Archive for August, 2009
The Stuttgarter Zeitung recently published two articles related to water:
The first article describes the flood-protection measures for a part of the city of Tübingen. The city council just agreed to start building a dam in 2010. This dam will be able to stand in a flood with a 20-year return period.
A normally relatively small creek, the “Goldersbach“, has lead in the past after extreme precipitation events to extensive flooding and related destruction. The dam is part of a multiple-level protection strategy, which is outlined in this publication. The dam is a good thing, however it won’t withstand any substantial floods, that is floods bigger than with a 20-year return period. This is why the warning time is critical for the citizens living in the area! The article states that the warning time is five hours. It would be interesting to get to know details on how they estimate five hours as the warning time. Measurements have to be made, submitted, and calculations and predictions have to be made, involving fair amounts of uncertainty.
The second article describes how NASA researchers found out while working with GRACE data that groundwater levels are declining in India since 2002, even though the precipitation patterns have been fairly normal.
These are two practical examples that illustrate how extreme events are critical and need special attention!
Folks, I really like the open standard identi.ca, which is commonly referred to as an “open source twitter”. What do I use identi.ca for? – When I come across a news-item that is interesting, but doesn’t seem to be big enough for an individual post, I used to post a link to this news-item on identi.ca. This process is very nice, because I can post to identi.ca via adium. If there is at least one such identi.ca post (they call it a “dent”), then it showed up in two ways on planetwater.org: as a daily digest (this one for example) or every dent in the sidebar under “Identi.ca updates”. Both the digest and the sidebar are created with a plugin called “identi.ca tools“.
The sidebar still works, but I think the “daily digest” feature is broken. I just tried to find a solution, however unfortunately I could not find one. Unfortunately, the plugin doesn’t seem to be developed actively. So I guess there won’t be any daily digests for at least a while…
I could move to twitter and use twitter tools, but for now at least I’m a little hesitant.
update Tuesday; September 1, 2009: It seems like there are also some problems with the layout in the Safari browser. For all the apple-maniacs: please be patient, I will look into it, as soon as I’m back! Why don’t you use Opera in the meantime?
update Saturday; September 5, 2009 It seems like both things work again: identi.ca digest feautre as well as the format of planetwater.org on Safari. I swear I didn’t change any setting. Yay to self-healing!
Starting this coming tuesday, I will have the opportunity to experience a giant in the field of hydrology: Jacob Bear. For those of you who don’t know who he is – for me he is for hydrogeology what Werner von Siemens was for electrodynamics. Seriously.
He will be lecturing a short course and I will be listening and learning! I just read his autobiographical note in groundwater and I am just amazed. And I just pulled my version of his book out of the shelf… it is so beautiful!
What kind of question would you ask Jacob Bear? I’ll keep you posted how it goes!
The “New Orleans Metro Real-Time News” (and they know) reports on a new toy of Mr. Microsoft, Bill Gates. He wants to deploy “tubs” into the ocean in hurricane-prone areas, such as off the coast of New Orleans. These tubs are supposed to “harvest” the energy of hurricanes, convert this energy into electrical energy via a turbine, and hence decrease the amount of destruction of a hurricane when it hits land. Call me a sceptic, but somehow it seems to me, those tubs might be destroyed before they can harvest any energy…
The Bavarian TV statation (BR) is showing every sunday night a “mini-serie” entitled “The Thirsty Planet” at 9:15pm. The first two sequels on agricultural water use and water in big cities have been broadcasted already. On sunday the topic will be engineering works related to water, followed by economic aspects of water and finally a show attempting an outlook on how the water-situation will develop.
Enjoy the show!
The Bavarian TV station, the Sueddeutsche Zeitung, and a local newspaper among other sources report that over the weekend quite a lot of hikers got sick, they report on 145. Supposedly all of them have been to the cabin called “Rappenseehütte“. The TV station cites as reason a technical failure of the water treatment facilities. Currently, the cabin remains closed: The health administration wants to “thoroughly disinfect”.
The “Allgäu”, an area in the german Alps is a fairly common area for outdoor activities. There are quite a few cabins sustained by the German Alpine Club (Deutscher Alpenverein) and various sections of this club. Actually, I’ve been to one of the cabins, the “Mindelheimer Hütte” in the area only a few weeks ago.
Generally, the supply of drinking water in such cabins is not a simple task. It’s not that these cabins are small wood-fired shacks. They are rather comparable to hotels in the mountains and often include possibilities for hot showers. The Rappenseehütte has space for about 350 people. Even if they don’t all want to shower, they sure want to wash themselves, they want to drink and eat. Even if everybody is using water very savingly, one can guess that the cabin needs 4000L drinking water per day if it is running at capacity at the minimum. My guess is at least twice to four times that amount with cleaning, and I am not sure how much water such a big kitchen needs. In spring/summer probably the amount is not a problem. Plus this winter has brought a significant amount of snow. So, the “technical failure” remains a valid point.
Even though – how did the contamination get into the drinking water? Are there cows or other animals around? Do people walk over snow fields that melt into the drinking water supply of the cabin? It’s hard for me to imagine other sources of contamination other than human beings or animals. Generally, my thoughts have always been that if you are hiking in areas above the zone where cattle is being held, you’re safe to drink water. In those areas there might be occasionally a dead animal, but that doesn’t cause too much harm.
A few questions remain: If animals were the cause – how did bacteria that is harmful for human beings get into those animals? If animals should not be the cause – did the humans harm themselves? Do there need to be water-source-zones measures be in place? And finally, if one accepts that this was purely a technical failure and one wouldn’t care about source zone protection or other possible measures, then why was this failure not detected in time or an automatic backup system in place?
I guess the safest thing to do is to remain careful. I think pretty much at every tap at every cabin I have ever been it said “no drinking water”. I always thought, “oh well, it’s the same water that is supplied to the kitchen, so I’ll be ok”, so I used it anyways. Maybe this is not the thing to do. I guess one solution would be to just drink beer or other alcoholic beverages – at least those contain no bugs… I’m not quite sure if the well-being on the next day would be really supportive for mountainous adventures…
update Thursday; August 13, 2009: The German TV station n-TV reports that there were two causes for the problems at the Rappenseehütte: The UV module of the water treatment plant had failed and additionally visitors to the cabin infected each other with Norovirus. This seems to be a perfect example, that if something goes wrong there often tend to be multiple causes. It would be interesting to know though, why the UV failed, and how the Norovirus was transmitted (I suspect by droplet transmission).