Floating mats of beaked sedge and other peatland plants aid survival in fluctuating water levels because they are held together and kept afloat by root-like stems (rhizomes) of the plants. Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Kristian Peters.

The nasal surfaces of camels help conserve water by using hygroscopic properties to remove water from air during exhalation. Photo by Flickr user Adam Foster | Codefor.

Trees in the cloud forest contribute to water yield by precipitating water from clouds onto needles, a process known as "fog drip." Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Michael Schweppe.

The leaves of Collospermum epiphytes capture water due to their fan-shaped arrangement. Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Kahuroa.

The skin of file snakes protects from dehydration because it is hygroscopic, which allows it to absorb moisture from the air. Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Nelly de Rooi.

The leaves of ice plants store water in surface bladder-like cells. Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Yummifruitbat.

Lichens capture water via ice nucleation absorbing the moisture once the temperature rises and the ice melts. Photo by Erin Leitch.

The leaves of Spanish moss absorb water and slow water loss because they are covered in dense scales. Photo by Flickr user Linda Hoover.

The body of Texas horned lizards captures rainwater via splayed stance and interscalar channels on the skin. Photo by Patrick Owen.

The seed coats of some desert plants adjust their permeability to moisture via a humidity-sensitive hilar valve. Photo by Anita Gould.

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Want Water Solutions? Nature Has Already Figured Them Out

The planet has been managing water for 3.8 billion years. We’ve just recently found ways to mess it up. In a quest to be better with our liquid resources, looking to how the natural world treats water would be a good place to start.

It cannot be created, nor destroyed. It has no alternative. It is a global sustainability issue with enormously important implications and yet, despite the stressed circumstances and lack of viable alternatives, is typically overshadowed by its sister issue—climate change—and its driver, greenhouse gas emissions.

But don’t forget to pay attention to water.

The presence of water is one of the key operating conditions of the planet to which all life has had to evolve and adapt through form, process, or system. Life has evolved responses to flooding, to drought, to the need for water distribution, for water collection, how to leverage free energy of water movement, how to slow water down and speed it up. Natural history is essentially an innovation catalog that can teach us not just the way life works, but the ways in which our designs can work better and more sustainably.

Water serves a multitude of functions within our human systems. When considering how to respond to the critical water challenges around the world—such as desalination, collection, distribution, and storage—designers often discover that the issue is not a lack of water but the lack of design innovation that intelligently and elegantly values and leverages limited water resources.

In the world of biomimicry, every design challenge is an opportunity to ask "How would nature do that?" Sometimes it results in very tactical responses that are just simply better designed and engineered than what has been previously available on the market due to 3.8 billion million years of fine-tuned engineering through evolution, such as the streamlined flow technology developed by PAX Scientific, Inc. Other times it results in discovering that, actually, nature wouldn’t do it that way, such as the centralized water storage system originally planned for KHED Special Economic Zone (SEZ) where HOK and Biomimicry 3.8 discovered that decentralized water storage was much more aligned with the resilience of water management observed in life and thus redesigned accordingly.

How does nature manage water? AskNature has released their latest featured strategies focused on the water management tactics found in life forms, processes, and systems as part of the Biomimicry Student Design Challenge. Check out our slide show to discover 10 fascinating nature-based inspirations selected from the full AskNature suite of featured water strategies that can help us developed more evolved solutions for managing our relationship with water.

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