The locations of most major airports are vulnerable to water extremes, which are continually intensifying due to the effects of climate change. These vulnerabilities are often underestimated or not understood by airports.

We’re finding that while many airports may have a sustainability agenda of some sort, most are not thinking about a strategy for adapting to climate change at such a high level. Planning for resiliency is critical, particularly those situated in densely populated areas next to rivers, in deltas or alongside coasts.

That is why we have designed the ‘Water Sensitive Airport’ framework with five overarching key dimensions:

  • Flood protection
  • Dealing with weather extremes
  • Achieving a good water quality and healthy eco system
  • Climate-proof airport planning
  • ‘Greening’ airport operations

Case in point

This framework is inspired by the three pillars of the Water Sensitive Cities framework. And one airport which is seizing the opportunity to build water sensitivity into its design is the New Mexico City International Airport.

While cities around the world have been developing measures relating to climate change and urbanisation over the past few years, there has not been enough progress with implementation. A LEED Platinum v4 project, the New Mexico City International Airport is an exception.

Mexico City is a thriving metropolis of around 24 million people. But it is facing serious problems that threaten infrastructure, water supplies and irreplaceable architecture. Due to rapid urban growth, the area is facing major water challenges including sensitivities to subsidence, soft soil conditions, droughts, earthquakes, flash flooding and problems with water supply and sanitation.

Managing storm water and local scale water recycling

Lake Texcoco formerly covered the site of the new airport, making the subsurface conditions very challenging. A layer of volcanic material found in Mexico – Tezontle – will not only provide a light and competent working platform during earthworks and ground improvement works, but will also deliver a firm base layer for construction. Lightweight and porous and 2-3 metres thick, this innovative design using Tezontle offers a permeable layer which can provide ground water replenishing in addition to the airport storm water drainage facilities.

To limit the drain on water resources, the wastewater will be treated and will supply 80% of the entire site’s non-potable water demand, including: landscaping, indoor flush fixtures, cooling towers and any other site process water. Rainwater harvesting will be provided for the Passenger Terminal to support the sustainable water strategy, through the interception of post treatment discharge to the ConAgua (Mexican water authority) pipeline.

The New Mexico City International Airport can be commended for envisaging and supporting a truly future vision not only in the amazing design of the terminal structure – led by architect Norman Foster – but also for setting the pace for Water Sensitive Airports.

Creating the Water Sensitive Airport of the future | NACO
Image: NAICM water strategy

A proactive approach

Creating water sensitive airports is not just about protecting infrastructure from flooding caused by sea and rivers. Together with our sister company NACO, Royal HaskoningDHV is responsible for the airport engineering and planning for the New Mexico City International Airport as part of the TASANA consortium.

Our approach is about enabling the airport to become more sustainable and improve local climate and energy management – something which airports are going to have to embrace if they are to survive.
Adaptation Futures

From May 10-13, we will be in attendance at the Adaptation Futures 2016 event. As a sponsor, Royal HaskoningDHV is hosting a session on Climate Change as an Innovation Driver, together with James Dalton of IUCN and Anthony Hurford of the University of Manchester on Wednesday 11 May, 1.30-3.15pm in the Goudriaan Room II, or you can come and find us anytime throughout the conference at our stand.

For more information, please visit: adaptationfutures 2016.