One Way to Deal with Uncertainty: Brute Force Engineering
One way to deal with uncertainty is brute force engineering. See, for example, the canal that brings 1.5 million acre feet (1850 gigalitres according to Google) of Colorado River water into Arizona each year (the Central Arizona Project or CAP).
Or, here in Victoria, there’s the massive desalination plant under construction on the Bass Coast, which will deliver annually 200 gigalitres of water purified from the ocean.
This is apparently one third of Melbourne’s annual consumption. The fancy-pants animation provided on the project website ends with the dramatic and reassuring words:
and for the future.
And this is precisely the point. The impact of climate change on annual rainfall is potentially quite bad, and at best, highly uncertain. The response? Find a source independent of rainfall. While fears of climate change no doubt played a significant role in bringing about this desalination project, this is one form of adaptation that doesn’t rely on detailed climate predictions in order to be effective.
Chalk this up as one of the many examples that contradicts the conceptual model proposed by the Climate Science Framework:
climate science –>; adaptation research –>; adaptation
On another note…
someone who knows more about it (and you know who you are!) really should do a comparative study focused on the politics of desalination in Australia and large water projects in the US (such as CAP). Or at least, they should chime in here with some more authoritative knowledge!
I had an interesting conversation last night with someone who works in the water engineering business here Melbourne. From her brief description, their seem to be quite a few similarities between the canal in Arizona (built in the 70s) and desalination here.
The $3.5 billion price tag of the desalination facility is to be repaid through water sales. It is expected that water prices will double over the next five years partly because desalination is so energy intensive, and thus expensive. But then again, if there is suddenly a huge increase in the supply of water to the state (especially if this drought ends), can we really expect prices to go up?
And another question: how should we expect this new-found water security to effect the public’s attitude toward water conservation?
In Arizona, the main effect of the CAP was to keep water prices low and encourage people to use more water. This helps to explain why the extremely dry state has an above average per capita water use, and below average prices. In addition to facilitating vast suburban sprawl, this has also made it pretty difficult to pay off the bill for constructing the canal in the first place. (Most of the canal water gets “recharged” into the ground, rather than pumped into lawn sprinklers and bathtubs).
These musings come from a position of relative ignorance, especially with respect to water politics in Australia, but the parallels drawn here at least provide a starting point for some interesting discussion.