Tag Archives: water

The Price for Self-Sufficiency: water resources in China

Crand Canal of China

China’s new canal stretches over 1,200km (750 miles) from the Yangzi river north to the capital, Beijing. The new channel is only part of the world’s biggest water-diversion scheme. More than 300,000 people have been kicked out to make way for the channel and the expansion of a reservoir in central China that will feed it. But the government is in a hurry, and has paid their complaints little heed.

China’s leaders see the so-called South-North Water Diversion Project, which has already cost tens of billions of dollars, as crucial to solving a water problem that threatens the country’s development and stability. Grain-growing areas around Beijing have about as much water per person as such arid countries as Niger and Eritrea. Overuse has caused thousands of rivers to disappear. The amount of water available is diminishing fast as the water table drops and rivers dry up; what little is left is often too polluted even for industrial use. The World Bank has said that China’s water crisis costs the country more than 2% of GDP, mostly because of damage to health. T

Yet China’s water problem will remain unsolved. The canal is the second leg of the diversion project; the first, which opened last year in eastern China, brings water from the south along the route of the old Grand Canal, built 1,400 years ago, to the northern plain. Neither will prove more than temporary palliatives as demand continues to soar and pollution remains widespread. China’s water crisis cannot be tackled by showy mega-projects. Misguided policy is as much to blame as a mismatch in supply between the water-rich south and the arid north. A new approach to water management, rather than more concrete, is needed.

The solution is simple: China needs to price its water properly.  The Maoist obsession with food self-sufficiency compounds the problem. The arid northern plain, home to 200m people, produces water-hungry crops such as wheat and corn. Nearly 70% of water consumed in the area is used for agriculture. It is time for China to abandon autarkic thinking and import more food.

China’s water crisis: Grand new canals, Economist, Sept. 27, 2014

Rio+20 Earth Summit; agenda and prospects

The Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development is much bigger than its [three] predecessors — Stockholm in 1972,-

Cross Border Water Management: the case of Namibia and Angola

A transboundary initiative aimed at providing clean drinking water and proper sanitation between Angola and Namibia is making steady progress.  The Kunene Transboundary Water Supply Project — is a good model of trans-boundary cooperation in the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC). The KTWSP will improve the water supply for around 700,000 residents of southern Angola and northern Namibia, providing for domestic consumption, irrigation, and industry.  The project includes the rehabilitation of the Calueqe Dam in southern Angola, which suffered extensive damage during the country’s 27 years of civil war. So far, some 35 million dollars have been invested in the project, which is being funded by the Namibian and Angola governments and contributions from the UK, the German Development Bank and Australia.

Dr Kuiri Tjipangandjara, an engineer at the Namibia Water Corporation (NamWater) and co-Chair of the KTWSP, told IPS that construction of a new pipeline between the southern Angola towns of Xangongo and Ondjiva has already begun. This link will supply treated water to various towns and villages along its route, such as Namacunde, Santa-Clara and Chiedi.  Designs for the network to distribute water within and around Ondjiva are in progress, as are plans for another bulk water pipeline linking Santa Clara to the Namibian town of Oshakati.

Tjipangandjara said Angola has also begun setting up a water utility for the Kunene region.  “There was nothing in place before, and it takes time to set up such a utility and other facilities of the project,” he said.  Numerous design and feasibility studies must be conducted and approved by all involved parties: Angola, Namibia, SADC and the German Development Bank.  “Of course it will be a state-owned utility,” he said, but he did not venture to predict if it would eventually operate on a cost-recovery basis like NamWater, explaining that each country designs its own policies – dictated by the reality on the ground and by history. –

Water Experiments: water diversion and drought

In the past year alone, say Chinese officials, levels in nine lakes on the Yunnan-Guizhou plateau (South China) have dropped by 70cm, marking a total loss of 300m cubic metres of water. The regional drought is now in its third year, and in that time 270-odd rivers and 410 small reservoirs have dried up in Yunnan alone. Residents at lower elevations are better able to tap into groundwater, and have so far been able to carry on as before.

Even so, not only hilltop farmers are affected. Residents in Yunnan’s capital, Kunming, suffer periodic stoppages in supplies of tap water. West of the city, dry conditions are causing forest fires. The region’s growers of such valuable crops as tea and medicinal herbs have suffered, causing prices of those commodities to soar. Hydropower production has also fallen with water levels. Officials report that last year nationwide output rose by 9% year-on-year, but in the southern provinces of Yunnan, Guizhou, Guangdong, Guangxi and Hainan drought caused a 47% fall in reserve power capacity.

The repercussions threaten to affect an ambitious central-government project, imperial in scale, to transfer vast amounts of water from the south to the parched north of the country. China has already invested 137 billion yuan ($22 billion) in what it calls the South-North Water Diversion Project, and is set to invest another 64 billion yuan this year. The idea is to pump water from the Yangzi river northward through pipes and canals along three separate routes. Priority is given to the eastern route, which by 2014 is expected to bring 1 billion cubic metres of water a year to Beijing—a quarter of the capital’s annual supply.  From its inception, the vast scheme has suffered both delays and criticism. One concern has been the cost, both of the initial construction and of the expense of pumping so much water over such distances. The project has also required that at least 330,000 residents along its course accept being relocated.

The river systems of Yunnan and Guizhou figure only modestly in the planned supply chain of the South-North Water Diversion Project. But if the causes of the drought in these provinces have to do with changing global climate patterns, the main assumption underlying the project—that of permanent water abundance in the south—may not hold up.  Liu Xiaokang of the Yunnan Green Environment Development Foundation, an NGO in Kunming, believes the causes are mixed. Global climate may be affecting patterns of precipitation, he says. But his group also notes that the parts of Yunnan that are hardest hit are those where development has been fastest and deforestation most extensive.  Marco Gemmer of China’s National Climate Centre says droughts across southern China are linked to changing patterns in other parts of the world, such as anomalies in the Arctic oscillation or in the ocean current La Niña. Short-term droughts have occurred in the region for all of recorded history, but they may now occur with far greater frequency.  His colleague, Professor Jiang Tong, warns of problems with the transfer project if both south and north suffer drought at the same time. The situation, he adds, is complicated by the Yangzi’s Three Gorges dam. It provides massive amounts of hydroelectricity to the Yangzi basin. He is concerned about what will happen should Shanghai need more power at the same time that Beijing needs more water.

Water Shortages: Ms Fang’s parched patch, Economist, April 14, 2012, at 56

The Silicon Valley of Water: innovation, not scarcity

Israel wants to become the Silicon Valley of water technology. The conditions are ripe: the country has plenty of scientists, an entrepreneurial culture and a desperate shortage of fresh water. Netafim, one of the world’s biggest “blue-tech” firms, got its start on a kibbutz in the Negev desert. Intrigued by an unusually large tree, an agronomist discovered that a cracked pipe fed droplets directly to its roots. After much experimentation the firm was founded in 1965 to sell what has become known as drip irrigation. Today it boasts annual sales of over $600m and a global workforce of 2,800.  In 2006 the Israeli government launched a programme to support water companies, for instance by helping them to market their products abroad. It also created (and later privatised) Kinrot Ventures, the world’s only start-up incubator specialising in water technologies.

A new crop of water-tech firms is emerging, many of them started by computer-industry veterans. “I wanted to invent more than just a new ringtone,” says Elad Frenkel, the boss of Aqwise, a firm that provides gear and expertise to build wastewater treatment plants. Facilities based on the firm’s technologies feature what it calls “biomass carriers”, thimble-sized plastic structures with a large surface area. In wastewater pools they give bacteria more space to grow and thus allow biological contaminants to be consumed more quickly.

Emefcy, a start-up, is also in the wastewater business. It aims to reduce the energy required to clean water, which currently gobbles up 2% of the world’s power-generating capacity. One of its products uses special “electrogenic” bacteria to turn wastewater pools into batteries of sorts. If they work as planned, they could generate more electricity than is needed to treat the wastewater.

The mission of TaKaDu, another start-up, is to discover leaks in a water-supply network, sometimes before they happen. It does this by sifting through the data generated by the network’s sensors to look for anomalies. Even a 1% change in flow rate, if persistent, can point to a leak. TaKaDu’s detection engine is now monitoring water-supply systems in a dozen places, including London and Jerusalem.

Israel still has far to go, however, before it can truly call itself the Silicon Valley for water. Its domestic market is small. Its neighbours, though also desperate for water, are for some reason reluctant to seek help from Israelis. Elsewhere in the world, competition is stiff. Singapore also wants to be a water-tech hub. In developing economies, local players are strong and margins thin. And in America, water is often underpriced and sometimes not even metered.

The Silicon Valley model may not fit the water industry. Venture capitalists are always in a hurry, but water markets are cautious. “You can have bugs in a piece of software, but no bacteria in a water system,” says Jonathan Kolodny of McKinsey, a consultancy. Yet the environment is growing more favourable, says Ori Yogev, the chairman of White Water, whose products monitor water quality. Thanks to new rules as well as privatisation, water utilities are more open to new ideas. This is good news, says Amir Peleg, the chief executive of TaKaDu. “It’s not the water that is scarce, but innovation.”

Excerpts, Water technology: Striking the stone, Economist, May 14, 2011, at 81