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SSIR – Bangalore Lakes by Michel St. Pierre
On October 16th, Sherwood Institute board member Michel St. Pierre published an article titled “Sustainable Development in India” in the Stanford Social Innovation Review in which he discusses the work the Sherwood Institute’s work in Bangalore, and how the city has been affected by India’s quickly rising population. “Bangalore… is a metropolis of 5.4 million people that was once dotted with hundreds of lakes, which created a livable city providing food and water for residents, opportunities for livelihoods, habitat for rare and migratory birds, and a rich cultural heritage” Pierre describes. “With the city’s rapid development, and a lack of public action to protect the natural resources of the city, today less than a third of the lakes remain. There is pollution from human and industrial waste and land filling has occurred through illegal dumping and development.” Sherwood Institute’s project to restore the lakes of Bangalore encourages innovation, as a solution must integrate many aspects of the city’s infrastructure, ecological and social systems. “The solution includes efforts in a variety of areas: from garnering local political support and creating a Lake Development Advisory Commission, to working to affect policy in Bangalore and fundraising for early phase restoration efforts.” Pierre “believe[s] that the vision for the lake restoration is a key step toward a major quality of urban life enhancement in Bangalore… Hopefully, this initiative can provide a way forward for similar initiatives elsewhere in the country.”
This month, St. Pierre will be presenting with Sherwood Institute Associate Director John Leys at the Greenbuild International Conference and Expo in San Francisco on the topic. The talk will take place on November 15th from 1:30-2:30pm. Details here. (link to GB site session info)
Click here to read the full article.
New Bangalore Lakes Project Video
Check out the new video for the Sherwood Institute’s Bangalore Lakes Restoration Project! The full video can be viewed here.
The project page also has more information about the project’s background and ways that you can get involved to help.
Beijing Golf Course Water Conservation Needs and Strategies
Since the opening of China’s first golf course in Guangdong Province in 1984, the country has seen a boom in the sport, which is a symbol to many Chinese of luxury, upper class lifestyle, and one of the pinnacles of western recreational status. In China, golf is something that only the very wealthy can afford, with club fees ranging from “cheap” at a couple thousand dollars per year to tens of thousands of dollars per year for the very exclusive courses, meaning that only approximately one in every 100,000 Chinese people could ever afford to play 18 holes in China. Despite the small number of potential Chinese golfers however, the symbol and status of golf in China has created a reasonable market for the development of golf courses.
Such development comes with significant environmental challenges. Most golf courses are constructed in the suburban areas of large metropolitan cities, which, especially in northern China are already strained for water resources. Golf course construction has several implications. Because the water required to maintain greens, tee boxes and fairways is significantly more than that of land covered by trees and bushes, strains are created on both groundwater and municipal water supply. The deforestation of areas to build 18-hole courses also increases soil evaporation, decreases infiltration, increases stormwater runoff and decreases the water-holding capacity of the soil. Also, since many suburban golf-courses are located on lands once used for agriculture, it is common practice to directly extract groundwater from agricultural wells already built on the land for irrigation purposes, which leads to the lowering of the groundwater table in areas which are already experiencing subsidence on a regional scale.
The municipal government of Beijing has of course, realized that this problem could be very severe. This year, in fact, Beijing experienced its driest winter to date, with 108 days straight with no precipitation. There have been several policies passed attempting to curtail water-intensive industries. In 2005, the Beijing Water Authority passed its first announcement on golf course water management, called the “Announcement on the strengthening of golf course water use management”. Within this document, it was specified that the 40 golf courses within Beijing’s 11 districts would have to pay doubled or tripled prices for water usage exceeded a set maximum. The announcement also stated that golf courses were required to utilized reclaimed wastewater for both waterscaping and irrigational purposes and that they should also maximize harvest of rainwater.
In 2006, another announcement was sent to all registered in Beijing, requiring golf courses to register usage of on-site wells, increase permeable areas (such as paths, parking lots, etc) on the site, maintain irrigation equipment, and for golf courses within the distribution network of reclaimed wastewater to utilize this as a source for irrigation, and flushing toilets.
In 2010, the opening of new water-consuming enterprises—including new ski slopes, golf courses, and bathhouses—in Beijing was banned.
While these policies were definitely a step in the right direction, several articles question their efficacy and the extent to which the policies are actually enforced. In March 2010, Probe International published a report which stated that “fewer than 7 percent of Beijing’s golf courses use reclaimed water for irrigation despite municipal guidelines that strongly suggest they do”. On February 11 of this year, the Economist published an article stating that according to aerial photographs, there are 170 confirmed golfing establishments in Beijing, including driving ranges. Previous estimates of the number of golf courses vary because some places avoid calling themselves “golf courses” in order to have more leniencies in management. The official Xinhua News Agency reports 38 golf courses as of 2010
Although there are definitely some questionable aspects of the efficacy of legislation and the commitment various players have in their implementation, there is no doubt that golf courses in Beijing must adopt water reuse and saving measures. There are three main strategies that are important in golf course water management.
The first is to increase the amount of reclaimed wastewater that is being used for irrigation and waterscaping. As of August 2010, only 4 of the 38 official golf courses were utilizing reclaimed wastewater for irrigation. Interestingly, in the same month, it was also reported in Chinese media that the demand for reclaimed wastewater in Beijing far exceeded its supply. In many developed countries, technology is good enough that up to 70% of all wastewater can be reused as reclaimed wastewater after treatment. In Beijing, only about 10% of wastewater is being reutilized, so the potential for reclaimed wastewater to be a major water resource in the future is very large. Because in some cases, wastewater treatment plant effluent may not meet standards for irrigation or waterscaping uses (especially if nutrient levels are high), golf courses may consider the use of constructed wetlands to raise the quality of the water. This strategy may even allow for golf courses outside the reach of the current reclaimed wastewater distribution network to carry out additional treatment of treatment plant effluent to raise the quality of the water independently.
The second strategy that will be important for golf courses in Beijing to adopt is drainage and rainwater harvest design. Because grass lawns experience greater runoff than forested areas, specific attention needs to be considered in the grading of the landscape with respect to maximizing infiltration into the underlying aquifers and in minimizing waste during irrigation. Expert engineers should be consulted for questions relating to soil type, infiltration speed, soil water capacity, and grading.
Lastly, the selection of drought-resistant plant species should also be considered in golf course design. Already in Beijing it is reported that drought resistant grass is already being used for fairways and roughs, which typically account for over 60% of the total area of the course.
Research is being done on golf industry development at the Turfgrass Institute of Beijing Forestry University.
Book Review and Highlights: Cradle to Cradle -William McDonough & Michael Braungart
My current focus is to learn as much as possible about sustainable design, share my explorations with Sherwood Institute Blog readers, and hopefully inspire those following my blog to travel down a similar path of learning and implementing green strategies in their work.
I heard William McDonough speak at West Coast Green 2010. His speech was one of the most inspiring of the conference and I knew that I wanted to read more about his and co-author Michael Braungart’s philosophies on design. I wasn’t disappointed! Cradle to Cradle by William McDonough & Michael Braungart should be required reading for anyone involved in design, if not for the general public.
This book on “re-making the way we make things” is a motivating reference that focuses on the necessity of designers to change their common approach to product development. It is possible – and even essential – that we begin creating products that are good for the environment, not just “less bad.”
For example, instead of just aspiring to create a car that has zero emissions, car makers could begin designing “nutri-vehicles” which would release emissions that are actually good for the environment and its inhabitants. The average car releases about four-fifths of a gallon of water vapor for every gallon of fuel the car burns. What if that water was captured and re-used?
I want to focus this post on my three favorite concepts from Cradle to Cradle: that we can create a world of abundance, that waste equals food, and that products of service can be a useful way to make goods which are more eco-conscious.
First of all, a world of abundance refers to a planet filled with products that celebrate culture, improve the economy, and have ecological benefits. How wonderful would it be if environmentalists and industrialists could both encourage vehicle production, because old cars could be 100% recycled, and new “nutri-vehicles” would not only not pollute, but would also purify the air and provide drinking water.
As someone who loves nature and wants to protect it, I really like the idea that I don’t necessarily need to make sacrifices such as driving less, buying less, and not having children. We need to foster a society where all professionals have the same aspirations so that skills can come together to create a world of economic prosperity while safeguarding our culture and resources for future generations.
Waste equals food refers to the re-using of materials so that all waste is used to make an improved product or is returned to earth where it can benefit natural systems. “To eliminate the concept of waste means to design things – products, packaging, and systems – from the very beginning on the understanding that waste does not exist.” (Page 104). McDonough and Braungart suggest that this can be accomplished by dividing materials into two categories, biological nutrients and technical nutrients. Biological nutrients are all products that can safely biodegrade and even improve soil as it decomposes. Technical nutrients are all materials from old products that can be unassembled and reused as raw materials for improved goods. It is important that biological and technical nutrients be kept separate so that the entire product can be disposed of to enrich the planet, or returned to manufacturers who can “up-cycle” the product into a new product of the same nature.
The authors of Cradle to Cradle actually created a prototype of a technical nutrient in the printing of their book. It is printed on synthetic paper made of plastic resins and inorganic fillers with water-based ink. Not only were no trees harmed for the printing of this book, but the after products can also be recycled over and over again as “paper” for new books. Although paper made from trees is recyclable, it needs to undergo extensive chemical processes to make it ready for re-use; these often toxic procedures also produce a product which is not as high quality as the original.
In order for products to stay in their respective biological or technical cycles, the authors introduced the concept of products of service. I love this idea! Instead of companies selling products that are bought, used, and then disposed of, what if manufactures instead sold them as services?
For example, a washing machine could be bought for 2,000 wash-cycles, then returned to the manufacturer who would be happy to take it back to acquire the raw materials for newly-designed machines. The consumer would be excited to receive the latest machine and begin a new “lease.” This idea can be taken even further to include soap with the washing machine service. McDonough and Braungart inform us that only about 5% of soap used for washing clothes is actually used in the wash cycle. What if the soap could be re-used internally? Manufacturing, packaging and shipping new detergent would no longer be necessary. By developing products of service, technical nutrients could remain in the technical cycle instead of “dying” in a landfill. Designers would develop products that could be easily disassembled and re-used.
I would highly recommend Cradle to Cradle to anyone interested in sustainability. It’s an easy read that starts to get the mind’s gears turning and thinking about designing products that are truly positive for our planet and our own health. How cool would it be that if instead of leaving a detrimental ecological footprint, we instead left a footprint that actually helped our environment? It is indeed possible so let’s begin doing it!
Smart Growth and Ahwahnee Principles
In May of 2009 I attended the Bertram Berger seminar in Boston regarding Climate Change. One of the most memorable speakers was Elisabeth Hamin who spoke about smart growth and livable communities. I loved the philosophy that new developments should be planned so that dependence on automobiles is reduced, community awareness increased, and natural, open areas introduced to urban neighborhoods.
While reading about Ahwahnee Principles in “Sustainable Infrastructure: The Guide to Green Engineering” I was reminded of the smart growth initiatives that previously intrigued me. I decided to do research about the polices and share my findings.
The Ahwahnee Principles were initiated by Peter Katz of the Local Government Commission (LGC) and developed by innovative architects: Andres Duany, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, Stefanos Polyzoides, Elizabeth Moule, Peter Calthorpe, and Michael Corbett. In 1991 the principless were presented to over 100 local officials at the Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite, California, where they were eagerly accepted.
The first set of principles was titled “Ahwahnee Principles for Resource Efficient Communities.” This plan includes community, regional and implantation polices. The community principles emphasize developing neighborhoods so that homes are located within walking distance of retail shops, schools, and public transit. There are also concepts that encourage people of all age groups and incomes to live near one another, and that highlight the importance of open space and greenbelts defining each neighborhood. Lastly, the principles state that development should be designed to use resources such as water and energy efficiently.
In 1997, the LGC realized the need for a similar set of policies regarding the economic development of livable communities. This was titled “The Ahwahnee Principles for Smart Economic Development.” This document consists of 15 principles to guide economic policies that emphasize the importance of local enterprise and using regional resources.
The “Ahwahnee Water Principles” were adopted in 2005 as a second compliment to the “Ahwahnee Principles for Resource Efficient Communities.” These principles developed out of increasing challenges related to water resource security, water contamination, storm-water runoff, and increased flooding. The water principles include, but are not limited to: designing compact communities, maintaining natural areas, minimizing impervious surfaces, reducing water demand for landscaping, graywater re-use, installation of water-efficient appliances, public input regarding projects and monitoring of new developments and policies.
Lastly, the LGC developed the “Ahwahnee Principles for Climate Change.” These principles prescribe methods to actively mitigate damage that society is doing to the planet, and adapt our current infrastructure systems to inevitable changes in our climate. These principles include: reducing emissions from automobiles, energy and water efficiency for the residential and commercial sectors, and implementation strategies to achieve these desired reductions.
Like most sustainable/green concepts: the Ahwahnee Principles just seem to make sense. I didn’t think about it when I was younger, but as I matured I began to really appreciate growing up in a historic town, Marblehead, MA, first developed in the 1600s. In Marblehead, there are two downtown areas, several small elementary and middle schools, and many parks so I didn’t need to depend on my mom to drive me around as a kid. I could walk to school, after which my friends and I could bike to a park, play some games outside, get dinner at a pizza place, grab a movie at the local shop, and bike to someone’s house to watch it. Because my town was formed in a period when people did not depend on automobiles, it promoted walking and biking. The Ahwahnee principles define several concepts that bring us back to this traditional style of development and design.
I encourage everyone to spend some time on the Local Government Commission’s website. The Ahwahnee Principles for Resource-Efficient Communities, Smart Economic Development, Water, and Climate Change are all defined on this website. Here you can find much more detail on each of the principles sets defined above, as well as case-studies, implementation guides and tools, and many more resources on smart growth.
Strategies for Sustainable Snow Management
I currently live by Lake Tahoe in Placer County, California. We have the highest annual snowfall of any county in the lower 48 US states. After living here this month, I don’t doubt it! According to one of the local ski resorts, Alpine Meadows, the snowstorms of November 2010 have produced record amounts of snow, 6 feet in 6 days!
Over the course of the storm I watched as enormous plows cleared the roads. Later huge snow-blowing vehicles would come widen the road. And lastly, after the storm, bulldozers cleared the built up banks and drifts to get the roads, almost, back to normal.
I started thinking about how unsustainable this method of snow removal is. Not only are there emissions associated with the operation of massive equipment, but also contamination of the snow from salt and sand, road-side litter, and automotive pollutants. Lastly, snow removal is hugely expensive! In Placer County 15-20% of the annual road maintenance budget is spent on snow and ice control. I decided to do some research into solutions that incorporate sustainable snow removal and possible reuse in areas that receive a large amount of snow precipitation.
The most inspirational methods came from the City of Sapporo, the capital of the northern-most Japanese island of Hokkaido. Sustainable urban development is at the core of Sapporo’s city planning, and as a city with approximately 20 feet of snow accumulation and a population of 1.9 million people, it is vital that snow removal be part of the city’s sustainable initiatives.
Sapporo minimizes its dependence on snow-related transportation using heated roadways, centralized and local snow disposal facilities, and snow melting systems. In addition to a large, underground snow-melting tank, Sapporo has five Snow Flowing Gutters, which use river water and reclaimed water to move and melt snow.
This gutter system particularly intrigued me. Basically, there are grates at the sidewalk’s edge. Citizens then dispose of the snow in front of their residence and businesses into the gutters. The flowing water carries the snow to a treatment plant or to a snow-melting tank. If reclaimed wastewater is used, the temperature of the flowing water is generally about 50 degrees Fahrenheit, which melts the snow. This system eliminates the use of large mechanical vehicles and the emissions and cost associated with them, reduces the need to chemically melt snow, and empowers the city’s inhabitants to help with snow removal. However, the system is still centralized and the reclaimed water and melted snow are still being carried through pipes off-site.
I wonder how this system could be further developed. Instead of just transporting and disposing of the snow in an innovative way, what if the water from the melted snow could be reused or treated entirely on site in order to reduce stormwater runoff and recharge the groundwater? Designers could use low-impact design stormwater or rainwater harvesting principles to the melted snow.
This way snow removal would become part of a circular water system. In areas with considerable snow accumulation, geothermal heat pumps or energy from renewable sources such as photovoltaic panels or a small-scale wind turbine could heat sidewalks or roadways. In areas with only moderate snowfall this step could be eliminated. Remaining snow would be shoveled into grates, bringing it underground where it could mix with reclaimed “waste” water to aid in melting the snow. Finally, all of the water from the premises (wastewater, graywater, stormwater AND snow-melt) could be handled using any variety of sustainable design strategies. In this context, I particularly like a system similar to that designed by Sherwood Engineers and CMG Landscape Architecture for Old Mint Plaza, where the combined water could infiltrate to the groundwater table.
Over the last two weeks of researching the concept of sustainable snow removal, I have come across many concepts that are in use, and I’ve started to think of new ways to manipulate these systems. I am truly excited about the idea and I would love to hear about any methods that readers have heard of or thought about!
LEED in China
August 30th, 2010 was the 20th anniversary of the opening of the China World Trade Center in Beijing. It was also the grand opening of the new tallest building in the city—the China World Trade Center III, winner of the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold Standard for its energy efficiency. The China World Trade Center III, which joined the directory of LEED certified buildings in May of 2008 under the Core and Shell 2.0 standard, features energy-efficient LED lighting structures and “fritted glass and metal fins” to conserve energy and direct sunlight, maximizing indoor lighting. The building, a project designed by Skidmore, Owings and Merrill SOM and engineering company Arup houses commercial space, restaurants, a hotel, and recreational space in addition to a rooftop pine garden and waterscapes that are open to the public.
The China World Trade Center III is one of many new projects in Beijing that have caught the public eye for the utilization of LEED standards in design, construction and operation. In 2006 China Dialogue reported that the first LEED project in China—the ACCORD21 Building—was completed in western Beijing in 2004. The 10-story office building utilized 70% less energy than buildings of a similar size and saves 10,000 tons of water a year. The report mentioned that in all of China, as of the time of writing (2006), there were only three other LEED certified buildings, located in Suzhou, Harbin and Shenzhen. The China Dialogue article also mentioned a few projects in construction in Beijing, one of which was the Modern MOMA complex, also known as the Linked Hybrid by Steven Holl, which was completed in 2009. Linked Hybrid is one of the largest residential complexes in the world to utilize a geothermal heating system.
The China Business Review provides a comprehensive analysis of the green construction industry and LEED buildings and consultation services in China. Since the time of the CBR article’s writing, the “green bar” in China has been raised even higher, especially with China’s commitment to improving its air and water quality. Lower energy requirements translate to a reduced use of power that is mostly generated by fossil fuels. Water-conserving and harvesting installations are appealing in a country that is water scarce. There definitely is economic incentive in sustainability. However the dialogue on how effective green building regulation given China’s national situation is divided: although intentions are often good, it is still relatively more difficult to obtain appropriate, standardized building materials in Beijing than in New York, there is often miscommunication between design and engineering companies and construction firms, and fundamental misunderstandings of the “green building” concept.
In preparation for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, China made a big push for more energy and water efficient buildings, despite the China Ministry of Construction’s former dislike of the word “green”, which had (and in many cases, still continues to be) falsely utilized to give new projects a feeling of modernity without adopting the appropriate techniques to ensure a standardized level of sustainability. The LEED standards are more and more filling the role of standardization in China. From the few LEED certified projects documented in 2006, the official LEED directory now officially lists 48 projects in Beijing alone. The growing number of companies seeking LEED certified engineers and foreign collaborators on green construction projects are a testament to LEED’s acceptance as a standard of the future of construction and planning in China.
Agricultural management in the Tai Lake region
Following the conversation from the eutrophication of Lake Tai (Taihu), probably the most publicized Chinese eutrophication event in Western media, many will probably want to know more about the sources of the excess nutirents leading to massive algal blooms and deteriorating water quality. In February, the New York Times reported that previous information on the extent of the deteriorating surface water quality in China severely underestimated the scale and influence of agricultural runoff, focusing mostly on point sources such as industrial effluent. Ma Jun, director of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, a nonprofit research group in Beijing, rightly pointed out in the article that pollution emissions stemming from millions of rural farmers will prove an even bigger challenge than slapping fines on factories and industrial sources. But, China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection is now beginning to realize that the agricultural contribution to poor surface water quality is just as prominent as the industrial contribution. Here I will give a brief overview of the issues at hand, from the perspective of nitrogen as an excess nutrient pollutant stemming from agricultural sources. In a previous post, we identified the main source of total nitrogen content in Lake Tai as having an agricultural origin.
In contrast to Europe and the United States, which could both be argued to have undergone agricultural intensification over a period of centuries, in China, the shift from traditional, complex, labor-intensive farming systems based on nutrient recycling happened over about four decades. Now, China’s agricultural system as a whole is heavily dependent on introduced inorganic nitorgen fertilizers and is utilizing less and less organic and green manures to replenish nutrients that are removed from agricultural soils when crops are harvested. The agricultural scheme utilized in the Tai Lake region is one of the two most intensive double cropping systems in China: summer waterlogged rice followed by winter upland wheat.
Generally, inorganic nitrogen, which, in the case of China, is usually introduced to fields in the form of urea-based fertilizers, is quickly converted into ammonium (NH4+) and later into nitrate (NO3-) by microorganisms in the soil according to the normal function of the nitrogen cycle. A portion of the nitrogen is also lost by NH3 volatization to the atmosphere, which contributes to air pollution and acid rain. Most plants, including rice and wheat. more readily take up the nitrate form of nitrogen than they do the ammonuium form. However, due to the negative repelling charge of nitrite with the surrounding soil (especially if the soil’s content is high in clay), the nitrate form is also highly mobile in soil and is easily carried by percolating water into surface water or groundwater. Ammonium, on the other hand, sorbs to clay and organic matter, and although is less readily absorbed by plants, is held in soil for a prolonged period of time if not further converted to the nitrate form. Organic nitrogen supplements, including proteins or amino acids found in animal waste, are a slow release source of nitrogen for crops, as organic nitrogen must first be converted into its inorganic forms in order to be taken up by plants.
Nitrogen that is quickly converted from urea fertizlier into nitrate is lost by leaching through soil into water. Studies on the intensive wheat/rice double crop cycle followed in the Taihu region show that alternating wheat and waterlogged rice leads to an accumulation of nitrate after the wheat season. However, flooded rice fields in the following season results in much of the nitrate being lost by leaching. (Ju et al 2009) Farmers in the Tai Lake region also tend to use more fertilizer during the wheat season than wheat farmers in northern China, but result in lower grain yields. A possible explanation is that Tai Lake region farmers try to use increased amounts of fertilizer to compensate for poorer wheat cultivation conditions.
Much of the problem of nitrogen leaching lies in agricultural practices . One- poor wheat-growing conditions in the Lake Tai region lead farmers to overuse fertilizers (with little to no effectiveness achieved in crop gain) during the wheat season, and two- the traditional use of flooded rice paddies promotes nitrogen leaching. We can see here that one aspect of the problem is psychological: with farmers holding to the belief that increasing inorganic fertilizer use will lead to increased crop yields. The other aspect is technical.
The System of Rice Intensification (SRI), developed in 1983 by Henri de Laulanie, a French agricultural practioner living in Madagascar, is one method that has been utilized worldwide to increase rice yields with fewer water and fertilizer inputs. One key aspect to SRI is that, unlike traditional rice cultivation methods, rice plants are not kept under waterlogged conditions, but instead, rotated between wet and dry conditions. Alternating between wet and dry causes cracking of the earth, promoting aeration of the soil, increased root growth, and slower leaching of nitrogen from the topsoil. The wider root systems of each individual rice plant is then able to take up more of the applied nutrients (nitrogen) from the soil, resulting in healthier plants with more tillers, and better yields. In Sichuan Province, farmers have achieved 40% greater yields using SRI, with less water and nutrient inputs.
However, as China has a rice cultivation history that spans thousands of years, urging farmers to change their flooding methods will continue to be a difficult task. This, coupled with the relatively recent introduction of inorganic fertilizers and their overuse will probably be the biggest challenge in reducing the contribution of agricultural sources of nitrogen to water deterioration in the Tai Lake region. Experts (Want et al 2006, Richter et al 2000) have recognized the need to the economic “internalization of environmental externality”, calling for measures such as the removal of government subsidies on agricultural fertilizers (reducing over application of nitrogen to fields) and improvements on water pricing and water rights legislation (reducing unneeded water usage by adjusting prices to reflect the costs of using the resource and reflecting the needs of water quality improvements).
Richter, et al. 2000. “The N-Cycle as determined by intensive agriculture– examples from central Europe and China” Nutrient Cycling in Agroecosystems.
Wang, et al. 2006. “Toward Integrated Environmental Management for Challenges in Water Environmental Protection of Lake Taihu Basin in China”. Environmental Management.
Introduction to Taihu
Lake Taihu (太湖), also called Tai Lake, is the third largest freshwater lake in China. Although it began receiving widespread coverage in the western media after a major algal bloom that covered 1/3 of the lake’s area in 2007, killing fish and disrupting surrounding areas potable water supply, the lake has been experiencing a decline in water quality for the past 20 years. The lake is located on the southern part of the Yangtze in southeastern China and is administered jointly by Shanghai Municipality, Jiangsu Province and Zhejiang Province, serving as a floodwater basin, irrigation supply, drinking water source, aquaculture base and tourist attraction. It is the major source of drinking water for the municipalities of Wuxi, Suzhou and Shanghai. The algal outbreak in 2007, called a “natural disaster” by government officials, caused a noticeble drop in water quality for local residents, who said that they could smell the stench of the algae on their bodies after showering, and were forced to rely on bottled water for drinking.
During the last 20 years, the rapid urbanization of the areas surrounding Taiju, coupled with ineffective management and technical support, have not only caused the eutrophication of the lake, but also its contamination with organic substances and ecological destruction. Now, many doubt the lake’s water quality to ensure safety of the millions who rely upon it as a drinking water source. The water quality of the lake was rated I or II according to China’s National Surface Water Standard up until the 1970s. By the late 1980s the quality had fallen mostly to class III, white in some parts, it reached IV and V. In the late 1990s the lake rated an overall class IV, with approximately one-third of the lake as class V. Lake Tai has become a symbol of water environmental protection, which is a high-priority issue for government at all levels.
Government Five-Year Plans have continued to make Lake Tai an issue of major importance. The Ninth Five-Year Plan (1996-2000) proposed 54 domestic wastewater treatment plants and sewage conduits were planned to be located in the basin. Later however, only 29 plants were completed or partially completed by the end of the period. The Tenth Five-Year Plan (2001-2005), 81 domestic wastewater treatment plants were expected to be built or explanded by 2005. The goal was to be reach over 70% treatment of domestic wastewater. In addition to building more wastewater treatment plants in the Taihu Basin, other measures have also been taken in an attempt to abate the spread of noxious blue-green algal blooms, including releasing algae-eating fish into the lake, physically hauling algae out of the lake, and crackdowns on government corruption in enforcement of effluent standards.
While good intentions obviously exist for the future of Lake Tai, implementation has been difficult and the water quality in the lake has not risen significantly. The main problem of Lake Tai’s pollution issue is the algal blooms. Overgrowth of algae is caused by water that is rich in nutirents (nitrogen and phosphorous), that are usually the limiting factors in algal growth. With nitrogen and phosphorous existing in surface water in excess, algae growth becomes almost limitless, just waiting for the right temporal conditions to cause an extensive bloom. And, when algae goes into respiration conditions at night and when dead algae is digested by microorganisms, the amount of dissolved oxygen in the surfacw water can be virtually depleted, causing fish kills and decrease in biodiversity. According to reports, the major sources of nitrogen and phosphorous in surface water are industrial effluent, domestic wastewater treatment plant effluent, and agriculture. Each type of effluent into surface water has different characteristics; for example, household wastewater is a greater contributor of phosphorous and ammonium (NH4+), while agricultural runoff is a greater contributor of nitrate (NO3-). Below, we can see the contributions of pollution sources Industry (Ind.), Household (Hou.), and Agriculture (Agr.) to the chemical oxygen demand (COD), total nitrogen (TN), and total phosphorous (TP) in Tai Lake. The figure shows that the main contributors of the pollution of Tai Lake have become household discharges and agriculture.
In response to industrial and municipal contributions of nitrogen and phosphorous to surface waters, China’s Five-Year Plans are right to regulate large industries and build more, or retrofit, wastewater treatment facilities (most current wastewater treatment facilities in China do not include tertiary treatment processes that remove nutrients nitrogen and phosphrous from the effluent). Recent banning of phosphorous-containing detergents is another example of effectively reducing the household discharge contribution to the Tai Lake pollution problem.
In my next post, I’ll address agricultural runoff (fertilizers) contribution to the condition of the Tai Lake Basin.
?Source: Wang Q et al. 2006. “Profile: Toward Integrated Environmental Management for Challenges in Water Environmental Protection of Lake Taihu Basin in China” Environmental Management Vol. 37, No. 5, pp 579-588.
Water and Power in Uganda
This is the second of three blog posts from Sherwood’s Michael Thornton, currently based in Uganda.
Ogamba ki! This weekend I visited Jinja, home to the largest power production facility in Uganda, the Nalubaale and Kiira hydro electric plants. I was able to get a decent picture of the dam this year (below); last year I was stopped by AK-47 wielding guards very angry about my camera. The reason they were so angry is that the twin dams presently produce over 60% of the nation’s electrical power and interruption of either would be devastating. The remainder is produced from an assortment of smaller thermal and hydro plants, none larger than 50 MW.
Power is used in Uganda for the usual assortment of things, though at a much less intensive level than we in the US are used to. In wealthier areas it’s common to have lights, refrigerators, computers and televisions but in most of the country there is no power except at central points. Facilities are then limited to light bulbs, basic refrigeration, cell charging and other basic technology. While power is not ubiquitous, cell phones seem to be. A report in 2008 stated that Uganda is the first African country in which there are more cell phones than fixed telephones. In 2008, it was reported that 39% of the population owned cell phones and that by 2014 it is estimated that cell phone penetration in Uganda will reach 70%. Kiosks such as the one pictured here charge cell phones for a fee.
Uganda is a well watered country in most regions and suffers, more than anything, from lack of infrastructure and development. Although 13% of Ugarda is covered in wetlands, lack of national conservation laws have resulted in a decline in biodiversity in recent years. Most villages, such as the one I am working in, have pit latrines and open ponds or shallow wells for their wastewater and water facilities. The country receives ample rain, having two wet seasons and two dry seasons about three months long each. Water is generally available regionally, though often undeveloped making it far or unclean. According to a UNESCO report in 2003, only 59% of the rural population had access to clean, safe drinking water. National urban water coverage is up to 65%, up from 54% in 2000.
Originating at Lake Victoria to the south east, the Nile River feeds much of Uganda and, as noted above, provides the vast majority of its power. During times of low rainfall, which Uganda has been experiencing more and more due to climate change, the water level in Lake Victoria falls and with it the output of the main power stations. As a result and especially when compounded with poor general infrastructure, rolling blackouts are common. While I was here last summer many parts of the capital city received power every other day.
Looking forward, there are many new power stations planned, most of them relying on the flow of the Nile. Due to be completed in the next year, the 250 MW Bujagali Hydro Power Station will drastically improve national production. It comes at the cost of the Bujagali falls, a culturally important land mark and ecosystem and center of some of the best whitewater rafting in the world. Many in Uganda have protested this station, bringin up issues ranging from an unfair bidding process, to concerns that the natural ecosystem will be destroyed, to questions about how climate change-induced drought make reliance upon hydropower unwise, but it will be completed soon regardless.
Climate change is happening now in Uganda. I talked with some farmers who have said they don’t know when the traditional wet and dry seasons will occur any more. Some are planting now, some are harvesting. Mid-august, typically a wet time in Ddegeya has been bone dry with only a few sprinkles barely reaching the ground for the last 3 weeks. Today I watched as a landowner cluck clucked a crop of coffee ruined due to lack of rain. Equally challenging is the country’s rocketing population growth. With a present population of 34 million in an area smaller than Oregon, it is already a tight place to survive on subsistence farming. Hills far steeper than seem possible are home to farms and houses. With the world’s second highest population growth rate of 3.6% per year (over 50% of the population is under age 15 and average births per mother are over 6) and a rising level of consumption and environmental impact, Uganda has a daunting infrastructure and resource challenge ahead. Reports have stated that rapid population growth coupled with climate change (resulting in droughts and flash flooding), water borne disease and poor health infrastructure are some of Uganda’s main current issues.
Next week I’ll take a look at the projects EWB MIT is working on to address some of the challenges above in our village and provide a brief outlook on Uganda’s future from my perspective. Send questions as you have them!
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