Tag Archives: water pollution

The Unquenchable Thirst

South-to-North Water Transfer Project. image from wikipedia

Most of the drinking water consumed in Beijing has travelled 1,432km (895 miles), roughly the distance from New York to Orlando, Florida. Its journey begins in a remote and hilly part of central China at the Danjiangkou reservoir, on the bottom of which lies the drowned city of Junzhou. The water gushes north by canal and pipeline, crosses the Yellow river by burrowing under it, and arrives, 15 days later, in the water-treatment plants of Beijing. Two-thirds of the city’s tap water and a third of its total supply now comes from Danjiangkou.

This winter and spring, the reservoir was the capital’s lifeline. No rain or snow fell in Beijing between October 23rd 2017 and March 17th 2018—by far the longest drought on record. Yet the city suffered no supply disruptions, unlike Shanxi province to the west, where local governments rationed water. The central government is exultant, since the project which irrigates Beijing was built at vast cost and against some opposition.

The South-to-North Water Diversion Project—to give the structure its proper name—is the most expensive infrastructure enterprise in the world. It is the largest transfer of water between river basins in history, and China’s main response to its worst environmental threat, which is (despite all the pollution) lack of water.

The route between Beijing and Danjiangkou, which lies on a tributary of the Yangzi, opened in 2014. An eastern route opened in 2013 using the ancient Grand Canal between Hangzhou and the capital. (Jaw-dropping hydrological achievements are a feature of Chinese history.) A third link is planned on the Tibetan plateau, but since that area is prone to earthquakes and landslides, it has been postponed indefinitely…

Downstream from Danjiangkou, pollution has proved intractable. By diverting water from the Yangzi, the project has made the river more sluggish. It has become less able to wash away contaminants and unable to sustain wetlands, which act as sponges and reduce flooding. To compensate for water taken from their rivers, local governments are also building dams wherever they can to divert it back again. Shaanxi province, for example, is damming the Han river to transfer water to its depleted river Wei….Worst of all, the project diverts not only water but money and attention from China’s real water problem: waste and pollution.

Excerpts from Water: Massive Diversiion, Economist, Apr. 7, 2018

Air, Water, Waste and Death

UN Environment and WHO have agreed a new, wide-ranging collaboration to accelerate action to curb environmental health risks that cause an estimated 12.6 million deaths a year.

On January 10, 2018 in Nairobi, Mr Erik Solheim, head of UN Environment, and Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of WHO, signed an agreement to step up joint actions to combat air pollution, climate change and antimicrobial resistance, as well as improve coordination on waste and chemicals management, water quality, and food and nutrition issues. The collaboration also includes joint management of the BreatheLife advocacy campaign to reduce air pollution for multiple climate, environment and health benefits

“Our health is directly related to the health of the environment we live in. Together, air, water and chemical hazards kill more than 12.6 million people a year. This must not continue,” said WHO’s Tedros.  He added: “Most of these deaths occur in developing countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America where environmental pollution takes its biggest health toll.”

Excerpts from, UN Environment and WHO agree to major collaboration on environmental health risks, Press Release, Jan. 10, 2017

Saving Iconic Rivers: Ganges

Open defecation, India, image from "The Hindu"

The Ganges, arguably the lifeline of India, has its origin in the Himalayas. Once it crosses Gangotri, it flows through Haridwar collecting industrial, agricultural and human waste on its way. Before it culminates in the Bay of Bengal, it passes through various towns and villages lacking sanitation. The Government of India is rolling up its sleeves to clean the 2525 KM long-Ganga and facilitate its flow as it is the source of water for more than 40 per cent of India’s population.

The Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) is non-profit engineering organisation founded 145 years ago, the IET is one of the world’s leading professional societies for the engineering and technology community. The IET has more than 167,000 members across 150 countries. In India, the IET has over 13,000 members, eight Local Networks and focuses on Energy, Transport, Information & Communications, IoT and Education sectors.

In March 2017, a panel formed by the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) on IoT (Internet of Things) were invited to consult the Government of India’s National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG) to discuss the ways to clean the river. According to IET, the leaders discussed and tried to identify ways to improve the water flow in Ganga, better treatment of pollutants via sewage and effluent treatment plants, need for controlling unregulated sewage, open defecation,  and handling chemical runoff from agricultural lands (fertilisers and pesticides).

The IoT technology could be used in providing real-time information of pollution status and enabling the industries and societies to find alternate means of disposal of waste.   Other technologies being used to clean up the river Unmanned robotic water surface vehicle with drones: The vehicle can be programmed to collect all the pollutant waste through its arms and offload the same. It works 24X7 and under all weather conditions. More, it can actually submerge to clean up pollutants on even the riverbed. A set of drones is used with it to collect videos of the pollutants.

Gumps- Detectors for pipeline leaks: The Guided Ultrasonic Monitoring of Pipe Systems (GUMPS) can detect oil leakages from oil pipelines that are laid across the river bed of the Ganga River. They continuously monitor pipelines and alert any impending leaks, thus preventing loss of marine life and pollution due to oil leakages.

Excerpts, Alekhya Hanumanthu ,Using technology for clean Ganga, Telangana Today,Oct. 10, 2017

To Own a Water Right

Aflaj irrigation systems of Oman

Rights regimes that are well designed and implemented are among the most effective tools for distributing water fairly and sustainably. Under one such system, Australian states began reforming water management in 1994. Few others have followed, though attempts at reform in Chile and Yemen have met with varying degrees of success.

To create tradable water rights, Australia first drew up a baseline for water use, taking into consideration past commercial, social and environmental needs. Next, old water rights were replaced with shares that granted holders (usually landowners) a proportion of any annual allocations. Clever formulae take account of the seniority of pre-existing rights. Different classes of shares determine who gets what and when to balance the competing claims of upstream farmers and downstream urbanites. After that a regulatory board makes sure that all users get as much as they are entitled to.

Allocations made to shareholders are tradable, but those receiving them can also store them for the future. This prevents any sudden wasting of water at the end of each year and encourages thrift during a drought. Issuing shares in perpetuity ensures that a holder can have more water only if someone else is prepared to have less. A centralised register holds everything together. Two markets for trading have been created: one in which shares are exchanged, and another for allocations of water in a given year. The idea is not a new one. In places such as Oman, aflaj systems involve villages trading in shares and in minutes of water flow.

Such regime change originally met strong resistance from farmers and other big users in Australia. But trading allocations reaped enormous rewards for shareholders. During the first decade of reform the annual internal rate of return from owning a water right was over 15%; those who held water shares saw the value of their rights double every five or so years. But following this example elsewhere will be tough. Even rich countries will struggle to unbundle rights that have accumulated over decades.

Excerpt from Liquidity Crisis, Economist, Nov. 5, 2016, at 17

Who Has the Right to Water?

Water Pollution in the Wairarapa, New Zealand due to dairy farming. Image from wikipedia

The Maori claim a special relationship with New Zealand’s fresh water, based on their historical use of its rivers for drinking water, spiritual beliefs, fishing and shellfish harvest, transport and trade, among other things. Their case goes back to 1840, when the British Crown and most of the Maori tribes signed the Waitangi treaty, which first formalised the colonists’ settling of the islands. Maori rights were enshrined in the treaty. An interim ruling by the Waitangi tribunal, set up in 1975 to deal with Maori grievances about land and related issues, says that the Maori have freshwater rights “for which full ownership was the closest cultural equivalent in 1840.”

Although the government has been willing to discuss water rights with some Maori groups, John Key, the prime minister, says that “full ownership” will not be ceded. In 2012 the government sought to part-privatise Mighty River Power, an electricity company with dams on the longest river, the Waikato, which has particular spiritual value for the Tainui tribe. The Maori Council, with representatives from each Maori district, tried to have the sale stopped or postponed. But in 2013 the high court ruled in the government’s favour….

One proposal is that the Maori get a specified water allocation from regional councils, just as farms do. But Federated Farmers, a lobby group, argues that all available water has already been allocated and that specifying a share for the Maori would mean others losing out. New Zealand’s farms rely heavily on water—especially in the dairy sector, which is now the country’s biggest export earner, worth $10 billion a year.

Growing Chinese demand for milk powder means farmers are increasingly switching from meat production to dairy, thereby increasing their water use. Dairy farming is also polluting freshwater supplies, as phosphates and nitrates seep into groundwater. This has become a political issue, not just for the Maori: many of the rivers and lakes loved by all Kiwis are no longer safe to swim in. The most likely outcome is a fudge that avoids saying anyone owns New Zealand’s fresh water. But the Maori may get more influence over some water, or even an allocation.

Excerpts from Maori rights in New Zealand Water, water everywhere, Economist, May 9, 2015 at 34.

What Transocean Pays for the Oil Spill in the Gulf

transocean headquarters Huston.  Image from wikipedia

Transocean Ltd. appeared in federal court in New Orleans after reaching a $1.4 billion settlement with the U.S. over the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill….The company agreed last week to plead guilty to a misdemeanor count of violating the Clean Water Act and to pay $400 million in criminal fines and $1 billion plus interest in civil penalties. Under the agreement, Transocean will undergo five years’ probation and establish a technology innovation group to focus on drilling safety, devoting a minimum of $10 million to this effort…..

The agreement doesn’t cover costs to Transocean for natural-resources damage under the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, the company said. That law requires responsible parties to reimburse governments for restoring natural resources to pre- incident conditions.  Transocean said last week that the company’s liability for these damages was limited by a 2012 court ruling that it wouldn’t be liable under the Oil Pollution Act for subsurface discharge from the well.

The blowout and explosion aboard Transocean’s drilling rig sent millions of barrels of crude leaking into the gulf. The accident prompted hundreds of lawsuits against Transocean, London-based BP, the well’s owner, and Houston-based Halliburton Co. (HAL), which provided cementing services. BP previously agreed to pay $4 billion to the Justice Department to resolve charges connected to the spill and $525 million to settle the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s claim that the company misled investors about the rate of oil flowing into the gulf.  BP announced Nov. 15 that it reached a deal with the Justice Department to plead guilty to 14 counts, including 11 for felony seaman’s manslaughter. U.S. District Judge Sarah S. Vance said last month that she would determine at a Jan. 29 hearing whether to accept BP’s plea.

The criminal case is U.S. v. Transocean Deepwater Inc., 13- cr-001, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Louisiana (New Orleans). (pdf)

Margaret Cronin Fisk & Allen Johnson Jr, Transocean Appears in Court After $1.4 Billion Spill Pact, Bloomberg, Jan. 9, 2013

See also How much oil spills cost

 

 

Polluting the Rivers: Mobil Oil and the Yarra

Mobil Oil has been ordered to stop polluting the Yarra River (Victoria, Australia) with industrial discharge in a historic deal to improve the health of the waterway.  The deal to be announced by the state government today will end decades of companies being allowed to pour contaminated water into the Yarra, which environmentalists fear is already over-polluted.

Mobil has been pumping waste water into the Yarra for 40 years. It was the last remaining corporation allowed to do so, after the Environment Protection Authority (EPA) last year granted it a licence to continue the discharges, a move widely condemned at the time.  Under a new agreement with the EPA, the company will now be required to divert the waste water from its oil refinery at Yarraville to City West Water’s sewerage system.  It has been given until June next year to make the infrastructure upgrades necessary to comply with the arrangement – meaning up to 25 kilolitres of waste water will go into the river every day until then.  Environment Minister Ryan Smith said the deal would nonetheless see an end to ”yesteryear practices” that were ”completely inconsistent with community expectations”.  ”Improving the health of the river and bay is a job for all of us in the community and it is good to see industry playing their part,” he said.  But while the minister hopes the river will eventually be safe for swimming, EPA chief John Merritt said this was unlikely. ”If you look at the health of every river that flows through every major city, none of them are swimming pools,” he said.  E. coli bacteria readings taken by the EPA on Wednesday show pollution remains a big problem, with low water quality around the Princes Bridge and medium quality around Docklands, Abbotsford and South Yarra.

Over the years, businesses along the Yarra – including the Port of Melbourne, Orica and Sugar Australia – were allowed to discharge waste water into the river, but the EPA has been phasing this out gradually. Mobil has had a licence to pump waste water into the river since 1973. Spokesman Alan Bailey said Mobil discharged about 25 kilolitres of waste water a day, far less than the maximum permitted under the licence.

Environmentalists and lobby groups have welcomed the shift, but say a lot more needs to be done to improve the Yarra’s health.  Ian Penrose, for the Yarra Riverkeepers Association, said greater priority must be given to finding alternative water sources – such as stormwater and recycled water – to safeguard the river from ”over-extraction”.  But a major problem, he said, was the river being ”constantly degraded by encroaching urban development”.

Mobil told to stop polluting Yarra, http://www.theage.com.au, May 20, 2012