Green water, gold medals and, er, infrastructure!

by David Adams

Swimmer sitting on jumping board and looking  at green water body
Peering into to the green depths. Source:

The Olympic Games in Rio are in full flight and the gold medal rush continues. Much talk in recent days, though, has focused on how the diving pool has turned from a sparkly azure blue colour at the beginning of the Games to something with a peculiarly green and murky tinge.  Various explanations have been put forward to explain what has happened, though it is still not entirely clear why.[i]  Divers have been assured that the water is safe, and the competition continued, but the event has stirred some deep-rooted fears regarding water quality.

Concerns about water extend beyond the Olympics.  In Beijing, for example, the city is experiencing dramatic subsidence because of the extraction of groundwater; recent subsidence rate maps provide a comprehensive spatio-temporal analysis of the forces triggering land subsidence.[ii]  There are similar fears elsewhere: parts of Shanghai, Mexico City, California and other cities are sinking, too.[iii] According to Richard Damania, an economist at the World Bank, economic growth in the water stressed parts of the world could see a sharp decline in GDP as a result of people’s extraction of groundwater.[iv]  These anxieties chime with wider debates regarding the value placed on water, and the role it plays in parts of the world that are experiencing population growth and urbanisation.  The hope is that resilient thinking will encourage a more prudent approach to water usage: many cities are exploring the possibility of distributing water treatment plants to create smaller hydrological cycles, rather than relying on centralised, expensive and energy inefficient ‘closed’ systems.[v] But these approaches and solutions require good governance and infrastructure investment.

Debates about infrastructure continue to develop across the built environment professions.  The UK’s National Infrastructure Commission, for example, has a focus, amongst other things, on ensuring Britain becomes a world leader in electricity storage systems, and for its excellent transport infrastructure to help boost the economic recovery.[vi]  Technology also plays a role here.  The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, for example, recently hosted the ‘Cities in a Digital World’ conference as part of the World Cities Summit.[vii]  This conference brought together a range of experts to discuss issues associated with population growth and urban migration to consider how best to plan, design and maintain liveable, sustainable, ‘smart’ places.  The topics were wide-ranging: they included, amongst others: how technology might be harnessed to help create digital cities; an exploration of the possibilities of the Internet of Things; the importance of securing sustainable energy provision; compact cities; and how Building Information Management, Facilities Management and Asset Management might better connect.  These are important issues, and one of the overall messages was that more ‘joined-up’ policy-making is required.  As many would attest, water is vital to life, and the infrastructure needed to ensure renewable supplies, should also feature highly on the policy agenda.



[i] Griffin, A. (2016) ‘Why is the diving pool green? Strange water colour at Rio 2016 explained’, in The Independent 10 August.  Available from: (last accessed 12 August 2016).

[ii] Chen, M., Tomás, R., Li, Z., li, Z., Hu, L., Gong, H., Li, X., Yu, J., Gong, X. (2016) ‘Imaging Land Subsidence Induced by Groundwater Extraction in Beijing (China) Using Satellite Radar Interferometry’,  Remote Sensing,  8(6), 468; doi:10.3390/rs8060468.

[iii] Parker, L (2016) ‘What You Need to Know About the World’s Water Wars’, National Geographic 14 July.  Available from: (last accessed 12 August 2016).

[iv] Cited in Parker, L. (2016) ‘What You Need to Know About the World’s Water Wars’, National Geographic 14 July.  Available from: (last accessed 12 August 2016).

[v] World Economic Forum (2011) Water Security: The Water-Food-Energy-Climate Nexus.  The World Economic Forum Water Initiative, Island Press, Washington.

[vi] Graham, P. (2016) ‘Let’s think long-term about infrastructure’ The Planner, August 2016, p. 29.

[vii] Cook, D. (2016) ‘Smart cities, PropTech and 21st century infrastructure’ 18 July.  Available from: (last accessed 12 August 2016).

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