Within the context of new suburban development, Butler and Karvonen argue for the efficiency of an integrated approach when designing for water supply, sewer, drainage, runoff, and quality (Butler, K.S. and Karvonen, A. Integrative Water managements and Conservation Development: Alternatives for the Central Texas Hill Country. The University of Texas at Austin. December, 2004). Intentionally or not, their report supports organic notions of community development outlined in Melosi, albeit on a much smaller, suburban scale than the urban context the latter frequently cites. This integrated approach is on the one hand necessarily mechanistic, in that it relies on engineered sanitary solutions with distinct components or systems, but it also somewhat biomimetic in its emphasis on the interrelation of those system components.
This is in marked contrast, for example, to legacy urban sanitation systems. For good cause, 20th century sanitary infrastructures treat water supply, drainage and runoff, and sewer as independent systems. But in a justifiable effort to avoid contamination of the water supply, opportunities to lessen the impact of gray water are missed. For example, in a region prone to flash-flooding and with considerable impervious cover concerns, the City of Austin generally does not allow impervious cover credits for rainwater harvesting systems. (This is likely due to the fact that impervious cover limits are in many cases zoning restrictions designed to control scale of development masquerading as water-quality ordinances.) Likewise, expensive detention and retention ponds are not systematically downsized in consideration of bio-retention measures. Outside of designs negotiated ad hoc with City officials, such integrated sanitation strategies are not currently codified in CoA regulations.
In considering infrastructural change, whether an integrated sanitary system or an environmentally-sensitive power distribution system, in most urban settings one inevitably must overcome the considerable inertia of legacy systems. Butler and Karvonen’s report arguably addresses a relatively tractable problem: how best to provide infrastructural water resources to a suburban Greenfield development. Faced with an installed urban infrastructure, however, the problem becomes far less tractable:
“…decisions made about sanitary systems in the nineteenth century had a profound impact on cities more than 100 years later.
“one of [W. Brian] Arthur’s concerns was that a decision will ‘lock in’ an inferior technology path … early decisions on the path affect immediate decisions limiting available … [and] future [options].
“In 1842 … Sir Edwin Chadwick took a bold stand on the need for an arterial system of pressurized water which would place house drainage, main drainage, paving, and street cleaning into a single sanitary process… this remarkable hydraulic system was never implemented …”
—Melosi, The Sanitary City, pp 11-13
“Individual home owners are typically not able to directly influence the direction of new developments or housing products—to move them towards more sustainable futures in terms of water use and environmental impact.” (Part 1, p 13)
“developers … all agreed that their successes were not achieved by marketing their projects simply as ‘green developments’ ” (Part 2, p 6)