December 31, 2016

Water redistribution. Good or bad idea?

Here in the mid-latitudes of west-coastal Mexico we are drowning again in way too much water and if I stay in the shower for a half an hour, nobody would blink an eye. Old habits die hard though and I still have my Aussie shower timer and don’t stay longer than I need to. Why can’t we move water into the drier areas to green it up as they did in Israel and green up the deserts? This would surely have an impact on the economy and ecology of Mexico. I often wondered the same question about Australia. Especially in the 3 state Birdsville area, there is flood/drought in a terrible cycle. Is that natural? To change it, say, in the Bradfield irrigation plan well-articulated in the Ion Idriess book ‘The Great Boomerang’ may be a good move. I think that Australia’s water needs have become severe enough to warrant a move towards this controversial scientific theory. (Or ‘unscientific’/’crackpot’ according to your point of view!). The fact that Joh Bjelke-Petersen was involved and an enthusiast, did the scheme no good in a P.R. sense.

The plan was to gradually re-route all those flooding rivers (The Tully, Burdekin etc.) in northern Queensland so that they flowed back, ultimately delivering their load into Lake Eyre. As most of the rainfall occurs along the coast, flowing directly into the sea, it would be important to harness the water at that point. This would, of course, affect some beautiful areas of jungle and forest. But the amount of evaporation in that area appears to waste a resource that other areas could use.

Firstly, the area would be re-shaped, using all Joh’s earth-moving equipment. It is interesting to note that a fair number of the rich chaps of Queensland were once in earth-moving. I have written on this scheme before but I have fund a great publication by the Australian Government Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts (I won’t even DISCUSS the silliness of that particular portfolio!!!!!!!!!) called ‘Water for the Future: Moving Water long distances : Grand Schemes or Pipe Dreams?’. (Access it and read the entire booklet which is extremely interesting).

It clearly examines the potential and the problems for moving water. This harvesting of annual rains could be done by canals, pipelines, transport by ocean tankers and trucks or diversion of rivers. 70 per cent of run off and water ‘wastage’ as a city dweller would see it, happens in that northern rivers system. The cost would be around $1-$2 per thousand litres (way less than a bottle of Mt. Franklin!).

Desalination is another option, the cost being about the same.

But there is a down side. The energy required at present estimates is quite high and would have a massive carbon footprint.

My question is, what about wind, wave and solar power? Have these been adequately tested in terms of pumping and processing?

For a start, there would be an amazing level of land re-sculpting required as the land in that region is, for the most part, flat as a tack. Surface water storage in the sense of dams is difficult, though in Richmond, Queensland I have seen some staggering re-shaping and harvesting of water by a man who owned earth moving equipment. I haven’t been there for years and would be interested to see the ecological results of his symmetrical, ugly dam. I suspect that it may have done what the Argyle Lake did – attract a lot of never-before-seen pests, parasites and diseases to the region, so it would need careful holistic monitoring.

Pipelines are expensive and vulnerable to vandalism (that is a sad reflection on our world isn’t it?) Plus the energy required for pumping and end processing for potability raise the energy use.

However, I am thinking that the ‘stimulus package’ may have been better spent on establishing a massive pipeline from the north to the south of the country. This coupled with some decentralization incentives by the government may make more sense. You only have to look at America to see how their decentralization works. Rural areas are not penalized by higher costs. Everything in the USA seems to cost the same, no matter where you go. In Australia, living in the country comes at a very high cost.

Take the time to download and read the government paper as it addresses, in a scientific way, the pros and cons of moving water. Here in Mexico, I could see that the excess water in the states of Nayarit, Jalisco and Colima could be piped through the Sierras into the drier interior. Irrigation could inch its way into the centre. As a funding method, a pipeline to all those rich Californians could green the San Diego area and solve its constant bushfire threat by planting trees that don’t easily catch fire.

Sounds simplistic? Well, some of the best ideas are.

And the need for water throughout the world, eg. Ethiopia, the Middle East etc. is urgent. Do you have any ideas? Any scientists out there reading? We would love to hear from you.

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