A sustainable urban water supply network covers all the activities related to provision of potable water. Sustainable development is of increasing importance for the water supply to urban areas. Incorporating innovative water technologies into water supply systems improves water supply from sustainable perspectives. The development of innovative water technologies provides flexibility to the water supply system, generating a fundamental and effective means of sustainability based on an integrated real options approach.

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Water is an essential natural resource for human existence. It is needed in every industrial and natural process, for example, it is used for oil refining, for liquid-liquid extraction in hydro-metallurgical processes, for cooling, for scrubbing in the iron and the steel industry, and for several operations in food processing facilities.

It is necessary to adopt a new approach to design urban water supply networks; water shortages are expected in the forthcoming decades and environmental regulations for water utilization and waste-water disposal are increasingly stringent.

To achieve a sustainable water supply network, new sources of water are needed to be developed, and to reduce environmental pollution.

The price of water is increasing, so less water must be wasted and actions must be taken to prevent pipeline leakage. Shutting down the supply service to fix leaks is less and less tolerated by consumers. A sustainable water supply network must monitor the freshwater consumption rate and the waste-water generation rate.

Many of the urban water supply networks in developing countries face problems related to population increase, water scarcity, and environmental pollution.

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Water scarcity

Potable water is not well distributed in the world. 1.8 million deaths are attributed to unsafe water supplies every year, according to the WHO. Many people do not have any access, or do not have access to quality and quantity of potable water, though water itself is abundant. Poor people in developing countries can be close to major rivers, or be in high rainfall areas, yet not have access to potable water at all. There are also people living where lack of water creates millions of deaths every year.

Where the water supply system cannot reach the slums, people manage to use hand pumps, to reach the pit wells, rivers, canals, swamps and any other source of water. In most cases the water quality is unfit for human consumption. The principal cause of water scarcity is the growth in demand. Water is taken from remote areas to satisfy the needs of urban areas. Another reason for water scarcity is climate change: precipitation patterns have changed; rivers have decreased their flow; lakes are drying up; and aquifers are being emptied.

Governmental issues. 

In developing countries many governments are corrupt and poor and they respond to these problems with frequently changing policies and non clear agreements. Water demand exceeds supply, and household and industrial water supplies are prioritised over other uses, which leads to water stress. Potable water has a price in the market; water often becomes a business for private companies, which earn a profit by putting a higher price on water, which imposes a barrier for lower-income people. The Millennium Development Goals propose the changes required.

In advanced economies, the problems are about optimising existing supply networks. These economies have usually had continuing evolution, which allowed them to construct infrastructure to supply water to people. The European Union has developed a set of rules and policies to overcome expected future problems.

There are many international documents with interesting, but not very specific, ideas and therefore they are not put into practice. Recommendations have been made by the United Nations, such as the Dublin Statement on Water and Sustainable Development.

The yield of a system can be measured by either its value or its net benefit. For a water supply system, the true value or the net benefit is a reliable water supply service having adequate quantity and good quality of the product. For example, if the existing water supply of a city needs to be extended to supply a new municipality, the impact of the new branch of the system must be designed to supply the new needs, while maintaining supply to the old system.