THE WATER SCENARIO – a brief in progress

EVERY DROP COUNTS – On the level of the plot, the neighbourhood, the district – collectively or individually

Water is essential to all life, and the quality of water is a pressing health issue. Water sustains the human population and is vital for all ecosystems.

Local and global problems/ opportunities: Beside the focus on scarcity in the current debate, Iceland has its own treasure: the highest renewable freshwater availability per person in Europe. The freshwater resources are estimated to be around 170 000 million m3 and the reserves are the most secure ones in the world due to an average of 2 000 mm rainfall per year, scarce population and low water stress, (European Environmental Agency 2010; Icenews 2010). Activities related with water are e.g. swimming pools, salmon breading, fishing, spectacular recreational water courses and lakes and greenhouses.

Water can be scarce even in some areas in Iceland where water may though appear to be in great abundance (i.e. Reykholt, Akureyri and Bláfjöll). Water is a sensitive resource. Droughts, flooding and pollution represent threats to the ecological, social and economic foundations for any region.

The new housing areas on the fringe of the capital area negotiate the conservation space of the natural water resources, i.e. Gvendarbrunnar. Furthermore current urban plans for Reykjavik might involve moving the local airstrip from the central location downtown to Hólmsheiði, upstream from the water resource.

Recent global changes are exacerbating the pressure on water resources around the world: With climate change there has been shifts in precipitation and evaporation patterns. The global land use intensification with the growing population increases water supply demand and discharge pollution (nutrients concentration and pesticides in agriculture, industrial pollutants). These trends make fresh water an increasingly valuable and contested good. A rising number of conflicts for the control of water clearly demonstrate this, triggering global migration in search of better water. The abundance of water resources in Iceland makes it highly attractive worldwide for water demanding activities: (Metal smelters) for steady and low energy prices (hydroelectric power and geothermal power versus fossil-fuel price fluctuation) offered by renewable energy, and regions for export of drinking water.

What advice could an expert on water politics give to the people and the government of Iceland, that would be progressive, democratic and sustainable?


  • WHAT IF: Reykjavík became the city of health, shifting towards more resilient water management where storage is a key concept; reducing, reusing and recycling, at all scales and starting bottom up?
  • What incentives could support such a scenario and what sort of processes would be suitable to develop them?
  • How does the intervention contribute to the economy and comfort of the inhabitants?


Resources: infrastructure, housing, land, water, energy,

STUDENTPROJECT (be patient, it takes a minute to download)


2 Responses to “WATER”


  1. SCIBE workshop at Icelandic Academy of the Arts | SCIBE - April 11, 2012

    […] dependent on foreign resource-flows. Four different scenarios entailing basic needs – water, food, dwelling and mobility – were points of […]

  2. Scarcity and Creativity in the built Environment | - March 22, 2013

    […] WATER […]

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