I had a lovely stroll in the 20+ degree sunshine this morning and thought, as my dad would say, “On a day like this, I wouldn’t be dead for a sackful of five-pound notes.” But somehow niggling in the back of my mind was that little green voice of guilt that has become my constant companion after countless years of relentless trendy-lefty propaganda. It was hissing at me:
‘Lovely day is it? You selfish, ignorant bastard. That sun you see is heralding in a drought! El Nino is here, climate change is here. The crops will fail. We won’t survive and all you can say is “what a lovely day.” Didn’t you take any notice of the global climate change marches last weekend? Didn’t you read the placards? Don’t you see the news about the drought in Marlborough and Wairarapa? The planet is doomed and you want to enjoy this sunny bloody day?’
But having endured a thorough soaking through the Spring, which followed a pretty decent amount of lake, river and reservoir build-up during winter, I thought maybe, just maybe, I might be allowed to indulge myself with a day or two of vitamin D to cheer up the old soul.
As someone quite rightly pointed out recently in relation to food shortages, the earth has no shortage of food, it is only a question of distribution from areas of gluttonous over-supply to areas of mild to severe under-supply. But that of course involves an embracing of the concept of globalisation and those who would protest loudest about the plight of the starving are categorically opposed to any form of globalisation. That such inter-national agreements from those businesses at the top end of the food chain might become a vehicle for international co-operation in resolving the inequality of food distribution just does not occur to them. Tribalism is the only mantra they know when it comes to the food chain.
But in relation to the water crisis, my first thought was the obvious one, if it’s too dry where you live, move to the West Coast of the South Island. Plenty of room for development there. The land is quite cheap and there is certainly no shortage of water. “Are you crazy?”say the drought-stricken, “who would want to live there, it rains all the bloody time.” I love the sun and the warmth, the barbecues and the pool; I just need water without cloud and rain and I will be happy. Quite right. Ok well lets have a look at another option.
See all that pink stuff down the left side of the South Island? That is water; bucket-loads of water. Or more precisely, 2 million hectares of land upon which falls 6400mm pa of rain, free from the clouds, which, if old brother Ryall (toke to his mockers) did a halfway decent job of teaching me maths, amounts to 20,000,000,000 (or 20 billion) cubic meters of the wet stuff per year, and since there are 1,000 litres in a cubic metre that means 20,000,000,000,000 litres pa which is just too many zeros for me to comprehend. Most of which disappears into the substructure. If I bring things down to a manageable number it would be a trickle of 55 billion litres a day. That is all hypothetical, I understand, but still with those numbers it does leave a bit to come and go on.
If I read things right, that is about one third of the water volume of Lake Taupo at 59,000,000,000 cubic metres which spreads over an area of 616,000 square kilometres, has a circumference of 193 kilometres and a maximum depth of 186 metres.
Now I look at the dry bits on the map, only one little piece in Central Otago is in the red zone under 400mm pa; (to put in context, the Simpson desert in Australia averages 150mm pa and the Sahara desert averages 25mm pa.). If we add the orange bits (400-600mm) to the red bit, again mostly Central /North Otago, I think 55 billion litres of water a day should go a fair way to helping turn those colours from red-orange to yellow. Isn’t it just a question of distribution? Of getting surplus water from the West Coast across to parts that are a bit parched?
At the end of the 19th Century the Australians embarked on a water pipeline 530kms, pumping a paltry 23 million litres of water a day from Perth to the Kalgoorlie goldfields.
It seems on my casual observation that the driest bits of the country look like those where the trees have all been chopped down to provide bare pastures for our crops and other farm stock.
But since we, as a species, insist on breeding prolifically we need our farmers to keep producing more and more food: wheat, corn, potatoes, turnips, beans, broccoli, cauliflowers, grapes, apples, peaches, olives, hens, sheep, cattle etc, etc and so they must turn more and more land into cleared farmland and consume more and more water to grow these crops.
So unless/until, we reverse our breeding trends, we are going to just have to keep coming up with new solutions to the problems that our agricultural practices inflict on our planet.
That brings us back to the cyclical El Nino weather pattern. The last one was in 1997 and was pretty severe. El Nino brings rain to the west and the mountains. Those drawing water out of Canterbury’s Alpine rivers courtesy of irrigation schemes should not have a problem. It’s more the dry-land farmers that are going to be affected.
Just as nature provides for irrigation via its Alpine rivers, it must be also possible for a humans, through a West Coast Water Distribution Industry, to supply water to areas that do not get natural alpine river irrigation? Create huge reservoirs all along the Coast. Pipe these reservoirs and then pump water to where it is most needed, for a price. Or maybe truck it to mini reservoirs on farms that need it. I know little of engineering except that I know greater engineering feats than this have been achieved.
It seems to me that we just need to figure out how to get surplus water to dry areas. If we have enough water, possibly the West Coast could even develop an export market to Australia? Ships and trucks loaded with water sailing across the Tasman? No idea if its feasible, but its worth a look. Its either do that or join the doom merchants running around with a placard in our hands and a knotted hanky on our heads wailing the end is nigh, the end is nigh.
A bit of selective breeding control probably isn’t a silly idea either. Would sir like just a little snip snip today? You just settle back, this won’t hurt a bit.