We can fix it….

28 05 2016

markcochrane2

Mark Cochrane

Another gem from Mark Cochrane….

It is simply human nature I guess to forever fight to maintain the status quo if we cannot improve upon it, in a shortsighted manner. It is reasonable to question whether any problematic situation is simply a momentary problem that can be ignored over the long run or is just a minor correction that can be compensated for with a tweak here and there, but there is rarely if ever a serious consideration of changing economic or social course voluntarily. Politicians cannot sell pain to the masses even if they can consider it themselves.

The latest example I saw today was from India.

India to ‘divert rivers’ to tackle drought

Water Resources Minister Uma Bharti said transferring water, including from major rivers like the Brahmaputra and the Ganges, to drought-prone areas is now her government’s top priority.

At least 330 million people are affected by drought in India.

The drought is taking place as a heat wave extends across much of India, with temperatures in excess of 40C.

The Inter Linking of Rivers (ILR) has 30 links planned for water-transfer, 14 of them fed by Himalayan glaciers in the north of the country and 16 in peninsular India.

Environmentalists have opposed the project, arguing it will invite ecological disaster but the Supreme Court has ordered its implementation.

What could possibly go wrong with this? Since no studies have been done no one really knows but there are good reasons to suspect there will be many problems. Taking polluted or poisoned waters from diminished rivers such as the Ganges (link) and spreading them across the land or into other river courses is unlikely to greatly benefit the recipients or the dying rivers. However, given that India has had poor monsoon rains the last two years and is questionably facing its worst-ever water crisis (link), it is not surprising that there are efforts to appear to be doing great things to address the problems. Even if the rivers can be harnessed to support strained agricultural and power needs, despite the ecological costs, it does little to address the underlying problems of melting ice in the Himalayan headwaters or the rapidly draining aquifers. Those aquifers currently supply 85% of the nation’s drinking water but levels are dropping in 56% of the country (link).

India has a population of 1.3 billion and growing. Soon, years like 2016 will become the norm for water availability unless serious adaptations and mitigation efforts are made. However, instead of making serious efforts to improve efficiency of the woefully inadequate water systems, there will be a major effort to ‘fix’ everything with some massive crony-funding projects that will further impact the region’s ecosystems while doing little to manage the real problems of population and changing hydrology.

India is not unique in this though. You can look at China’s Three Gorges dam, Brazil’s massive efforts to install hundreds of dams across the Amazon, Ethiopia’s damming the Blue Nile above Egypt’s existing Aswan Dam or the United States dams and project including its (mis-) management of the Colorado river for examples of trying to engineer solutions to water/energy scarcity. Water is much more precious than oil when scarcity bites.

Whether we are talking about water, oil, fish or anything else the question is always how to get more instead of how to need less. Regardless of rules, treaties, or laws, expect the grab for resources to increase as true scarcity looms. This will likely hold true with climate change as well since ‘geoengineering’ is always in the wings as the proposed cure to our current ills. Why us less water when we can potentially make it rain more (here), or cut greenhouse gas emissions when we can make more clouds to keep it cooler (at what cost?).

I’ve got an engineering degree of my own and so I understand the Siren’s song of a technological ‘fix’. It is a strategy that has worked well for us for a long time now. It can still work well if we just set the parameters and incentives right. Challenge people to do more with less and they will. We need to get off of the uncontrolled ‘growth’ of consumption at all cost mantra and move to one more like continued growth in well-being of human populations and ecosystems. On a finite world there really isn’t another sustainable option.

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Tasmania’s electricity woes

8 01 2016

Before putting my dear other half on a plane back to Queensland, I took her for a tour of the North West. We unfortunately didn’t have enough time to visit the Tarkine, so we’ll have to do it again some time when Glenda returns to Tassie.

We drove through the high country hydro electric network as part of the sight seeing trip, and made some interesting discoveries. Not least that Tasmania could be in a whole lot of strife thanks to a prolonged drought following what I think was the driest winter on record. No climate change here though, move right along…. the drought is so bad, there’s a huge hay shortage for this season’s animal feed, and hay bales are going for three times the normal price, causing, apparently, some thieving to occur. There’s even talk of importing feed from Indonesia, causing some concern for Tasmania’s bio-security…. and if all the farmers start destocking at the same time, the price of lamb and beef will probably collapse.

The alarming thing we saw though was just how low the dams are. We stopped at Lake Burbury for a break, and saw a brand new concrete boat ramp probably one hundred metres long recently built to the water line which is now at least twelve metres below the maximum (and I expect normal) water line…..

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Lake Burbury, way down at the water line

When I worked for the Irrigation and Water Supply Commission at the start of my working career, I used to manually calculate the capacity of various water reservoirs and plot this volume against the depth of the water. Half the capacity resides roughly in the top 20% of the dams, so it comes as no surprise to me to be told Tasmania’s dams are at 24% capacity today.

As a result of such low dam volumes, Tasmania has been importing dirty brown coal power from Victoria. This wasn’t supposed to happen, in fact the opposite of this was the whole idea behind Basslink, Tasmania was supposed to export clean hydro power to Victoria….. but there you go, the future is now, and it’s full of surprises.

You see, Bass Link is broken. “TASMANIA’S electricity highway has come to a costly standstill because of a fault in the $800 million Basslink ­undersea cable” says the Mercury. All this technology everyone so foolishly believes in has its problems, and they can be costly to fix. This could go on long enough that the powers that be have decided to stall the sale of a gas powered back up power station up North in the Tamar so that it can be restarted to bolster generation capacity. Where’s the gas coming from? Well, not Tasmania, let me tell you….

I have to admit though that the hydro infrastructure is mightily impressive; and much older than I realised. I guess Tasmania must’ve had electricity for most of the 20th Century, but I had not really thought about when all this stuff was built.

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Waddamana Hydro Museum

I knew from visiting the Waddamana museum two years ago that the 7MW hydro power station was built in 1910, for a Zinc smelter no less. But much of what has since been built happened during the depression…. which is when the 90MW Tarraleah station was built. About as close as you can get to smack bang in the middle of Tasmania, this 80 year old bit of technology still impresses. The penstocks feeding the turbines down below on the Nive River fall over 200 metres, accelerating the water to a staggering 270 km/h…. it’s a wonder any of it holds together still!

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Tarraleah Station on the Nive R

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Tarraleah penstocks

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Meanwhile, listening to the radio down here in the far South, you can hear the electricity industry’s captains of industry moaning about the high cost of the feed in tariff, all 8c/kWh of it!

These people are clearly not interested in generating the clean power we all think we have to have, they’re only obsessed about the profits they can derive from it. Obviously, this is what happens when you privatise essential services. And still the majority votes for the capitalist parties. It’s mind blowing, really.

Back on my own in Geeveston now, it’s back to the grind as soon as I save this post. More tree clearing to be done, black currants to harvest, cherry trees to de-slug, getting chooks today; and tomorrow I’m finally meeting the structural engineer for our house building, and Monday hopefully will see an order put in for our double glazing before the economy tanks. The signs aren’t good, this early in the year too. Wish me luck!