Daniel Collins

Eco-friendly vs appropriate technology - Crikey Creek

Jul 14, 2010

The BBC has a nice photo essay on the up-take of a low-tech irrigation device – a treadle pump. The BBC, perhaps echoing IDEI, is calling it “eco-friendly”. But it’s not. There’s nothing environmentally friendly about pumping out more water from an aquifer than is recharged. Even pumping less than the recharge rate can be problematic for groundwater-dependent ecosystems. This treadle pump is better described as appropriate technology. Low-cost tech, that can be made or serviced locally. Remember the declining aquifer levels in India? It’s because of insatiable pumping. And why so much pumping? For irrigation to feed the massive population. If higher pumping isn’t accompanied by lower birthrates, these pumps are just delaying the problem. Read More

The case of the blue mozzarella - Crikey Creek

Jul 07, 2010

Back in June, 70,000 balls of mozzarella were confiscated in Turin, Italy because they were blue. This was not an evolutionary step in cheese manufacturing – the offspring with an amorous roquefort – but a consequence of contaminated water. Italians weren’t happy, with farmers demonstrating near the border with Austria, the blue cheese’s country of origin. The cause of the blue hue was traced back to water apparently contaminated by a natural, non-toxic bacteria called pseudomonas fluorescens, known to occur is 14 European countries. The cheese maker, Milchwerk Jaeger, said it came from groundwater contaminated by a factory near its plant. While pseudomonas fluorescens can be a health threat to elderly with respiratory ailments, in the countries where the bacterium is present, it appears that no-one has fallen ill from this this event. Blue mozzarella anyone? … Read More

Texas GOP water platform - Crikey Creek

Jun 29, 2010

The Texas Republican Party has renewed their election platform. In addition to opposing oral sex, a single world currency and membership in the UN, they have a few things to say about water: “We believe that … groundwater is a vested ownership right;…” That is to say, groundwater is a property right, and any groundwater that passes through your property is yours. This is in contrast, in the Texas context, with community-based management, where irrigation districts are able to set pumping limits as a means of sustainable management. Recall the 2009 Nobel Prize in Economics? Which segues nicely into Texas GOP’s desire to… “Create a free market for water to help meet future demand”… using “the relatively light-handed regulation of the oil and gas industry as a model for the state’s water market.” That is to say, … Read More

CSI-Silurian: The biological roots of landforms - Crikey Creek

May 24, 2010

Imagine an episode of CSI-Silurian. The team of detective-scientists are investigating a case of wholescale graffiti in the middle Silurian, and they’re looking for fingerprints. Someone – or something – has taken a knife to the land and carved out a network of rivers and streams. The usual suspect is quickly identified: the climate. In particular, climate’s main handy-man rainfall. But the detective-scientists suspect something more sinister, with the arrival of vascular plants on the scene. Could meagre plants have contributed to the large-scale river patterns? This very question has been asked by geomorphologists for a while. Bill Dietrich and Taylor Perron put a spotlight on the question in a 2006 Nature review article. Asking if life leaves a tangible geomorphic signature, their main conclusion was that natural ecosystems probably don’t create any novel landforms – … Read More

Cloud seeding you can bank on - Crikey Creek

May 21, 2010

Estimated price of a cloud seeding experiment in the Southern Alps: $300,000 Estimated price of annual cloud seeding operations: $1,000,000 Balancing water supply and demand: priceless … Read More

Canadian house swallowed by sarlacc - Crikey Creek

May 12, 2010

Okay, so the house wasn’t swallowed by a sarlacc. But nor was it swallowed by a sinkhole, as the Associated Press is telling us. You may have seen the news: “Family killed as home swallowed up by giant sinkhole in Quebec”, or variations upon a theme. If you look at the aerial photos, you’ll see scars of slumped land on one side, severing the road, cutting across the fields in an arc. But this slumped earth was not swallowed by a sinkhole, to disappear under ground, but simply moved sideways towards the river. The river channel is now buried, as is the land beside the river. This is a landslide not a sinkhole. Sinkholes truly are holes in which the land surface disappears into cavities below ground, or when these cavities collapse causing a depression. Read More

Drought, kiwi and ecological dominoes - Crikey Creek

Apr 27, 2010

Two weeks ago news hit the TV of the impact the Northland drought is having on kiwi. It had already been picked up far and wide back in February, but as the drought continues, so does the story. The story is this: drought has caused nocturnal kiwi to forage for food during the day. These normally nocturnal birds forage for insects in the leaf litter on a forest floor. Normally. But the onset of one of the most severe droughts on record has set off the collapse of a line of ecological dominoes. Low rain begets low soil moisture, which begets lower plant growth and harder soils, which beget less food for insects and more inaccessible insects, which means less food for kiwi, which means more excursions by kiwi into the unsafe light of day and potentially … Read More

Discontent bubbling to the surface in Canterbury - Crikey Creek

Apr 16, 2010

When it comes to Canterbury water governance, the balance of satisfaction has shifted dramatically over the last few weeks. Some are happier now that government-appointed commissioners will replace elected councilors at ECan. Some are not. And those who are not are increasingly making themselves heard. At two meetings recently the malcontents voiced their feelings, from calm criticism to vociferous outrage. Running through both events were the feelings of eroded trust, lost democracy and endangered water. There is no way I can relay every nugget of observation, partly because I wasn’t omnipresent. But in the interests of shedding some light on the cogs between water and society, here are a few. First, from Wednesday night: • Yani Johanson, Christchurch City Councilor, reiterated the remark that Christchurch City Mayor, Bob Parker, did not consult with the city council on ECan’s performance. Indeed, … Read More

Introducing a new series: Horton’s Index - Crikey Creek

Apr 14, 2010

After much mulling, distilling and filtering, Crikey Creek is introducing another new series: Horton’s Index. Many readers will know the name Horton. Not the one who heard a who, but Robert E. Horton – hydrologist extraordinaire. Horton was instrumental in the 20th century quantitative revolution in hydrology. He even got his name attached to one of the water cycle’s cogs – Hortonian overland flow. Many readers, I’d like to think, also know of a certain Index – Harper’s Index. This index is a monthly index of ironic and often-pointedly political factoids, with numbers as the punch-lines. They can be funny, surprising and blunt. Numbers are good that way. No doubt that’s why Peter Gleick, water resources expert at the Pacific Institute, chose as a theme to his blog “Water by Numbers”. With the above in mind, the … Read More

Land use hydrology paradox in Central Texas - Crikey Creek

Apr 13, 2010

When it comes to conversion of grassland to shrubs or trees, the typical story goes like this. More rainfall is caught be the foliage and evaporated straight back into the air. Higher rates of transpiration deplete soil moisture faster, and deeper roots inhibit drainage of water from soil to aquifer. This story is typical because it is observed time and time again [1], but it is not the whole story. Nor is it always true. A recent paper in Geophysical Research Letters, by Bradford Wilcox and Yun Huang, tells a different story [2]. They document annual streamflow for several rivers in the Edwards Plateau, central Texas. While the region has experienced an expansion of shrubs and trees – AKA, “woody encroachment” – spring-fed river flow has paradoxically increased. The reason, they propose, is that while … Read More