Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Water, water, everywhere.

My Pan European motorcycle has now gone to an new owner and I am missing it more than I thought I would. Ah well, I shall be working on my Honda 600cc four cylinder, pocket rocket for the next few days. Its the end of my infatuation with the Pan Euro. You have to own and ride one to understand.

But as usual I digress away from my topic of the day...

Samuel Taylor Coleridge's The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner relates the events experienced by a sailor who has returned from a long sea voyage.

Day after day, day after day;
We stuck, nor breath nor motion;
As idle as a painted ship;
Upon a painted ocean.
Water, water, every where;
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, every where;
Nor any drop to drink.

In the on-off drought in parts of the UK the ancient mariners words might well strike a chord.

Canals and the fabled water grid seem to have hit the big time once again. With newspapers, television and radio all having various news items over the last few weeks related to the on-off drought issue. To understand the background to the national water grid you need to have a look at some of the old as well as the new research that is being done.

There is no way that I could begin to address all the issues around the water grid provision using existing and new constructed canals on my blog. But as waterway users we should take a keen interest in what is going on.  There is a possible funding opportunity here for the new waterways charity if some sections of the canals become part of the water grid infrastructure. Widening and deepening for a start.
In terms of positive impacts, from drought conditions. It is good for people to learn to use water with greater efficiency. Which can go some way to help to keep the precious water from being unnecessarily wasted. Saving water by its self is not enough to address the problem.
The main issue for a national water grid, centre around having enough water for various essential human needs. The water grid would kick-start more research into the environmental matters such as the impact on existing habitats.

The Environment Agency said "The idea of a national water grid had been looked at many times: In engineering terms, a national grid is feasible, but the question is whether we should build one. It needs to be looked at in terms of the pressures on water resources and what is the most sustainable solution."

The curious thing for me about the EA stance is that only a small number of drivers are being looked at. Rather than starting on the premise that the provision of a water grid is a good thing. The questions then being, what are the negative impacts that the water grid would create. What can be done to mitigate those impacts. Look at the savings to be made. Then examine the positives impacts on our life style and the environment. A national water grid should be looked at in much greater detail with checks and balances that don't only address the business interests of the water companies. The reason for a water grid go far beyond the economics of the water provision business.

Desalination. The water grid provision should also create a reduction in any need for ultra expensive desalination treatment of sea water.

Farmland irrigation. The water grid provision as a project should also be part of any system intended to help mitigate crop losses in time of drought.

Habitat and Leisure. Additional wetland wildlife habitat creation and additional waterways leisure provision is another hidden benefit of the water grid, but only on the parts that are not underground..

Reservoir projects. The distribution canals will themselves provide for a large water storage volume. In times of local flood condition the water grid infrastructure could also be used to syphon off large volumes of flood water. This could be a much cheaper option in some areas than building large flood containment structures.

Electrical power generation. Small scale generation of power is now more economical than ever. If the power users are local to the generation site then so much the better. This is not a new idea, using water to generate power for grinding corn has been around for centuries. Replacing the grinding wheels with a generator is the basic change. The water grid could also look at power generation provision issues.

Estuary Barrage Systems. Research into the construction of barrage systems as an anti flood measure and power generation systems in some of our major estuaries is already going on a pace. Some estuaries could change into fresh water lagoons. This could be a better option than loosing land to reservoir storage provision. 

Water transport. Canals and rivers have been used for hundreds of years to transport materials. The economics of canal transport are looking to be a bit more of an attractive solution as road transport costs increase. Rail has increasingly diverged into passenger carrying with limited amount of containerised freight movement. As before the the location of the canals to the site of the industry is one of the deciding factors. But some waterways are also used to transport various types of effluent, in the form of flood run-off, agricultural land run-off and treated sewage run-off. This use of canals and rivers as a part of a water grid would require many existing sites to be improved with regard to their impact on the water quality.

Redistribution of population. Population growth in certain areas like the south and east exacerbates the problem. It has been predicted that the water supply for more than half a million new homes in the south and east of England will probably be inadequate without investment in new resources and measures. Why create the problem then look to find a solution. Provide the water provision solution before the major building projects start. It is easier to provide a new water grid canal so that the building projects can be designed to use the visual amenity that such waterway canals would bring. It can also be a solution to over excessive migration away from the city into the surrounding suburbia and the additional commuting chaos that would bring.

Employment long and short term. There are many different perspectives on the water grid policy, one key factor would be the provision of employment during the key building phase. Then the provision of employment throughout the system for long term maintenance. In other words the water grid should not be part of the water companies portfolio. It should be a national asset and a public asset.

I could conclude that we can’t yet predict what the real benefit of the water grid provision for local livelihoods will be in the future. But we already know what the impact on livelihoods are in a time of drought. We should be starting on the premise that the provision of a national water grid is a good thing and proceed from there.


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