Water everywhere, and nowhere

It’s interesting, I didn’t realize it until they were published back-to-back, but two stories I wrote recently — one published Sunday and the other Monday — demonstrate the critical importance of water and how the world is filled with those who have lots of it and those who have little, if any.

The first was a first-person piece about an exclusive tour I had of the Niagara Tunnel Project, which is using the world’s largest hard-rock boring machine to crush through more than 10 kilometres of Silurian rock under the city of Niagara Falls. The purpose of the project is to divert more water from the Niagara river for electricity generation. Apparently, Canada — under a bilateral treaty with the United States — wasn’t using its fair share of the resource so the Ontario government decided there was no better time than now to put that water to good use. It reminded me how lucky Canadians are in having such a vast supply of fresh water. The Great Lakes alone represent a lion’s share, and this excludes the thousands and thousands of smaller lakes scattered throughout Canada.

My second piece highlighted the other extreme — the fact that 20 per cent of Asians have no access to fresh water and that one third of the world’s population is in some way affected by water scarcity. This situation, as company’s such as General Electric have pointed out, will be a trigger in the future for civil and cross-border wars, and indeed, is already the source of conflict in many Central Asian countries. It’s why water technologies are going to play an increasingly important role in the world, and why companies such as GE have been aggressively consolidating the industry — most recently with its purchase of Oakville, Ontario-based Zenon Technologies. On the innovation front, one company I mention in the piece is Toronto-based Mobile Cube Corp., which is attempting to commercialize “water supply for a village in a box.” Specifically, the product is a portable water-filtration system developed in Switzerland that’s powered by a small wind turbine and foldout solar panels. It weighs only 850 kilograms, can be transported on the back of a big pickup truck, and after a two-hour setup can start generating up to 20 kilowatt-hours a day of electricity — enough to produce up to 20,000 litres of pure drinking water from sewage or 3,000 litres from seawater through desalinization. At a cost of $50,000, it could be a low-cost way for some struggling villages to get access to clean water without the need to lay expensive infrastructure, such as pipelines and transmission.

3 thoughts on “Water everywhere, and nowhere”

  1. Ty,

    I’ve been meaning to write to tell I really enjoyed the Niagara Falls tunnel story from last Sunday. It must have been a really incredible thing to do – very envious!

    Mark

  2. My Mom sent me an article on four ASU African Students Assn students in AZ who created a machine to make potable water from relative humidity, running on solar and wind. Alter-Air Corp of Tempe, AZ helped the students. The students formed a company, Watel Solutions. They hope to sell them to their home countries in Africa. It is called The Rain Box, and requires 60% humidity to operate. They won first prize in a Intel-ASU Tech Entrepreneur Challenge, they then won third prize at the world finals of this competition, also scooping up the Peoples Choice Award. With all the winnings they built a prototype for testing. Produces 40 gallon per day. The article was in the Mesa Tribune, Jan 28, 2007, by Ryan Gabrielson, staff writer, 480-898-5630 and rgabrielsonATaztrib.com

  3. Liked the Niagara piece, but it has me wondering:
    Run-of-river hydro is one of the most sustainable sources of power, and this has to be one of the world’s largets projects: we should be proud. But there’s the niggling issue of taking water away from the main attraction–the falls themselves. What’s the word on the amount of water to be diverted? Wikipedia gives the average flow over the falls as 110,000 cubic meters per minute; I’m wondering what portion of that we’re talking about…

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