Tag Archives: Australia

Serious Water Conservation Demands Layered Approach and Emotional Commitment

Image: Vizimac

Image: Vizimac.com

Drought-ridden California is no stranger to water shortages, but it might be able to learn something about making every drop count from an even drier place: Melbourne, Australia.

Threatened by a severe drought, the Melbourne area used 40% less water per person between 2000 and 2010 than it had in the previous decade, contributing more than 200 billion liters per year to supplies,  former state Labor minister John Thwaites recently wrote. Thwaites, currently chairman of the Monash Sustainability Institute, warned against slackening conservation after restrictions were lifted and water-use began to rise.

Thwaites credits a successful “behaviour-change campaign” for the exceptional water-saving that Melbourne sustained for a decade.  “The campaign was backed by rebates on water-saving products, water restrictions and permanent water-saving rules, tiered pricing to reward water-saving, rules requiring major industry to carry out water audits, and a public social marketing campaign,” Thwaites wrote.

All of those layers across the general population and businesses are important, but the “public social marketing” may deserve special mention when it comes to changing behavior. By flooding media with information about the water shortage, Melbourne nurtured an emotional commitment in people to change habits and save water as a normal part of their daily lives. Even a competitive element was added, when water authorities started showing households how much water they used compared with their neighbors. Manipulative? Sure, but it works. As Thwaites wrote, “How many parents had their children criticising them for letting the water run while they brushed their teeth or washed the potatoes?”

Read more:

Melbourne water supplies: Don’t flush successful conservation efforts down the drainSydney Morning Herald

California drought: San Francisco leads state in water conservationSan Francisco Chronicle

100+ ways to conserve water – Water Use It Wisely

35 conservation techniques for agriculture, farming and gardening – Big Picture Agriculture

Related posts:

California’s State-of-the-State Address: Brown’s Drought Plan in Broad Strokes

Civilization Lost? California’s 500-Year Drought Potential

To the Rescue in California? Solar-Powered Desalination

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Filed under Climate Change, Conservation, Drought, Environment, North America, Oceania, Sustainability, Water Shortage

Top 5 Non-Lethal Uses for Drones

Image: Flying Eye

Image: Flying Eye

Happiness is not a police state, and unmanned aerial vehicles aren’t just for the war machine anymore. Though many of us associate drones with bomb strikes and government surveillance, their civilian use is growing more widespread and attracting massive investment. It’s going to go far beyond recent headline grabbers (e.g., Domino’s pizza-delivery tests and Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos saying on “60 Minutes” that deliveries by drone will be off the ground in 2015, depending on FAA approval). Essentially, anything that calls for a bird’s-eye view, aerial photgraphy, or lightweight deliveries can benefit from drone service. In no particular order, here are five favorites, already underway:

Monitoring and protecting wildlife.  Some early indicators suggest drones are better at spotting wildlife than people in planes and helicopters are, while also reducing costs and risks to human life. Researchers have found success deploying drones to survey dugongs, a vegetarian marine mammal related to the manatee, in Shark Bay, on the western Australia coast. The U.S. Geological Survey uses drones to count sandhill crane populations. The devices are also used to track endangered Sumatran orangutans.

Delivering medicine. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has awarded a $100,000 grant to George Barbastathis and collaborators at the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology in the U.S. They’re working on unmanned aerial vehicles that health care workers can deploy via cell phones to swiftly deliver vaccines and the like.

3-D mapping for everyone. Using a lightweight drone and powerful new software, almost anyone will soon be able to create precise 3-D maps for any number of uses, such as crop management, facilities monitoring and disaster relief operations.  Watch Pix4D co-founder Olivier Kung’s TEDx talk on the subject.

Search-and-rescue. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police reported what they believed to be the first use of a drone to rescue an accident victim. After a late-night car accident in remote Saskatchewan in May 2013, an injured and disoriented man called police but couldn’t report his location. Worse, he wandered far from the crash site.  A helicopter search failed to find the man, even with night-vision gear, but an unmanned drone with an infrared camera did the job. Without it, he would not have survived the night.

Hurricane tracking. Improvements in drone technology have increased the aircraft’s range and flying time, making them invaluable for gathering weather data. An airplane can’t safely stay inside a hurricane for 30 hours, as some drones can.  NASA and Northrop Grumman have teamed up on a $30 million project to monitor storms as they evolve. A University of Florida project is looking at doing similar work with swarms of tiny drones.

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Filed under Agriculture, Conservation, Environment, Industry, Natural Disasters, North America, Oceans, Research, Technology

Study Describes Vast Reserves of Water Under Ocean Floors

cropped-p1000842-4.jpg

Image: David Snow

On the very day I was beginning to put together this blog, Dec. 5, the journal Nature published a new study by a group of Australian researchers that may seem to negate any need for another blog about the looming global water crisis.

The study, Offshore fresh groundwater reserves as a global phenomenon, finds that fresh and brackish water deposits under oceans are much more common, and much more vast, than previously thought.  The research team estimates that the reserves amount to 120,000 cubic miles of water.

“The volume of this water resource is a hundred times greater than the amount we’ve extracted from the Earth’s sub-surface in the past century since 1900,” the study’s lead author, Dr. Vincent Post, said in a statement. He and his team are at of the National Centre for Groundwater Research and Training and the School of the Environment at Flinders University in Adelaide, Australia.

Post explained that the oceans are at much higher surface levels today than they were 20,000 years ago, when polar ice caps began to melt, adding water volume over time. What was once ground has aquifers filled with groundwater underneath. These aquifers, though underneath large bodies of salt water, are otherwise similar to the ones under dry land that are being depleted all over the world.

So, if there’s so much more water out there than we thought, why should I continue to study it as a precious and finite resource that could cause more global conflict than oil in the coming decades? Because of what lies between these massive reserves of water and their ability to sustain people and communities: complex infrastructure and high costs. As Post and his team point out, the water will have to be pumped from ocean platforms or facilities on nearby dry land. That, plus the need for desalination, make getting the water where it’s needed, in a drinkable state, a tall order. On the plus side, as the study indicates, the water is not as salty as seawater, so the desalination is that much less energy-intensive.

After all is said and done, however, this massive “new” resource is still finite. As Post noted, aquifers under oceans won’t be refilled with new groundwater until the oceans recede again, “which is not likely to happen for a very long time.” (Possibly a bit of understatement, that.)

Read more about the study and its implications.

UPDATE: Offshore fresh water aquifers: Which law will apply? – International Water Law Project Blog

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Filed under Desalination, Groundwater, Oceans, Research, Technology, Water Shortage