Raining it isn’t

It’s dry. In fact in the last 34 days at our place, just 7 km from the Brisbane CBD, we’ve had just one fall of 1.5 mm when it is supposed to rain every second day in March and 11/30 days in April.

Level 5 restrictions came in yesterday, the most important implication being that Big Brother’s steamy showers may be cut, or at least limited to the mandatory four minutes with water-saving showerheads.

Yesterday ABC local radio went to the Queen Street Mall, where they gave away a 5,000 litre tank and rolled out the Queensland Water Commission Chair Elizabeth Nosworthy to answer questions. This is what we learnt of more general interest:

Households account for 70% of water usage in SE Qld.

When asked why sporting fields are still being watered, Ms Nosworthy said that every effort was being made to maintain a balanced life-style. It was important that kids continue to play sport.

While the installation of water tanks would continue to be supported, getting water that way was much more expensive than large infrastructure.

All new buildings must have water tanks.

Electricity saving would indirectly save water.

They were serious about targeting high volume water users (15% of households use 30% of the water).

Dobbers were encouraged.

We are continually told that by December 2008, when the water grid, the recycling plant and the desalination plant are due to come on stream, that the dams would be 5% full. Ms Nosworthy advised that this assumes no more rain than we’ve had in the last 12 months when inflows were 3.8% of the long-term average.

She did well, I thought, and there is little doubt that if the deadline for infrastructure looks like slipping we will have Level 6 or 7 well before December 2008.

There is little doubt also that other options are being considered. The most obvious is the collection of stormwater from the city area. A plumber who used to work for Brisbane Water for many years told me that a pipeline already exists from the outfall at Luggage Point to Oxley (how else would they collect sewage for recycling?). This pipeline could be used to pump storm runoff out of the Brisbane River.

Longer term one source of water might be an invention by Perth inventor Max Whisson who has devised a way of getting water from wind. In the two days after Phillip Adams wrote about this in his column he received 1200 emails, some of them offering serious money to develop his invention.

Shortly thereafter Adams had Whisson on Late Night Live to explain his invention.

It capitalises on the notion that there is masses of water in the air around us. In fact Whisson says that if everyone on earth stood in a windy place and took 1,000 litres out of the air on Monday morning by afternoon there would be no detectable difference in humidity anywhere on the planet.

The system works by refrigerating the air with power derived from Whisson’s windmill. This windmill seems to be the core breakthrough of his invention. Instead of large blades facing the wind he has smaller blades parallel to the ground stacked horizontally. His standard unit would be 5m by 4m for the windmill stacks, with the wind then flowing into a 2 by 2 aperture where it would be cooled by a refrigerated metal sheet.

Not sure how I’m going with the word picture. As far as I can see his website concentrates on his other invention whereby he hopes to desalinate seawater through evaporation. The bottom line is that one of these water from wind gadgets on a block of units or on a farm shed would deliver 12,000 litres per day at a 40% recovery rate. At 200 litres per person per day (against the 180 we are averaging now) his device would provide water for 60 people.

When asked by Adams how much these things would cost, Whisson didn’t know but thought roughly “the cost of a good carâ€?.

The thing about Whisson’s gadget, if it works, is that it doesn’t depend on the rain. Nor, of course, does desalination. The Courier Mail’s offering today (we get at least one story a day on the water saga) was their discovery of a report to the Government last year proposing the world’s biggest desalination plant on Bribie Island.

Anna Bligh, our treasurer, infrastructure supremo and premier in waiting, reckons it’s not needed and environmentally nasty. Bligh also says that according to long-term averages the proposed Traveston Dam, now the subject of a Senate inquiry, has a 90% chance of filling within two years. Yes, Anna, but the climate has changed, and who knows what the average for the next 50 years will be!

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Posted in Water
26 comments on “Raining it isn’t
  1. Kim says:

    Level 5 restrictions came in yesterday, the most important implication being that Big Brother’s steamy showers may be cut, or at least limited to the mandatory four minutes with water-saving showerheads.

    Two birds with one stone, Brian – they get to pose as eco-friendly and don’t get pinged by the government’s censorship cops for too much nude posing!

  2. wbb says:

    Someone’s gonna lose an election over water one of these days.

  3. Oz says:

    Hopefully it’ll be the Federal Government wbb

  4. Don Wigan says:

    Thanks for posting the Max Whisson windmill story, Brian. I’d heard the LNL interview with him while driving around in the cab, but didn’t follow up – couldn’t even remember how to spell his name.

    It almost sounds crazy, but at the same time makes a lot of sense. Keep us posted on anything you hear.

  5. BeeF says:

    We may not be getting rain in Brisbane city but the surrounds are looking good. I was out around Kilcoy last weekend and the countryside was very green with paddocks lush with grass. The Gold Coast has plenty of water, in North Queensland they are swimming in it. If this is the worst drought for 200 years then I think we are pretty lucky.

    If the SE corner of Queensland had had some money spent on water infrastructure or we had not had the population increase, nobody would be talking about water.

    Blame the Beattie Government for the neglect – Joh could see it coming which is why he wanted to build Wolfdene Dam. This mob cancelled it and told everybody that it wasn’t needed.

    What’s that old saying about chickens and roosting.

  6. Paul Norton says:

    The drought has created a grave moral dilemma for me. I do my bit to reduce CO2 emissions by cycling the 25 km round trip between home and work. This means that on arriving at work on humid Brisbane mornings, and on arriving at home on hot Brisbane afternoons, I’m hot and awash with sweat, and require a shower to cool down and clean up – in other words I shower three times a day. This is because, regrettably, I have yet to find a way to convince my friends and colleagues that they should, in the interests of the planet, acquire a taste for the pungent aroma which I would otherwise exude after 30 or 40 minutes of vigorous pedalling.

  7. Ever looked at the amount of water collected by your air conditioner? It’s not a huge amount, despite the very considerable amount of electricity used, and the principle by which it’s done (cool the air beyond the dew point) is exactly the same as how Whisson’s turbines work.

    Now, an air conditioner is not optimized for extracting water from air, but it should give you some idea of the challenge.

    The US Army is also looking at the idea of extracting water from air; the product they’re investigating produces water for about 25 cents per gallon – way cheaper than airfreighting water in, but hellishly expensive compared to even deslination.

    While none of these devices depend on the rain, it would certainly depend on the amount of water in the air, as well as the relative humidity (and thus the difference between the dew point and the air temperature).

    So don’t get too excited about Whisson’s turbines.

  8. The Devil Drink says:

    Paul, tell your coworkers to harden the fuck up.
    Australians, I just want to say that I’m proud, deeply proud, of your water-saving efforts:

    In real terms, that means that in the past 15 years Australians drank a total of 92 litres of beer, 20 litres of wine and one litre of pure alcohol per capita

  9. philip travers says:

    Turnbull the Federal Environment Minister,is going to look like a complete bloody idiot by the end of the day..with his proposal to pump water into Queensland via N.S.W. The eggsperts have counted the volumes the pipe associated costs etc.,but,the weather pattern that really creates the rain comes down through Queensland onto the North Coast of N.S.W. The fact is Queensland has enough storage space for water,it is called existing infrastructure,and the problem isnt as it appears even with water harvesting.It is a water recirculation problem or reticulation.The road surfaces can be used up and down hill to reticulate and cool.Sea water showers are wonderful too,hot cold or lucky lukewarm.And most queenslanders would know what a hose outdoors can do in warm weather.

  10. steve says:

    There’s no doubt about it Demon Drink. It is one hell of a drought stricken thirsty big brown land alright.

  11. TimT says:

    Devil Drink, I understand that alcohol is a diuretic; it makes you put out more liquid than you consume. So wouldn’t the net effect of an increase in alcohol consumption be that people would drink more water than they otherwise would, in order to replenish their fluid intake?

  12. The Devil Drink says:

    That is true, TimT, as long as you drink responsibly and safely (cough).
    It’s also true that the commercial production and serving of beer uses a great deal more liquid in wort preparation, vat cleaning and line flushing than is actually fermented and bottled/kegged, and the distillation of spirits uses very large quantities of water (and energy for heat) in the evaporation process. Wine is probably the most ecologically sound of the booze family, in terms of water used for each given volume of alcoholic drink. Winemaking is also the most capital-intensive and economically risky of the three—especially at the premium end.
    Last of all, it’s true that often my unfunny one-liners don’t stand up to logical or reasonable analysis. I’ll cop that. Fucken’ hell, I’m a friendly anthropomorphised incarnation of evil in the nineteenth century fundamentalist Temperance tradition, what do you want me to do, conform to consistent discoverable scientific principles?
    Next you’ll be telling me that an unquenchable eternal fire of Hell violates the second law of thermodynamics.

  13. BeeF says:

    philip travers says – “The fact is Queensland has enough storage space for water,it is called existing infrastructure”

    Queensland in total might but Brisbane and surrounds sure don’t.

  14. nasking says:

    Anna Bligh, our treasurer, infrastructure supremo and premier in waiting, reckons it’s not needed and environmentally nasty.

    I’m w/ Anna on this one.

    Hope she & Beattie hold fast & don’t let the Federal Government run roughshod over our Water, Education & Ports.

  15. Brian says:

    Paul, yes, I’ve got some moral dilemmas too, but on showering, you’ll have to adopt the navy method, if you haven’t already done so. An ex navy guy said on radio that it was standard to wet your body, turn off the shower while you soap up, then turn on the shower to wash off.

    BeeF we went for a run to Mt Tambourine, where it looks great and we had a shower of rain while we were there. But the surrounds of Brisbane are looking awful. And you have to understand that a green sheen doesn’t mean that there is useful catchment runoff.

    Today the fisherfolk had their say about the proposed desalination plant. Not surprisingly it was thumbs down, but why anyone would empty the brine into the Pumicestone Passage instead of the open sea escapes me.

    Turnbull was running interference about the Clarence. This, it seems, would produce a max of 100,000ML pa, whereas the truly bold Qld 50 year plan (pdf) says we need an extra 300,000ML. As Anna Bligh said, it just not enough.

    Today I was a bit shocked to learn that the God Coasters had given us the finger by raising consumption by 5% on the first day of Level 5 restrictions. Bloody ingrates! So I’m thinking that it may be better to leave that measly 100,000ML south of the border. There is no community of interest, and I was thinking of moving there, because contra what Phil said it can rain a bit more there. They often get storms when we don’t. Besides the population there is not standing still.

  16. Ken Lovell says:

    You keep your bloody eyes off of our water. ‘Australian’ water be blowed, it’s NSW north coast water and don’t you forget it. And hurry up with the bloody Tugun bypass will you please?

    Now I’m off to have a nice long shower.

    (BTW if Turnbull, Hockey and Bishop are supposed to be the fresh new face of the government who’ll re-ignite public confidence in its competence, they really are in a spot of bother.)

  17. TimT says:

    Last of all, it’s true that often my unfunny one-liners don’t stand up to logical or reasonable analysis. I’ll cop that. Fucken’ hell, I’m a friendly anthropomorphised incarnation of evil in the nineteenth century fundamentalist Temperance tradition, what do you want me to do, conform to consistent discoverable scientific principles?

    Not if you can get away with the alternative, o Anthropomorphical one. My humble apologies. Can I buy you a … er… drink?

  18. Brian says:

    Couldn’t agree more, Ken.

    Robert, I’m not sure what to make of Whisson, but I gather it is not just refrigeration. There is something about the sudden uplift of wind on a smooth surface.

    Of the 1200 emails Adams got there were some giving instances of a similar phenomena in ancient times including an African desert beetle a million years ago which used to hold its stomach up to the wind kind of upside down every morning whereupon a few drops of water would run down its back into its mouth. Phillip said he’d tried it but it didn’t work for him.

    There were other instances of towers where the wind blew in the bottom and water ran down. Anyway the wind is obviously important, but I’m not sure how important. Whisson said he’d won all the arguments with clever people who said it wouldn’t work, so we’ll see.

    Unfortunately the ABC only archive sound for a month and it was early February.

    Meanwhile we have dams at 20%, reducing 1% every 5 weeks. At the end of next year we’ll if we don’t get solid rain we’ll have only 125ML pa new water coming in from the desalination plant whereas the need is with modest usage 450ML. I’m interested in anything that doesn’t depend on rain right now. And, yes, Don if I hear more I’ll let you know.

  19. Timt said:

    I understand that alcohol is a diuretic; it makes you put out more liquid than you consume.

    Not so.

    Coffee, tea, booze can be classed as mild diuretics.

    But that only means that if you drink a cup of water you initially retain 100% of it (eventually you piss most of it out), if you drink the same cup of coffee or booze you tend to piss 30% or so of it out a bit quicker.

    It’s nonsense, an old Uncles Tale, to claim that it makes you lose more than you drink.

    You may retain 30% less of a cup of coffee than a cup of lukewarm water. I know what I prefer.

  20. Christine Keeler says:

    Poor Queenslanders. I knew the drought was bad, but what will happen now that they can’t wash their cars? Collapse of civilisation etc etc etc.

    More to the point, given the global warming zeitgeist, might it not be time for a rethink on things like watertanks and whatnot?

    Oh hang on, there’s a whopping great river over the border. Macquarie Bank Malcolm Turnbull will be having that thank you very much.

  21. Brian says:

    Christine, we are allowed to wash windows and mirrors with a bucket, but not the paintwork. So we have to leave the bird shit on the duco. They say that seagull pooh acts like paint stripper. I can’t see people complying with this one.

    Tanks are going gangbusters, still being subsidised, but mostly people will be using them to do things that are not otherwise allowed like top up swimming pools, water the garden wih a hose, wash cars and wash off the driveway.

    Inside you are only allowed to connect the toilet and the laundry.

    We have a 10,000 litre tank for outside and are looking at one for those inside functions. We are currently averaging 163 litres pppday (compared with 300 before all this started.) Saving the last 23 litres each to get to 140 will not be easy but with an extra tank we reckon we’ll piss it in!

  22. steve says:

    A thing that annoys me at present is the way that most of the Parks around Brisbane are leafless from the grass being mowed down to just above the soil level. If these clowns would stop shaving the grass for no good reason we would have less of an innercity dustbowl.

  23. Brian says:

    steve, I think they’re on a contract to run over the ground every month regardless of what ‘s growing. At present they’re just stirring up dust and stuffing their machinery. They are actually setting the soil up for maximum soil loss when it rains.

  24. Brian says:

    Just a further thought on Whisson’s gadget, refigeration cools a volume of air that is then largely recirculated with only a limited input of new air (I’ve forgotten how much.

    In Whisson’s gadget you’ve got a constant stream of new air being funnelled through, so there’s be a lot more accessible water, wouldn’t there?

  25. Brian, sorry for not responding earlier.

    Your point about a constant supply of new air is quite right.

    The Whisson turbine still gets water out of the air by cooling it, it’s just that some of the cooling comes from aerodynamic processes rather than a compressor pump. It doesn’t reduce the energy requirements, it just gets them from a potentially lower-cost source which would otherwise be wasted.

    I’m still very skeptical until we see an actual working, full-scale model on a roof somewhere.

  26. Brian says:

    Thanks Robert. The commonsense view of an engineer is always worth having. If it’s right that the project attracted people with real money after Adams’ exposure we may not have to wait too long. If it’s as good a Whisson thinks it is it could be worth squillions.

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