AJ: Centralized systems vulnerable to climate change conditions

via: Alternatives Journal, Jan. 2013 / Lifecycles 39.1

Best in Flow

by Stu Campana

YOU JUST TOOK A WATER BALLOON TO THE FACE. The good news is that, as a Canadian, you are rarely so pressed to think about the quality and abundance of your water. Globally, there is enough clean and fresh water for everyone. Nevertheless, huge shortages remain in many parts of the world due to the naturally uneven distribution of the water cycle (among other factors). Even more problematic, the cycle is easily disrupted: small climatic shifts can quickly bring too much or too little, wreaking havoc on conventional water management systems.

These systems are proving inadequate to the challenges created by climate change. Because Canada has been spared the harshest impacts (so far), we are largely unprepared for major water cycle shifts. Fortunately for us, there are lessons to be learned from many communities (including a few homegrown examples) that have already adopted decentralized water management strategies. What we need to absorb are not the designs themselves, but the principles of resilience and low-impact development, which are essential to building a water system that can withstand shocks.

To clarify, the concept of decentralized systems is intended as a geographical distinction rather than a political one. In this context, both centralized and decentralized systems can refer to public or private and municipal or federal initiatives.

Most Canadian cities use water from a single source and dispose of it in a single location. The system works well enough under normal circumstances; there’s no real need to recycle when freshwater remains in ready supply. This centralized structure, however, is like an 18-wheeler on a treacherous highway, struggling to cope with changes in speed and direction. Enough of both, and it might crash.

Increases in the intensity of flooding, droughts and storms are all expected impacts of climate change on water cycles. “New patterns of wind, humidity, and ambient temperature are already dramatically altering the weather map,” wrote Chris Wood, author of Dry Spring: The Coming Water Crisis of North America, in a 2005 article. “Some parts of the country are receiving more rain than ever before; other regions are drying up.” Moreover, Wood argues that “Canada’s multibillion-dollar investment in water infrastructure” is already outdated: “It will not be able to either contain the massive floods or ameliorate the droughts of the future.”

No, perhaps not. An anecdote from our nation’s capital may help explain why.

For most of one day in early September 2012, it rained heavily in Ottawa – not an uncommon event for the time of year, or one likely to raise alarms. Yet the capital region’s residents were unpleasantly surprised to find that the rainfall had caused 63.5 million litres of diluted sewage to overflow into the Ottawa River. Ottawa’s stormwater system is typical of a mid-sized Canadian city: made up of no less than 1500 kilometres of pipes, including some overlap with the sewage system. The labyrinth of pipes is not designed to handle large influxes of water, and the results are more or less catastrophic when it happens.

Like most of the world, Canada’s cities are ill equipped to handle sweeping problems such as contaminated water supplies and widespread flooding. Ottawa’s sewer system can’t cope with an enormous rain deluge any more than India’s water reserves can withstand weeks of drought. Centralized systems are vulnerable to climate change conditions because the size and nature of the infrastructure makes adaptation difficult. Breaking water management structures down into discrete, independent and decentralized systems builds resilience against fluctuation.

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Postmedia News: Alberta harvest first crop of waste-raised willows

EDMONTON — After flourishing on waste water from the town’s sewage treatment plant for more than two years, Whitecourt’s biomass crop of willows and poplars was ripe for harvest.

And last week, researchers brought in three different machines to cut, chip or bundle the various varieties of the fast-growing wood.

While trees aren’t usually on the list when farmers decide what crops they will plant, these species are being tested as both fuel and a way to naturally dispose of treated waste water and sludge.

Whitecourt offered the seven-hectare site beside its treatment plant to researchers in 2006, along with an electricity hookup and an unlimited supply of waste water to irrigate the young trees with underground pipes.

“The cut last week was our second on that site. The irrigated trees were 30-per-cent larger than the ones that weren’t irrigated, and we think they will be a good fuel source for our wood-burning power plant,” says Peter Yackulik, the town’s project manager.

“The question to be answered is what will it take to commercialize this operation in the future.”

The project is part of a federally led research program, with Alberta leading the way.

Whitecourt was the first test site in Canada, and there are now five locations in the province, says Richard Krygier, a researcher with Natural Resources Canada’s Canadian Wood Fibre Centre.

Saskatchewan is also interested, and Krygier hopes what has started here will eventually be copied across the country.

The other municipalities taking part with Whitecourt — Edmonton, Camrose County, Grande Prairie and Beaverlodge — met recently with government and industry supporters to form the Alberta Rural Organic Waste to Energy Network (AROWEN) to exchange ideas and encourage others to consider their approach.

“There are now 24 municipalities, companies or government departments working on this project,” says Krygier, listing an irrigation firm, a nursery company and a laboratory.

The research may provide an alternative way to treat waste water. Most areas with fewer than 5,000 residents still use lagoons and primary treatment systems, which eventually discharge into streams and rivers.

Larger centres with state-of-the-art sewage systems, such as Whitecourt and Edmonton, still have to dispose of the leftover sludge.

Researchers are studying the effects of applying this material to fields of willow trees, where it breaks down and acts as a natural fertilizer.

Edmonton’s project involves using sludge with trees on a test plot near the new remand centre being built on the city’s northern outskirts.

These trees produce biomass that can be burned for heating or to generate electricity, or in the future could be used in bio-products such as chemicals and drugs.

At the Whitecourt site, Krygier says five varieties of willow and two types of poplar were planted on irrigated and non-irrigated land.

The waste water is the same highly treated effluent discharged into the river, so it really can’t be considered sewage.

“This was our first project and we weren’t prepared to work with something that was a little ‘fresher’,” Krygier said, referring to sewage treated only to the primary level.

Using soil moisture sensors, irrigation occurred when the young trees were so dry they needed extra water.

Irrigation only works during the growing season, so a town relying on willow fields would need a winter waste water storage site, such as an engineered wetland, Krygier says.

Harvesting was done with a Claas unit, which did a good job quickly chipping the stalks, a baling machine and a cane cutter pulled behind a tractor.

It’s a new application for equipment many Alberta farmers are already accustomed to using. Farmers also have plenty of experience handling chipped material (silage for dairy cows) and round bales of hay and straw.

“But you are talking $35,000 for the cutter, $140,000 for the round bailer and $160,000 for the Claas head unit, so we were demonstrating different equipment scales of harvesting.”

The willow and poplar chips are being dried in the yard of Edmonton’s Northern Forestry Centre, testing a new technique adopted from Ireland — pumping air through slotted pipes under the pile — that has been modified by a local grain-drying firm.

“In Ireland they could dry wood chips with 45 to 50 per cent moisture content, which is what they are right now in winter, down to 18 to 20 per cent in four months,” Krygier says.

The chips will be studied and graded at a national forestry research lab to determine their quality.

Other countries, such as Sweden, have plantations of fast-growing trees harvested every few years just like crops. If it makes economic sense, large areas of brush land, marginal farmland and even the land under power lines could support willow crops in Alberta.

dcooper@edmontonjournal.com+

© Copyright (c) Postmedia News

Related:

Using wastewater to irrigate short rotation crops delivers dual dividend (Logging and Sawmill Journal, Nov 2011)

For more information about this method, contact Martin Blank at (780) 435-7309 or Martin.Blank@nrcan.gc.ca, Richard Krygier at (780) 435-7286 or rkrygier@nrcan.gc.ca, or Derek Sidders at (780) 435-7355 or dsidders@nrcan.gc.ca

POLIS Project: A Blueprint for Reinventing Rainwater Management in Canada’s Communities

Via: POLIS Project on Ecological Governance – Water Sustainability Project (WSP)

Most of Canada’s communities manage stormwater runoff in a way that is not sustainable in the long term. Flooded streets and basements, degraded urban streams, increasing impacts of a changing climate, and expensive drainage infrastructure that demands constant maintenance are all evidence that we must learn to better integrate the water cycle into urban areas.

Peeling Back the Pavement: A Blueprint for Reinventing Rainwater Management in Canada’s Communities is the latest in POLIS’ water sustainability handbook series for decision makers, community leaders, and municipal water management staff.

Rethinking the way we deal with rain and snowmelt in our cities means replacing conventional pipe-and-convey systems with an approach that recognizes rainwater as a valuable resource while, at the same time, reducing runoff volume and improving runoff quality. Peeling Back the Pavement outlines the problems with conventional stormwater management and examines solutions for moving toward sustainability.

It provides a comprehensive blueprint that outlines the crucial steps necessary to change the way communities manage and, importantly, govern stormwater. The blueprint describes detailed actions that local and senior levels of government can take to move from the current system of stormwater management to one focused on rainwater as a resource.

The handbook is alive with examples and case studies demonstrating leading practice and on-the-ground results from across Canada and beyond. A main focus is addressing the fragmented responsibility for fresh water across and within jurisdictions—one of the greatest challenges to reinventing rainwater management.

Author(s): Susanne Porter-Bopp, Oliver M. Brandes & Calvin Sandborn with Laura Brandes

See also:

Canada Water Network / Reseau Canadien de l’eau – WEBINAR: Creating a Blue Dialogue — POLIS Water Sustainability Project
http://www.cwn-rce.ca/news-and-events/webinar-creating-a-blue-dialogue-polis-water-sustain-project/

Shared Water, One Framework: What Canada Can Learn from EU Water Governance
http://poliswaterproject.org/story/421

University of Waterloo – Water Institute, Events page http://water.uwaterloo.ca/news_events.aspx