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Musings about the environment and all it touches, from education to city planning

Three new water books (1: Everard)

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One of the things that my employer, Kwantlen Polytechnic University, does well is stock up on good books in its library. Here are three recent acquisitions on water (and, no, it’s not me who ordered them; these three were pleasant surprises on the “new book” display).

everardThe first discussed here, Mark Everard’s The Hydro-politics of dams (2013) is particularly timely given the current controversy over Site C. The book is not a simple polemic pro or against big dams; rather, it examines closely how the impacts and the benefits are distributed – in particular, how the populations flooded by reservoirs fare. Nonetheless, there are ample facts and tidbits of info to feed into any large dam debate.

The Aswan Dam is discussed in depth, of course, as it is one of the projects that has seen the most thorough study. But until reading Everard’s book I never realized that the evaporation from Lake Nasser, the reservoir behind the dam, is equivalent to the total amount of water consumed in the UK every year; nor that the manufacture of fertilizers is one of the largest user of electricity produced by the dam. This is ironic because the dam holds up the silt that used to fertilize the delta each year at the flood; Egypt is also one of the largest importer of bricks, for the same reason.

In BC we know salmon, but there are other migrating fish everywhere in the world, and Everard does mention them. For instance, he describes how a stock of Hilsa, an important food fish in India, was completely destroyed by the completion in 1943 of the Mettur Dam on the Cauvery River – with scant thought to the compensation of fishermen.

Dams can also create oxygen-depleted, dead zones at the bottom of reservoirs, and these can have important implications, in particular when assessing the climate impacts of dams. In particular, these conditions promote methane release from decaying vegetation, to the extent that India’s large reservoirs account for 19% of India’s global warming impacts (India’s dams release 28% of all the methane produced by dams world-wide; Brazil is next at 18%).

A large section of the book is devoted to fairness and dispute resolution principles. For instance, Everard uses the example of Vittel, a bottled water company. Vittel gets all its water from a spring in the Vosges area of France, a traditionally wild area. But with the development of industrial agriculture in the area, Vittel was concerned that contaminants risk reaching the spring. The traditional avenues (e.g., purchasing the land, or putting a legal restraint on farming activities) were not available. Vittel worked with the farmers, paying the to return to extensive (pasture) agriculture, to their mutual benefit. Ditto for Perrier where the company paid to preserve the forests that protect the source.

Everard describes how earlier rulings that evicted and denied Kalahari Bushmen access to water in their ancestral lands were later (2011) quashed by Botswana’s appeal court, saying “The key lesson here is that top-down water management solutions that ignore stakeholder groups can result in infringement of human rights that may require subsequent restitution.”

The author uses this particular case to highlight the need to follow the seven strategic principles set up by the World Commission on Dams: gaining public acceptance; comprehensive options assessment; addressing existing dams; sustaining rivers and livelihood; recognizing entitlements, sharing benefits; ensuring compliance; sharing rivers for peace, development and security.

When I read those, I can only wonder at the current situation with the Site C dam proposal on the Peace River. Subsequent restitution is certainly a risk in this particular case, given the number of court actions already started, including some from Treaty Eight First Nations. In fact, looking at the WCD seven principles, I find several sadly neglected. The project is highly controversial and has failed to gain public acceptance, and not only from the folks directly affected. Comprehensive options assessments (in this case, considering alternative energy sources such as wind and geothermal) have not been done. The power production potential of existing dams (the Columbia river ones) has been dismissed. The livelihood aspects of the Peace River Valley and its potential for replacing California as a source of produce in a warming world has been paid lip service at best, despite numerous submissions to the commission. Finally, the “sharing of benefits” strategy remains rather nebulous.

In a way, Site C is a sort of anti-Aswan. The Egyptians use their dam to maximize food production, including using most of the power produced to make fertilizers. In BC, we would use the dam to produce electricity for export and neglect food production. I’m not sure this is a wise strategy for the long term.

Everard, Mark 2013. The hydro-politics of dams: engineering or ecosystems? London: Zed books

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Written by enviropaul

February 15, 2015 at 11:31 am

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