Sunday, April 13, 2008

Aqueous Solutions Pt. 2: Provision

Picking up on a previous thread about Water - we deal with a bit more applicable material to large- and landscape-scale interventions and systems. A few of my favorite blogs - BLDGBLOG, Pruned, and Treehugger offered a variety of recent material regarding water - its provision and perhaps with some more time and luck, (and the topic of Part 3) it's probably restoration. Plus it's an idea that goes back to some of the threads from previously - that technology alone is not the answer. It requires using new science and knowledge in old ways - within the bounds of natural systems - to allow nature to heal. Or thinking of new ways of consuming and reusing - even as simple as taking a cue from the dog and lapping up the toilet water. Thought provoking stuff - as we can't all survive on self-watering planters if we are to make some really change in the world.

:: Walk on Water - via Atelier A+D

Starting off slow (or fast, depending on the time-scale you adhere to) with BLDGBLOG, and a short post, via the NY Times, on the release of water into the Colorado River from the Glen Canyon Dam. The goal was to provide water levels for Grand Canyon fish species. Via NYT: "The water poured out of the dam as if pumped through a gigantic fire hose, at the rate of 41,500 cubic feet per second – enough to fill the Empire State Building in 20 minutes. This release, which engineers call “high flow,” was meant to scour the river bottom and deposit silt and sediment to rebuild and extend sandbars and create new, calm backwater areas where the fish can spawn."

:: image via BLDGBLOG

:: Fill'er Up - image via NY Times

The metaphorical idea of filling the Empire State Building in 20 minutes was interesting - although still difficult to visualize. Either way, it's a lot of water coming very fast... and BLDGBLOG makes the observation that could be applied to a majority of rivers throughout the world: "So while it may be obvious to this point out, the implication is that the whole river is a machine now – and what appears to be a "river" is really a kind of liquid chart, graph, or diagram from which we can read the electrical needs of contemporary U.S. urbanism. The river, then, is a sign – it is information-bearing. It is textual, graphic, communicative. The controlled river, with its unnatural floods and valved reservoirs, indicates." (emphases per BLDGBLOG)

:: Historical Mississippi River Courses - image via Pruned

This acknowledgement of the water flows and the impacts on fish are not new, but the willingness for dam operators to allow 'high flow' is controversial, due to the fact that these releases impact power generation - which is one of the primary reasons for the dam in the first place. The talk of dam removal - a more permanent solution to restoring aquatic habitat and hydrology, has also gained momentum, with a number of decommissioning projects throughout the west either completed, underway or planned - which is good news for the fish, and perhaps us all.

Treehugger follows with a story of attempting to capture the potential of river flows in a more dissipated than large dams - using a series of microturbines along the stretch of the Mississippi River. "Swing by the Mississippi River a few years from now, and you may be surprised to see hundreds of thousands of miniature electric turbines dotting the fast moving river's bed. All the electricity generated by this massive "in stream" hydrokinetic project - around 1,600-MW - would be enough to power up to 1.5 million homes..."

:: Micro-turbine array - image via Free Flow Power

While not a perfect solution, this attempts to mitigate the monumental impacts of large-scale dam building on waterways - including impacts fish passage and boat navigation, according to the the Massachusetts-based company behind the plan Free Flow Power. Although the Army Corps of Engineers and other regulatory groups are concerned about the impacts to riverways (ironic, in a way) FFP insists that the methodology is strong, and it sounds like a viable alternative to large-scale dam power generation: "To minimize disruption to marine life, Free Flow Turbine Generators have an open center, a low rotation speed, and no exposed blade tips. Because the turbine does not use conventional bearings, there are no lubricants that can leak into the environment. By using existing infrastructure such as bridge abutments and by relying on a single piling to mount multiple Free Flow Turbine Generators, we will do everything possible to minimize disruption to river beds."

The remaining items essentially summarize a couple of posts from Pruned. These posts deal with water in similar ways - mostly related to the lack thereof and the lengths we are stretching to meet demands - in Spain and India respectively. First, via Pruned, outlines how water shortages in Spain continue to escalate, a number of options to provide for the shortfall have been considered, most significant (and seemingly the option of choice) is shipping, via boat, water from France. As quoted from New Scientist: "Barcelona and the surrounding region are suffering the worst drought in decades. There are several possible solutions, including diverting a river, and desalinating water. But the city looks like it will ship water from the French port of Marseilles."

:: image via Pruned

The infinitesimal amount of water makes the scheme somewhat ludicrous - but desperate times require somewhat desperate measures. No more true is this in a previous Pruned post on 'The New Hydrological Temples of Modern India' which is definitely required reading. The scheme, as a reaction to water shortages country-wide, involves linking: "... the majority of its major river basins through a vast network of canals, diverting billions of litres from the country's more water-rich river basins to those that are water-deprived.”

:: image via Pruned

There are some definite needs that are likely to be addressed in a monumental project like this - including the afforementioned water supply, nearly doubling the amount of arable land. There are also likely positive results of flood control, As Pruned reports, there are some definite issues with the size and scale - and calls to deal with the problems in less grandiose ways: "The solution lies in better management of existing water resources, rather than importing water for irrigation. A simple way to do this is by using large tanks to collect rainwater, which is later supplied to fields during dry periods. Indian irrigation practices could also be made more efficient. A lot of water is lost in evaporation or through drainage from unsealed irrigation canals, and the common practice of flood irrigation is wasteful compared with drip irrigation, which supplies water directly to the plant's roots. But the water used for irrigation is free, so Indian farmers have little incentive to adopt more economical methods."

:: image via Pruned

There are cultural implications of this as well - as dams are considered 'the temples of India' and Pruned speculates on the implications of these canals, dams, and hydrological infrastructure as perhaps the seeds of an expanded theology: "... one wonders what new deities will spring forth from these concrete rivers and what new rituals will be created to celebrate the wonders of moving water against topography, against gravity."
Part 3: Restoration...

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