The Soft Path for Water

by Gary Wolff; Peter H. Gleick

Jan 1, 2002
There are two primary ways of meeting water-related needs, or more poetically, two paths. One path -- the "hard" path -- relies almost exclusively on centralized infrastructure and decision making: dams and reservoirs, pipelines and treatment plants, water departments and agencies. It delivers water, mostly of potable quality, and takes away wastewater. The second path -- the "soft" path -- may also rely on centralized infrastructure, but complements it with extensive investment in decentralized facilities, efficient technologies, and human capital.1 It strives to improve the overall productivity of water use rather than seek endless sources of new supply. It delivers diverse water services matched to the users' needs and works with water users at local and community scales. This chapter tells the tale of these paths up to the present. Decisions made today, and actions of future generations, will write the conclusion of the story.

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