Water resources of Polish cities and ranking according to Water City Index

Zasoby wodne

Without water, cities would not have been built, much less have the ability to function and develop. The nomadic lifestyle meant that when water was scarce or “bad,” one could pack up and go somewhere else. This changed when settlements began to transform into cities and then into metropolises. They could no longer be moved.

Water resources in cities

In the beginning, the presence of water in the city was taken for granted, something to be enjoyed without a second thought. Over time, it was noted that it should be taken care of, including through sound management. Cities began to deal with “water” crises fairly quickly. Floods, waterlogging, droughts or poor water quality are the effects of the changing climate, but also of human activity and its impact on natural resources.

The role of cities has increased with each century. They were growing in population, and as a place they began to be a ticket to a better life. Currently and in the near future, a very large part of the population will migrate towards cities. It is estimated that soon 65% of the world’s population will live in cities. This is because urban living seems more convenient, better, more prestigious, and safer, including in terms of access to water. Today, more and more city users – residents, businesses, tourists – are consciously taking care of water and using it consciously. They know that this resource can run out.

Urban water use efficiency

The cities and their administrators are feeling the pressure of having to meet demands for improved quality of life and safety. It is also a climate pressure, and the most noticeable sign of climate change is the water component. The right economy and policies and their implications mean that we have enough resources of sufficient quality and affordability. It is the city’s actions, in cooperation with the central government, that make it possible to protect urbanized areas from floods and droughts. Water in the city is becoming more and more important and is considered a good, no longer an obvious and widely available one, but a resource that should be protected, one that sometimes needs to be effectively defended against, but above all one that should be drawn from in a sustainable and rational way.

Therefore, in 2018. made an effort to assess Polish cities in terms of water resource efficiency. The result of the meeting of the business and scientific worlds is the Water City INDEX (WCI).

Water resources of Polish cities and ranking according to Water City Index 1


Water City Index. Water resources and evaluation of their use in Polish cities

The Water City Index 2022 ranking was prepared for three categories of cities: metropolises, cities with county rights and the most populous cities without county rights (population over 20,000). WCI 2022 uses four categories and fifteen evaluation subcategories. The index of non-county cities was prepared based on one aggregate category. Their layout is shown in the figure below:

Bez tytulu
Fig. 1 Areas and categories for assessing urban water policies

More than forty different indicators were used in the calculation of the index for cities with county rights, which came from the following sources:

  • Bank of Local Data of the Central Statistical Office (BDL CSO);
  • Database of Topographic Objects (BDOT10k);
  • Flood Hazard Maps (MZP);
  • Institute of Meteorology and Water Management-State Research Institute (IMGW-PIB);
  • Polish Waterworks Chamber of Commerce;
  • self-reported survey conducted in cities with county rights.

Evaluation in the Life category was based on, among other things. on the following indicators: the price and consumption of water in the city, the price and production of wastewater, the density of the water supply and sewage network, or the expenses realized for wastewater management and water conservation.

In the Threat category The index was calculated on the basis of indicators such as the share of the city’s area in the flood risk area, the length of flood walls in relation to the area of the city’s flood risk area, annual precipitation per sealed area, the number of water mains failures per total length of mains, or the percentage of biologically active land in the city’s area.

The index for the Economy and Business category was calculated, among other things. based on industrial water consumption, the number of water transport companies or the number of watercourse crossings (bridges) in relation to their length.

The last area(Culture and residents) was based on such metrics as the length of the city’s shoreline, the percentage of surface water in the city’s area, the share of parks, greens and neighborhood green spaces in the total area, or the city’s spending on green maintenance per area of green space.

The publication “Water City Index. The “Ranking of Water Use Efficiency in Polish Cities” is prepared by specialists from the Cracow University of Economics, the GAP Foundation for Economy and Public Administration, Arcadis and the Polish Waterworks Chamber of Commerce. The resulting report is intended to help assess the condition of urban water management, to identify courses of action for water policy, and to force reflection on water areas. The researchers divided the issues into four areas: life, risks, business, culture and residents. This provides an opportunity to see if the city is developing in the water field in a sustainable way. It allows the authorities to find the points where they need to intervene and see where their actions are having a tangible effect. The added value is the opportunity to see who can be an inspiration and who we can turn to for advice. The ranking identifies leaders not only overall, but also in specific areas.

“The Water City Index is not just a project and an analytical exercise. Ranking cities is not its main task. Above all, it is intended to provide information for comparison and analysis, to help recognize the weaknesses and achievements of the cities concerned. Allows you to capture non-intuitive relationships. The essence of how cities functioned was a linear flow of matter, with no thought given to the origin of resources, how they were obtained, how they were processed, or how they impacted the environment. In order to prevent this, it is necessary to move to the formula of a regenerative city, which is characterized by multidimensional and long-term action aimed at regenerating its own potential.” – Prof. Ph. Jerzy Hausner, Chairman of the OEES Program Council, GAP Foundation.

Water efficiency proposals for cities

The conclusions of the four published reports show how cities change their policies each year, how they modify water management. Today, water in cities is something important, it is an engine to drive the activity of residents. Pandemic time has shown that it is crucial to be able to spend leisure time close to nature, but close to home. This has increased the involvement of local communities in caring for their own place of life. The report also presents changes caused by the daily implementation of blue and green infrastructure solutions. Today, the water flowing from the tap is of a quality suitable for direct consumption, for example, in Krakow it is one of the best in the world. The report makes it possible to evaluate and modify the “water” measures taken in cities.

The research conducted in WCI 2022, but also in previous years, leads to the following conclusions:

1 The city’s water policy is most concerned with aspects of water supply and wastewater disposal. The water and sewage infrastructure in Polish cities is modern and allows for the proper and relatively efficient implementation of this public service. There is little need for further modernization (of course, the objective need for innovation due to global technical and technological advances should be taken into account). The professionalization of activities in the area of water and sewerage services, resulting, first, from the infrastructure (its availability, failure rate and quality), and second, from the analysis carried out on the composition and purity of water, is high. Nevertheless, the distance between Polish cities with more than 0.5 million inhabitants and the so-called “rest” is, with a few exceptions, very large in this regard.

2 The second key area is the resilience of cities to water crises, and this is a direct result of the conditions and the spatial policy pursued, specific to the entity. We emphasize our criticism of the spatial policy. This is a consequence of overly liberal planning and zoning laws and the massive and spontaneous (chaotic) creation of residential and office space in the most attractive zones of cities.

3 We are dealing with the increasingly popular policy of developer companies, focused on profit rather than respect for the city’s resources. Very often, green areas (parks) and water bodies are considered attractive places for creating residing spaces. A coherent and conservative urban policy in the area of spatial planning will avoid “shredding” space and creating development in flood-prone areas. Spatial planning must include space for blue infrastructure. Spontaneous construction, encouraged by bad laws, leads to devastation of the landscape, impairment of the morphological and functional structure, and strains the municipal budget.

Work is currently underway on the fifth edition of the Water City INDEX. Surveys were sent to Polish and European cities. The ranking can be downloaded here. To satisfy the need to spread awareness about urban water, as a side effect of Water City INDEX, the #MWJŻ podcast was created. Its task is to increase the popularity of the urban-water theme. It can be listened to on the Spotify platform.

As part of the podcast, WCI authors discuss cities with experts, local government officials and activists. Today we see how great the need is to discuss cities and awaken the consciousness of their residents. The topic of urban water is a very interesting area for both research and discussion. This is an insanely interesting and, contrary to appearances, not a new issue at all. Without water, not only would cities cease to exist, without water humanity will perish.

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