprint and create other benefits to the city.”

“We need to create alternatives to conventional urban water management practices – sustainable practices that provide for healthy cities of the future, regardless of location are critical,” said Yeh.

It’s a goal he believes can be accomplished only through the collaboration of academia and cities – a partnership that has been growing worldwide via SWITCH.

“Solutions will not be developed purely through academic exercises,” said Yeh. New thinking and new ways of managing water resources need to come through real applications – through researchers and cities working together.

An approach USF and Dunedin have been modeling locally for years.

Mary Beth Erskine can be reached at 813-974-6993