Archive for the ‘Water’ category

Zaragoza World Expo 2008: Water and sustainable development

August 25, 2007

Cities around the world have long followed the strategy of using a landmark project or an international event to put themselves on the map or to revitalize the urban landscape. In Spain, this has been done with a good measure of success by Bilbao, with the Guggenheim Museum, Barcelona with the 92 Summer Olympics as a springboard and, lastly, by Valencia with its City of Arts and Sciences and the America´s Cup. In the US, the Millennium Park in Chicago has been a boon to the Downtown area.

expo-2008.jpgNow it is the turn of Zaragoza (a.k.a. Saragossa, in English). The city is hosting next year´s World Expo, under the theme of Water and Sustainable Development. Four key thematic elements will be treated, developed in areas ranging from individual to global responsability (Water, a Unique resourceWater for Life WaterscapesShared Water).

An Environmental Resources Agency has been established to ensure that the event meets its required environmental obligations.

The event is expected to receive about 7.5 million visitors during its first three months. Tourists visiting the Expo at Zaragoza will be able to get there from Madrid by high speed train. In about one hour and fifteen minutes, the train covers a distance of 186.4 miles. That is more or less the distance from Indianapolis to Toledo, Ohio.

As befits the green spirit of the Expo, the design of the Spanish pavilion has been awarded to the Center for Renewable Energies and is being built following environmental and bioclimatic criteria. Francisco Mangado is the architect selected for the project (his work was displayed recently at the MOMA museum in New York).

The MIT-designed Digital water pavilion for the Expo has already made a splash. It features liquid curtains for walls. Not only can they be programmed to display images or messages but they also sense an approaching object and automatically part to let it through.


Another exciting feature related to the Expo is the “Zaragoza Digital Mile” or “Milla Digital”. logohome.gifThe whole idea behind this project is to link the spaces of the old city with the new, through a pathway called “Paseo del Agua”, because of its innovative use of water. It is also a tribute to the precious element that, in a dry land, gives the city its personality through the river Ebro.

This Digital Mile project, also developed by the MIT, will incorporate digital media into everyday aspects of the public realm to make places that respond to their users, like the “Memory Walk”, a walkway in which digital pavers record and illuminate where citizens tread the most and thus become paths of light. Digital street furniture will display practical information for citizens such as bus arrivals, restaurant menus, and the location of available parking spaces.

A system of waterwalls will extend for a thousand feet in front of buildings and across the pedestrian bridge. The system will be fed by a landmark water tower which will collect and cleanse storm runoff from the roof of the new rail station and nearby highways.

Bordering the Digital Mile, there will be other key elements of city development such as a business center, high-tech offices, research facilities, plus, of course, gobs of: bandwidth for wireless connectivity and green spaces.

The centerpiece of the Digital Mile will be a new landmark, the Aragon School of Media Arts and Sciences, bringing the city´s long tradition in the visual arts and higher learning together with digital technology and culture.

A third line of presence of the MIT in the city is through their International Logistics Program at PLAZA (the Logistics Platform of Zaragoza). PLAZA is the largest logistics park in Europe, a 140 million square feet complex of distribution centers, transportation, dry port and intermodal services.


Irrigation control improvements for Spanish farmers

August 2, 2007

The chronic need to control water use in Spain is reflected in realities like the thousand years old “Water Court of the Valencia Vega” to settle disputes between farmers or the influence of Spanish customs regarding community acequias in the US Southwest.

Acequia, that may be translated as canal or ditch, is a word from Arab origin. The Moorish invaders who once ruled Spain brought with them a clever irrigation system that revealed their utmost respect for the scarce resource of freshwater and that is still in use. Spain remains to this day one of Europe’s horticultural powerhouses.

Forbes reports how, after years of chronic drought coupled with vastly increased water use, not to mention worrying climatic change, farm groups have realized it’s high time for change.

Spain’s federation of irrigators, known as Fenacore, is promoting an initiative to computerize Spain’s irrigation system by 2010, connecting some 500,000 farmers to an irrigation network headquartered outside Madrid (code name Corenet). Corenet will also have additional advantages for the farmers, as it will also function as a a b2b marketplace and a plaza for information exchange.

The scheme should allow valuable water to be monitored and controlled by computer, drop by precious drop.

“We’re jumping from the 13th century to the 21st century,” said Juan Valero, Fenacore’s secretary general.

While computer-assisted irrigation is not new, Fenacore believes no other country is organizing it at a national level. So far 200,000 farmers have signed up for the project, Valero said.

drip-irrigation.jpg“The only way to manage water is to measure how much enters each channel, and computer technology is the best way to do this,” he said.

Farmers are being encouraged to move toward drip and aspersion irrigation. They are also asked to lay highly efficient telecommunications cables alongside main water conduits so that the irrigation grid can be monitored from a national computer center.

Fenacore estimates computerized irrigation will mean up to 20 percent water savings.

These are very good news for the local manufacturers of irrigation equipment and technology. This sector has been growing steadily in the last decades and Spain now ranks among the world´s major producers of irrigation equipment along the US and Israel.

New source of water supply for London

July 22, 2007

Last June, WWF published a report about desalination. Its position is that this technology has a place in water supply, but one that needs to be considered on a case by case basis, with integrated approaches to the management of water supply and demand. Among other considerations, it stresses that desalination plants should be climate-neutral, obtaining their energy from renewable sources.

In the aftermath of the debate that this report has sparked, the UK’s first desalination plant providing drinking water for Londoners and people in the south-east was granted government approval last week.

Thames Water will operate the plant, to be designed and built by Acciona Agua. The site, in the Thames Estuary (East London) will provide up to almost 37 million gallons of drinking water a day – enough for nearly one million people.

The plant will start producing water sometime in 2009, in times of drought or low rainfall.

In line with the recommendations cited from WWF and the conditions set forth by the planning authority, Thames Water has confirmed that it intends to run it entirely on renewable energy, specifically, bio-diesel.

Moreover, the idea of the company is to ensure that any disruptions to the environment are kept to a minimum; first of all, by actually enhancing the area, by siting the plant in a brownfield riverside location, recuperated for the project. Additionally, a thorough environmental impact assessment has been carried out and a team of ecologists will be employed throughout the project to ensure the protection of the local ecology.


Richard Aylard, from Thames Water, said: “The desalination plant is a vital part of our plans to secure future water supplies to the capital. With pressures such as climate change and population growth, the plant is essential alongside our continuing progress in reducing leakage and proposals for a new reservoir in Oxfordshire.”

Per head of population, London is drier than Madrid and Istanbul.

Nevertheless, some environmental campaigners have condemned the government’s approval of the plant.

“The government should instead conduct a bigger, strategic review of people’s water usage and work to reduce demand and leakage, introduce metering in homes and encourage residents to install water-saving technology.” said Rob Oates from the World Wildlife Fund.

What seems clear to me is that the shortage of freshwater is going to demand comprehensive strategies involving a wide array of measures, with no single silver bullet. The wide range of options to consider and implement will have to come from the demand side (jacking up the price of water, fixing leaks, doing our best to save) and the supply side (reusing treated sewage, desalination plants, etc.)

Global Water Intelligence Awards

April 7, 2007

At GWI 2007, on 2 and 3 April, Global Water Intelligence, the British  analysts of private water projects, brought together investors and the key people from the international water and desal sector for a high level summit in Barcelona, Spain.

The Global Water Awards 2007 were presented during the summit.

Puerto de Barcelona
Originally uploaded by ronisui.


Black & Veatch, CH2M Hill, , Poseidon Resources, GE Water were the American companies that won distinctions or commendations.

Energy Recovery Inc. won the prize for Environmental contribution of the year, recognizing the success of its PX energy recovery device, that reaches a 98% efficiency.

Local companies did well at the awards, scooping up the categories of water company of the year (Aqualia), developer of the year (Befesa) and desalination company of the year (Acciona Agua).

According to the organizers, some of the reasons why Acciona Agua won were its confidence to take on some of the toughest engineering challenges the desalination industry can offer (e.g. the Tampa Bay plant redesign in Florida mentioned in the preceding post and the Thames Gateway, the first desalting plant in the UK, which is as much a water reuse project as a desalination plant).

Acciona Agua was also recently chosen as engineering firm for another important desalination project in the US, the Carlsbad desalination plant (in Southern California).

Befesa (developer of the year) was recognized for its success in different ventures internationally, from India (it is building a plant in Chennai) to Algeria (2 plants)to the US, where it competed (and lost) against Acciona Water in a rival team for the Carlsbad plant. In the Huntington Beach project, though, Befesa´s team is in the final short-list.

Aqualia (water company of the year, part of the FCC group) entered the world stage winning contracts in Italy, Algeria, Portugal and the Czech Republic

The full list of winners and special mentions can be seen here:

Water woes in Florida

April 6, 2007

Water story from different sources (NBC or Tampa Bay´s 10, see here):

State officials say there will be no additional water from the Everglades for Florida‘s population”.

That means utilities will now be forced to develop alternative means of production.It is the first time in history that Everglades water has been deemed off-limits.

 South Florida water suppliers in Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach and Monroe counties currently depend on an estimated 500 (m) million gallons each day from the Everglades

200159691-001.jpgI had been reading lately a lot about water problems in Florida, an apparent paradox to anyone who might think of Florida as a very wet place.  To better understand it, I have looked around and found a very interesting post at the  blog “Eye on Miami, recuperating an award winning series from the Orlando Sentinel. I have tried to condense it here (in dark blue), but for a full understanding of the situation I recommend heartily reading the whole thing 

Florida sits atop one of the world’s most prolific sources of fresh groundwater. Hydrologists think there are more than a quadrillion gallons of fresh groundwater beneath Florida.  Besides, it is a state that gets 53 inches of rain a year. 

With this amount of water, how could there be a shortage? Simply put: because this apparent abundance is an illusion.  

From the supply side, much of the state’s water is needed just to maintain its springs, wetlands, lakes and rivers. Then, the rain isn’t evenly distributed. For example, more rain falls in the Panhandle than in Tampa, where water demands are higher. Rain also falls mostly during the summer, leaving short supplies in drier months 

From the side of demand, there’s a water shortage because of overuse and chronically poor planning as the state’s human population grew from 2.7 million to 16 million in just the most recent half-century. The main three areas of concern are:

• Water supply: Rapid population growth and unbridled development

• Water quality: More people, more pollution

• Long-term solutions:

Adjusting consumption – through conservation,  e.g. using reclaimed water (recycled wastewater)

Finding new water supplies: Reservoirs, diversion of rivers, more desalination plants…   There are other more complex ideas, such as directing storm water into areas where it’s likely to seep into the ground and recharge the aquifer 

Tensions are building, especially in Central Florida, where the battle line is drawn over exactly how much more water can be taken from the Floridan aquifer.  

I believe most of these solutions are being tried out in one way or another. In the Tampa Bay area, the remediation of  the desalination plant – after some deficiencies in the original design – is nearing completion. It is the largest seawater desalination facility in North America, though it will lose that condition to the one planned for Huntington Beach, California.

Thirsty and energy starved islands

March 15, 2007

santorini.jpgThe Greek government announced on Wednesday the introduction of a series of steps aimed at helping to increase water supplies on some of the country’s more popular islands.

Eight desalination units, used to remove excess salt and other minerals from water in order to obtain fresh water suitable for irrigation, will be built on the Aegean islands of Myconos, Santorini, Tinos and Paros, among others.

Rainfall this winter has been lower than the average in a number of regions across Greece, as in many other parts of the world. As a matter of fact, this been the world’s warmest winter since record-keeping began more than a century ago, as the U.S. government agency that tracks weather (The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration or NOAA) reported on Thursday.

Climate change affects islands crucially, in matters such as sea level rise, fragile ecosystems and limited water resources.

There are different initiatives to help islands transform their energy systems from a fossil fuel base to renewable energy, such as the Global Sustainable Energy Island initiative by the Climate Institute  or INSULA, the International Scientific Council for Island Development.

Crete, another Greek island, is a partner in a very interesting project that, if it succeeds, could hopefully be replicated in other islands around the world. 

It is called El Hierro 100% RES.

El Hierro  Originally uploaded by nightlyforestelf.

El Hierro is the smallest of the Canary Islands (10,000 inhabitants). After it was declared “World wide reserve of the biosphere” by UNESCO in 2000, it decided to go for a self-sustaining energy model.

The project entails the construction of a wind-hydro power station equipped with three 3MW Pelton turbines. It will operate as follows: the hydro plant will be located between two man-made reservoirs placed at different levels, generating power through the hydro powered turbines, leveraging the different levels between the upper and lower reservoirs. The energy obtained from the wind farm will be used to pump the water in the opposite direction. That solution overcomes the usual problems of discontinuity and power fluctuacion characteristic of wind resources (for a map and scheme of how it works, click here)

The project also includes a desalination plant, which will use water from the man-made reservoirs both to fill them up initially and for subsequent supply needs due to the evaporation caused by wind and heat. The surplus drinking water produced by the desalination plant will be used for irrigation on the island.

 Nighfall in El Hierro from La Peña viewpoint

Originally uploaded by pcesarperez.

All these measures will be complemented by the installation in local homes of pv solar panels for heating and solar collectors to obtain hot water.

Dissemination activities and technology transfer are a vital in these endeavors and that is going to be the focus of the promoters of the project (Endesa, INSULA and the Canary Islands Institute of Technology, among others).

Hundreds of islands worldwide could benefit from the results,  starting with Crete and Madeira (Portugal) and following by many more potential candidates with similar conditions.

Wind power and desalination: a winning combination

March 2, 2007

December´s issue of Technology Review featured an interesting story about a partnership between GE and Texas Tech University.

They will conduct research focusing on the integration of renewable energy systems, such as wind turbines, with membrane desalination processes. The development of the integrated renewable energy-water system has the potential to significantly reduce the cost of desalination.The program also aims to develop a commercial scale demonstration within the next several years. It will be a model powered by an 1,5 MW turbine designed for brackish water capable of supplying the town of Seminole (Texas), which has about 10,000 residents.  

In a case of parallel research so typical in science and technology,  a very similar thought guided the mind of a brilliant Spanish inventor and entrepreneur, Manuel Torres, and his company, Mtorres. He has patents and business in fields ranging from machine tools to wind energy.

In 2005, the Spanish Ministry of Environment chose a project developed by the MTorres Groupto build wind-powered offshore desalination plants.  This project basically consists of using wind and water rationally to obtain, alternatively, desalted water and electricity be pumped to points far from the coast or send electricity to the grid, respectively.  A pre-production plant for these platforms is being built in the southeastern region of Murcia.  

The objective is a high-yield plant that would produce up to 10 cubic Hectometers/year (around 353 thousand cubic feet/year) of freshwater.  The platforms will be powered by a 2 MW.  turbine, plus 5 other 2 MW turbines around the platform, in a 100% renewable energy option. Another configuration will be a mixed solution, with part of the power supplied from land through a submarine cable.

The plant offers all sorts of advantages: an estimate of 30% more efficiency producing energy, freshwater 12% cheaper that with current methods and the possibility of excess energy supplied to the grid for nearby coastal cities. What is more, they offer a faster and, therefore more environmentally-friendly, dillution of the brine, as they are way out at sea. 

Experimental MTorres platform in the Mediterranean sea