Archive for the ‘Water’ Category

The water thing

Speaking of not getting along so well when water is an issue:

Lawyers for Georgia, Florida and Alabama are gearing up again for battle, now that tri-state water negotiations have collapsed and the federal government says it will decide how to dole out water rights.

At the same time, the Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will soon issue a short-term water operations plan — a move that could set off a fresh wave of legal maneuvering.

So the Federal Government is moving in. Ah: reminds me of home.

The dispute, by the by, is over things like this:

slide 1

slide 2

slide 3

We all hope we’re wrong about climate change

This is not something that is made explicit enough, or made explicit often enough. This story brought the point to mind:

Europe’s leaders are being warned to prepare for big new flows of migration by 2020 as climate change puts strains on food and water supplies, provokes natural disasters and undermines political stability in poorer, neighboring countries.

A report prepared for the European Union heads of government, who will meet Thursday in Brussels, said that the rest of the world could not insulate itself from the impact of changes that could overwhelm regions that already suffer from poverty and conflict.

In North Africa and the sub-Sahara, drought and overfarming could lead to a loss of 75 percent of arable land. The Nile Delta could be threatened by both rising sea levels and salinization of agricultural land. Between 12 and 15 percent of arable land could be lost to rising seas in this century with five million people affected by 2050. Meanwhile, both the Horn of Africa and southern Africa are vulnerable to reduced rainfall and higher temperatures.

Sounds shit, frankly – worse only for the people doing the moving (I meant shit for me, living in the Midlands of England). This is just a number of all-too-likely consequences of all-too-likely catastrophic climate change, and is exactly why those of us who believe in the problem would like very much to be wrong. I’m happy to have colleagues (known but not named) to call me up once per week for the remainder of my life, giving me stick about my Henny Penny paranoia – if only it meant that none of this misery will come to pass. Somehow, though, I doubt it.

Meanwhile, some war predictions:

There’s also the water one cannot drink – China and the US over the West Pacific, for example. There also are plenty of instances of good and neighbourly management of the scarce resource, but as the resource becomes more scarce still, who knows? We could see Adelaide go to war with Melbourne, for all I know.

There are also plenty of voices who say that the probabilities just don’t match the rhetoric. Could be. I see, though, water the new land – the fixed and needed natural resource of the future, over which we will be prepared to fight long and hard. Because our lives just might depend upon it. Which, sure, makes me a miserable bastard. Like I said, I do hope we all turn out to be plain wrong.

Drinking water in Beijing. Or, if the mountain will not come to Muhammad…

smash the drawing room to pieces!

Remember that old post about moving Beijing? If you’ve forgotten:

China really should consider moving the capital away from Beijing. Any nation, particularly a major power, should choose a location for its capital that allows growth and can respond to challenges. The historical advantages that led Beijing to become China’s capital no longer exist, and the location’s disadvantages are becoming ever more apparent.

Quenching Beijing’s thirst has already meant tapping the Hai River and water from neighbouring provinces. Now the Han River is to be diverted for a huge project transferring water from the south to the north. The impact of this project on the lower reaches of the Han River should not be underestimated. It will not necessarily solve water problems in the north, but it may well destroy the environment in the south. Beijing may have moved the Shougang steel plant for the sake of its air quality, but it continues to develop water-intensive industry. Why not move the industry and resources where there is more water?

Plan A, however, is still in effect.

The diversion of water to Beijing for the Olympics and for big hydropower projects threatens the lives of millions of peasant farmers in China’s north-western provinces, according to a senior Chinese government official.

In an interview with the Financial Times, An Qiyuan, a member and former chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Committee for Shaanxi province and former Communist party chief of Shaanxi, warned of an impending social and environmental disaster because of overuse of scarce water resources.

ft pic

Beijing will need an estimated 300m cubic metres of additional water just to flush out the polluted and stagnant rivers, canals and lakes in its central areas to put on a clean, environmentally-friendly face for Olympic visitors, according to municipal officials.

The average annual per capita water supply in China is 348 cubic metres, well below the global average and the United Nations definition of “water shortage”, which is anything below 1,000 cubic metres. Beijing’s supply is even lower, at 235 cubic metres. Many experts say these shortages are exacerbated by artificially low prices set by the government.

“Beijing is facing a water crisis and it is fighting for water with neighbouring cities, including Tianjin and Zhangjiakou,” said Wang Jian, a Beijing government employee and activist on water issues. “The price of water does not reflect its true value, but the government has decided to control the price in order to maintain a harmonious society in the run-up to the Olympics.”

The government has launched a grandiose $60bn “south to north water diversion project” that will channel about 1.2bn cubic metres of water a year from wetter southern provinces to the country’s arid north.

Well – if we will insist upon our amusing diversions and displacement activities…

Water and golf courses

I first was exposed to the issue of golf course and (or, rather, versus) water conservation as a Masters student at the National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health, via the complaints of a colleague. Her gripe was that (a) golf courses use a tonne of water, and (b) to the extent that golf courses even use recycled water, or less water than before, golf courses still use a tonne of water – for golf.

Bear in mind, this is population health. We’re sensitive to people washing their cars with potable fresh water, bought at cents per kilolitre. It’s a manner of global insanity, peculiar to the developed world.

So to the National Geographic’s recent article, Drying of the West.

The wet 20th century, the wettest of the past millennium, the century when Americans built an incredible civilization in the desert, is over. Trees in the West are adjusting to the change, and not just in the width of their annual rings: In the recent drought they have been dying off and burning in wildfires at an unprecedented rate. For most people in the region, the news hasn’t quite sunk in.

Between 2000 and 2006 the seven states of the Colorado basin added five million people, a 10 percent population increase. Subdivisions continue to sprout in the desert, farther and farther from the cities whose own water supply is uncertain. Water managers are facing up to hard times ahead.

“I look at the turn of the century as the defining moment when the New West began,” says Pat Mulroy, head of the Southern Nevada Water Authority. “It’s like the impact of global warming fell on us overnight.”

I was particularly struck by the attending photo gallery (click for larger images):

national geographic image 1

national geographic image 2

A fantastic complement to the argument that the mass depletion of fresh water, regionally, has yet to sink in (this is a recognisable complaint of mine, regarding Australia).

The increasing efficiency with which golf courses use water is not to be denied. However, like Prof. Broom’s original complaint: it’s golf. Is it worth this?

water use table

Example 1: During periods of drought as defined by water level in the Edwards Aquifer, water is not served in restaurants unless requested. During the summer months 4 million glasses of water would have to be refused in restaurants each day to save enough water to equal that used on one golf course. How many people are served in restaurants each day in this area?

There are roughly 1.3 million people in the Bexar, Kendall, Comal County area and about 56 golf courses.

Example 2: Conversion of old toilets to new water saving toilets is a great water saver. Each flush saves at best about 3.4 gallons depending on how much water the old toilet used.

Lets pretend there is only one toilet in the three county area and we convert it to a new water saving toilet.
In peak summer watering months that toilet would have to be used over 138,000 times to save the water put on one golf course each day.

That water saving toilet would have to be used over 6 times each day by each man, woman and child in the three county area to save the water put on all 56 golf courses each summer day.

There is a level, of course, of personal responsibility in this – what are our solutions to this market? Standard, one imagines:

  • We can tax the market, both to restrict, further, the depletion of fresh water, while raising funds necessary to ameliorate the effects of depletion (recycling, etc. – there is certainly no way to create rain with money);
  • We can encourage voluntary off-setting of the effects of the depletion;
  • We can pursue cap-and-trade markets for water use (a distributional implication being should golf courses even start out with a water allocation at all? Who, ultimately, does the State give the property rights?).

Hell, we could form a mob, charge the golf courses and tear them up. Not exactly a market solution, per se – but how many markets will clear, anyway, when we run out of water?

Returning to the National Geographic and news sinking in, there is – again – that idea of personal responsibility. Those pictures were from Nevada; the table from San Antonio data. This is a suburb in Arizona:

national geographic pic

In this world we cannot get people to drive their 4WDs (SUVs) with any sort of efficient multi-occupancy. Here, we see we cannot manage the same with swimming pools. City/public buses are wildly unpopular in most of this country; municipal amenities like swimming pools no doubt suffer the same ignomy. No solution (outside of legislation, i.e. command and control) is going to work in a nation of fence-builders.

Davos: hypocrisy at day one

Wow. Just… wow. I mentioned, previously, that Davos sounded like it’d be a rich man’s burden kind of event, but this is just mind-blowing.

The chief executives of Coca-Cola Co., Nestlé SA and others will warn the World Economic Forum in Davos this week that the world is running out of water, threatening conflict, higher prices and lost production.

Some will likely then strap on skis to take advantage of the Swiss resort’s glistening slopes. But the pistes of the Alps are also contributing to the world’s water woes.

Europe’s ski resorts have been racing to install snow-making machines to bed the slopes with artificial snow as snowfall becomes less reliable and resorts compete with one another to offer guaranteed good skiing. That is great for skiers and businesses that rely on them, but not so great for local water supplies.

Snow cannons suck up a lot of water. As much as 35% of all water used in Davos now goes to making artificial snow, according to a report released last month by the Swiss Federal Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research to examine the net benefits of snow-making machines. Davos bought 16 additional snow cannons for this season, according to town authorities.

wsj pic

The article is kind enough to include some non-comforting information, too often not seen in such information, concerning water use generally, “moving forward”:

Based on current usage patterns, about 30 countries will be short of water by 2025, according to the Sri Lanka-based International Water Management Institute, a nonprofit supported by 60 governments. That is mainly because most irrigation for agriculture is inefficient, while demand for meat, wheat and other high-protein foods that require a lot of water is growing rapidly as people in China and India become wealthier and more urban.

But the battle against climate change is sucking up water, too, creating what analysts in the field call an accelerator effect. Take biofuels, produced to cut use of fossil fuels such as gasoline that spew the carbon dioxide that causes global warming. Biofuels are mostly made from crops that have to be grown, which puts pressure on land and food prices, as well as on water resources. It takes on average 1,000 liters (260 gallons) of water to make one liter of ethanol-based biofuel, according to the IWMI. For gasoline, it takes 2.5 liters.

The same goes for some of the alternatives to coal-fired power plants that produce less carbon dioxide. Hydroelectric power requires large quantities of water. So do the cooling systems in nuclear-power plants. Clean-coal technologies, too, use more water than regular coal. Overall, industry accounts for around 23% of global fresh water use, compared with around 70% for agriculture and 7% for residential use. Demand is rising in all three areas.

“Some people call water the oil of the 21st century. Whether you like that description or not, one thing is clear, availability of water will be a key driver in the development of the world’s economy and government policies in the next decade,” said Andrew N. Liveris, chairman and chief executive of Dow Chemical, in a statement.

Still, though – blowing water out of snow-cannons during a World Economic Forum meeting is pretty moronic. Particularly compared to, say, not doing so, thereby highlighting exactly one of the world’s most significant problems.

I’m sure the poor countries of the world will be delighted when they hear about how their saviours treat fresh water, while meeting to discuss the needs of the global economy.


Again. The latest on Sydney’s foolhardy moves to extract sufficient fresh water from the ocean (original cost: AUD750m):

The cost of the unpopular Kurnell desalination plant has been revised to $1.9 billion after an increase in the cost of the pipeline that will connect the plant to the city’s water main.

The pipeline cost has been finalised at $650 million, much higher than anticipated due to extremely poor ground conditions at the former Tempe tip site, along Alexandria Canal and also at Sydney Park, which have resulted in the line needing concrete supports to hold it in place even though it is to be laid underground.

“The soil is soft with a lot of water in it,” the head of Sydney Water, Kerry Schott, a former senior NSW Treasury official, said.

The irony of which is, apparently, lost on the government. The criminally-negligent stupidity of not checking up on such a thing, first, is also, apparently, lost on the government (but, then, what is a government for?).

This hit my interest, today, because California has decided that it’s similarities with my fair isles are not yet extensive enough.

Water-short California’s search to satisfy its thirst is beginning to focus on a controversial source — the Pacific Ocean.

In November, Connecticut-based Poseidon Resources Corp. won a key regulatory approval to build a $300 million water-desalination plant in Carlsbad, north of San Diego. The facility would be the largest in the Western Hemisphere, producing 50 million gallons of drinking water a day, enough to supply about 100,000 homes.

The project has attracted big financial partners. In May, General Electric Co. said it had invested in it and would provide filtration technology. In September, Citigroup Inc.’s sustainable-development-investments unit became the lead investor in closely held Poseidon, formed in 1995 by former GE executives and private-equity firm Warburg Pincus. Andrew de Pass, the Citigroup unit’s managing director, says the need for long-term water sources drove the investment. He declined to specify how much Citigroup invested.

Here’s a prediction: this will not be ready in time, it will cost way more than promised (including a lot more money from the pockets of tax-payers, particularly once the private water is being pumped into households at far higher prices per unit than originally promised), it will use far more energy than predicted – it will basically do everything worse than promised.

We make a big deal out of how desalination is used all over – particularly, though, in the Middle East. I.e., where things like cost is far less of a concern in the first place and, moreover, where there is usually only desert and ocean in the first place. It simply isn’t a technology that ought to be replicated on any sort of practicable scale, yet, on our shores.

Ethos water – wasted shipping vs. saved plastic?

Email from my wife (who is wonderful, and I say that with no suggestion from said wife, whatsoever):

Ethos bottle

So Ethos, the Starbucks’d brand of ethical water, has a new bottle! And a very fetching one, at that. I like Ethos water. I like the idea (I prefer the taste of Evian – in general I try my best to keep my plastic bottle purchasing down, though). I’ve bitched insensedly about Fiji water, of course.

So to this development, and my reaction was negative: this is an attractive shape, yes, but picture many such bottles in a box. See how there will be empty space between them? Shipping Ethos water bottles means shipping empty space: it’s a waste of nearly everything (I think I first came across this argument many years ago, with respect to Coca Cola bottles). This is unless – and I haven’t been able to find any information on this – Ethos is following the lead of Poland Spring (click the image for the link):

Poland Spring

Their new bottle uses 30% less plastic, recycled plastic, etc. It is also more easily crushed – all of which new attributes mean the new design (presumably for purposes of holding the bottle up at all). So Poland Spring gives us a trade-off: wasted space for the shipping – meaning, over the course of every bottle of Poland Spring, more trucks, more fuel, more boxes, etc. – but 30% less plastic in the bottles, less plastic/ink in the labels, you name it. Probably a trade-off that I’d accept.

For Ethos? A similar search yields nothing like the sort of eco-friendly-we information dissemination that I’d expect, had they taken a similar path:

Ethos bottles

So perhaps there isn’t that trade-off, with Ethos’ new bottle. Just the wasted space, fuel, etc. But their water business does help get clean water to developing/under-developed regions, so another trade-off still exists. Do you help keep down the environmental degredation that will wipe out the bottom first, or help get the water to them while contributing to the problem?

Alternatively, just go buy a Sigg water bottle, keep chemicals from leaking into the water you drink, and just donate the money you save by using tap-water to a water-providing charity of your choice.

” … People should be entitled to know how their water bills are being spent.”

Mr Turnbull, the Minister for the Environment, announced yesterday he would order the Productivity Commission to review the dividend policy of every capital city’s water utility and require water bills to show all fees, including dividends paid by state-owned corporations to state governments.”State governments have been treating these businesses as cash cows and running them in ways that a commercial business in that industry would never be run,” Mr Turnbull told the Herald.

“It is quite unusual for businesses that are growing and are great long-term businesses to be paying out 100 per cent of their profits in dividends … People should be entitled to know how their water bills are being spent.”

These manner of claims are amusing always because of their hypocrisy. The last people that the people need lecturing them on transparency are bloody politicians. Perhaps Mr Turnbull might like to address some of his colleagues on our entitlement to know how our money is being spent on detaining asylum seekers, and locking up their children away from schools? Just a thought.

In an incentive-based model similar to Kevin Rudd’s health plan, Mr Turnbull said yesterday a re-elected Coalition government would direct investment in water infrastructure towards states which reinvest profits from their utilities.

“We want to use some incentives for more appropriate policies and financial management, ” he said. “The concern we have is that the more the Commonwealth moves into urban water, the more the states use that to take cash out of their own water companies.

Funny – it wasn’t all that long ago that the government had been busted spending all their infrastructure money – money scheduled to last ’til 2010 – on electioneering.

An election-year increase in spending from the Government’s $1.6 billion Water Smart Australia Program – set aside to cover large-scale water infrastructure projects – has drained it nearly dry, despite it being meant to last until 2010.

Who in hell would mine under a river, anyway?

I mean, I realise that I just wrote, below, about agents and self-interest, but this was – to me – a lesson in recklessness; that’s even allowing for the fact that we’re talking about coal-mining.

Mines blamed for threat to water supply

Unrestricted underground coal mining south of Sydney is cracking riverbeds, draining swamps and putting the city’s water supply at risk, experts say.

In one of the most dramatic cases, longwall panels 500 metres beneath the Waratah Rivulet, to the west of Helensburgh, have cracked the sandstone bedrock, in some places 20 metres across, split rock ledges and tilted the riverbed. Water flows have disappeared down fractures along a 2 kilometre stretch of river, environmentalists say.

Within 20 years, 91 per cent of the Upper Nepean and Woronora catchments will have been undermined, the Sydney Catchment Authority has told a government inquiry. Dams in these areas are the sole source of water for the Illawarra, Camden, Campbelltown, and part of Wollondilly, and provide water to the Prospect water treatment plant.

It appears that this is filtering out via an inquiry into the effects of coal-mining beneath water catchments. The return to the government is AUD600m per year. The process:

Longwall mining removes a panel of coal by working a face of up to 300 metres wide and up to two kilometres long. The main problem is subsidence, most of which happens as soon as the mining begins.

Nor is this peculiar to NSW. Subsidence, the collapse of overlying rock layers into the void created by the mined-out coal (i.e. pretty bloody predictable) is inexorably going to follow longwall mining. All over.

Martin Krogh, in his submission to the inquiry (that link is to a .pdf), provided the following (by all appearances fairly accurate) summation:

“The short-term gains in increased efficiency of coal extraction (and profit from sales) may come at the expense of the long-term sustainability of Sydney’s metropolitan drinking water supply and environments,”

His submission is quite interesting, as are a bunch of others, findable by wandering aroung on Google. It still strikes me as idiotic to hollow-out out a mass of rock, with another mass above it and a river above that. Especially when we bloody need that river for drinking.

I look forward to the burgeoning market for the technological ‘fix’ to re-extract the fresh water from the bottom of a polluted coal shaft. Water-mining. You read it here first.

”At least 36 states will face water shortages within five years.”

From the Associated Press, via Huffington Post:

The government projects that at least 36 states will face water shortages within five years because of a combination of rising temperatures, drought, population growth, urban sprawl, waste and excess.

“Is it a crisis? If we don’t do some decent water planning, it could be,” said Jack Hoffbuhr, executive director of the Denver-based American Water Works Association.

“We’ve hit a remarkable moment,” said Barry Nelson, a senior policy analyst with the Natural Resources Defense Council. “The last century was the century of water engineering. The next century is going to have to be the century of water efficiency.”

The price tag for ensuring a reliable water supply could be staggering. Experts estimate that just upgrading pipes to handle new supplies could cost the nation $300 billion over 30 years.

“Unfortunately, there’s just not going to be any more cheap water,” said Randy Brown, Pompano Beach’s utilities director.

I vote that we call it Peak Water – there is still freshwater to be had, but the cheap and easy stuff is pretty well gone, and to get the rest we need (recycling, desalination) will cost a shed-load of money.

In this, as per a conversation with a colleague yesterday, it would seem that Australia has (had?) the opportunity to take their drought and make lemonade (water-less lemonade). Rather than just, say, moaning about Ethanol mandates, squabbling over river allocation/referral powers or cooking up publicly-underwritten boondoggle projects.

We’re like the drought New York: if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere. A decent Apollo-type project, with the likes of the CSIRO and anybody else who wanted to join in, could have pursued every good idea for getting freshwater to keep up with the population (including agriculture).

In the US, the government could chop the legs off of all those idiot farm subsidies and fund quite a bit of such research – benefitting farmers greatly, at the other end. Desalination is a phenomenally expensive – and energy-intensive – ‘solution’. It would behove the US, who has some 280 million more people than Australia anyway, to work now on that ounce of prevention, because there really are no cures for running out of water (particularly where agriculture and eco-systems are concerned).

Just beware – the first thing the government will (usually) try to do is privatise anything that doesn’t run away on sight. This is not a problem that any government gets to pretend it isn’t supposed to be solving. It is exactly the sort of problem that a government is supposed to be solving.