Kauai Water and Power

SUBHEAD: The nexus of water, energy, and survival.  

By David Ward on 5 January 2009 for Island Breath 
(http://islandbreath.blogspot.com/2009/01/kauai-water-and-power.html

Image above: Wailua Falls on Kauai, Hawaii, at full throttle.  

There are several plausible futures, not simply one "official future." If the future is unpredictable, we're much better off looking at a range of possible outcomes than just at a single best guess. A forecast doesn't need to be exactly right to be useful; in fact, a mix of divergent, plausible futures (sometimes referred to as scenarios) can offer insights into the strengths and weaknesses of a given system or strategy.

With foresight tools such as scenarios, we can test how well our present environment and plans would respond to complex changes; if we see that a particular aspect of how we are today tends to weaken or fail under certain (unpredictable, but reasonable) conditions, we know that it's likely that we'll need to strengthen or change that potential point of failure. 

Where is the scenario planning for the disruption to our economy, if oil becomes suddenly unobtainable? For example, the collapse in the value of the dollar or the grim possibility of war in the oil-producing regions, oil tanker transport choke points, i.e. the Straits of Hormuz (40% of world’s oil exports pass through the straits). 

To quote Colin Campbell (2004): The second half of the age of oil will be characterized by a decline in the supply of oil, and all that depends upon it, including eventually financial capital. That speaks of a second Great Depression and the end of economics as presently understood. It is an unprecedented discontinuity of historic proportions, as never before has a resource as critical as oil become scarce without sight of a better substitute. 

All countries and all communities face the consequence of this new situation. There certainly is cause for alarm when talking about the oil crisis. However, When it comes to WATER, there is no comparison when we consider our dependency on water. A person can live without food for over a month, but only a few days without water. 

We need to ask whether our access to water is both sufficient and assured. Here on Kauai the answer is NO! 

Our power and water utilities are interdependent. Water distribution is energy-hungry. The Department of Water is KIUC’s largest consumer, satisfying its energy needs almost exclusively by burning fossil fuels. 

Both utilities are unable to withstand interruptions to their energy source for more than a few days at the most. KIUC's Strategic Plan 2008 – 2023 calls for generating at least 50% of our electricity without burning fossil fuels within 15 years. However admirable this plan may be, it is too little too late. 

Long before 2023; with the economy teetering on the edge of a depression at the impending peak in the world’s production of oil; we face the possibility of KIUC being unable to remain in operation. It is imperative that the Water Department immediately begin a program to become energy independent as soon as possible. 

There is a need to adjust existing policies, programs, and resources so that the water and wastewater departments could be converted from high-energy users to net renewable energy producers. We use fossil fuels simply because they currently represent the cheapest solution. 

Since market forces always optimize with a short time horizon of two years or less, our Water Board and business managers will invariably be tempted to embrace the scenarios that offer the best short-term perspectives, and consequently, we could be meeting our demise with our eyes wide shut. Living on a small island, we need to stop living beyond our means and return to a sustainable life style. The water demand and income projections that have been made in the Water Departments 2020 plan cannot be relied upon because of the global instability. We ought to behave as if fossil fuels have already become essentially unavailable. 

This commodity should only be used for purposes where they are absolutely essential and to help us create a sustainable energy infrastructure for the future. Sustainability is about closing the circle, replacing wasteful extractive models of resource use with recycling models that enable resource use to continue without depletion over the long term. 

As water works its way from source to tap, it typically requires many infusions of energy. We need to move it from its source, treat it, pipe it into our homes, and treat it before disposal. It is only when we look at the energy consumed in the entire water cycle that we get a clear sense of how much energy is required. This kind of whole-system calculation is called energy intensity. 

Energy intensity is defined as the total amount of energy required to use a specific amount of water in a specific location. Kauai relies almost exclusively on pumped water for its residents. 

Pumping groundwater is one of the most expensive and energy-intensive ways of delivering water to consumers. This should be reevaluated. This cannot continue to be the preferred method of water delivery. It is essential that the Department work to make the system as resilient as possible and maximize energy efficiency. We need to start talking about occupying the landscape differently. What is called for are not "solutions" but "adaptations." One does not "solve" inevitable change, but one might adapt to it. 

The developable renewable energy potential owned by the water and wastewater departments is not yet known. It would be beneficial to identify, assess and prioritize these resources, and find the technical and financial assistance to help develop renewable energy. In addition to micro-hydro generation, the Department could generate electricity through dedicated photovoltaic solar cells. 

Most buildings and water tanks are potential sites for photovoltaic solar generation. Third-party installations may offer faster adoption and financial benefits. Water conservation by consumers eliminates all of the “upstream” energy required to bring the water to the point of end use, as well as all of the “downstream” energy that would otherwise be spent to treat and dispose of this water. 

The best way for increasing water efficiency is to reduce the use of drinkable water for non-consumption purposes. There are two ways to do this: collect rainwater and reuse indoor wash water. The rain that falls on the roof should, if used innovatively, be sufficient for the majority of home uses, including gardening. 

Rainwater harvesting can be supplemented by treatment of grey water (wash water from the bathroom, laundry, and kitchen) e.g., through gravel reed beds for subsequent use in the garden. Even blackwater (from the toilet) can be treated and re-used on site in some circumstances, or a waterless composting toilet can be installed to ensure water goes to more productive uses. 

Closing the nutrient cycle, from human waste to fertile, food-producing soil is, in the long term, one of the most critical factors in the sustainability of our population. Our food supply is a vulnerable link between the environment and the economy. 

While the use of oil dominates the production end of the food system, electricity dominates the consumption end. The oil-intensive modern food system that evolved when oil was cheap will not survive as it is now structured with higher energy prices. We will not be able to continue to import 90% of our food. 

Most of us will have to grow at least some of our own food. Among the principal adjustments will be movement down the food chain as we react to rising food prices by buying fewer high-cost imported foods and livestock products. The economic benefits of expanding urban agriculture will become much more obvious. 

The Water Department’s policy of not supporting agriculture must be changed. If we are to feed ourselves we must expand our water use with “victory gardens” in every yard, park, school, and diversified agriculture on all prime land. The irrigation systems associated with the now closed plantations are available for conversion into supplying irrigation water for diversified agriculture farming. 

The Water Department must take a leadership position in working with DLNR and the Department of Agriculture to insure both our water and our food. I sincerely believe that we should be using the still affordable fossil energy that we have,to invest in infrastructure that requires very low energy to run (e.g. gravity flow). We need to rapidly reduce our dependence on off-island sources. 

We need to replace systems that are inherently limited by available imported energy (e.g. groundwater pumping). Aggressive restructuring of the system for resiliency and energy efficiency and purchases of renewable energy systems are powerful steps that can be taken to improve our water security while combating global warming. 

We could all learn from how the Hawaiians and the early plantations operated. These necessary steps to save finite fossil fuel resources and finite biosphere must be done soon.

We have no other choice.

See also:
Petrocollapse: Can you live without indoor running water?

1 comment :

  1. Excellent David. Like this paragraph esp.:

    "The developable renewable energy potential owned by the water and wastewater departments is not yet known. It would be beneficial to identify, assess and prioritize these resources, and find the technical and financial assistance to help develop renewable energy. In addition to micro-hydro generation, the Department could generate electricity through dedicated photovoltaic solar cells. Most buildings and water tanks are potential sites for photovoltaic solar generation. Third-party installations may offer faster adoption and financial benefits."

    ReplyDelete