[ASC-media] Technology Fix on Water Management

Cathy Reade creade at squirrel.com.au
Sun Nov 16 19:33:30 EST 2003



Desalination of seawater and brackish groundwater, treatment and reuse of
wastewater, cloud seeding, the melting of icebergs towed from the South
Pole, new irrigation technology uptake and plant genomics for more water
efficient crops all provide opportunities for technology to help Australia
meet competing demand for water resources.

A range of international and Australian experts on water technology will
address the annual symposium of the Australian Academy of Technological
Sciences and Engineering (ATSE), “Water: the Australian Dilemma”, on Monday,
17 and Tuesday, 18 November in Melbourne.

“A concerted effort is overdue to make Australians more water wise. And
technology has much to offer for the best use of our existing water
resources,” said Dr John Zillman, President of ATSE.

The 200 participants will hear about the most appropriate, effective and
efficient technologies from international speakers from USA, Israel and
South Africa, and key Australian contributors in the areas of policy,
technology and water related industries.

“A failure to price water appropriately; a failure to understand system wide
issues associated with water in catchments; a separation of the water
quality and quantity debates; plain ignorance and no doubt other factors
have all contributed to the current water problems in Australia,” noted Prof
Paul Greenfield, Senior Deputy Vice Chancellor at the University of
Queensland, in his consideration of the potential roles for technology in
the water debate.

Dr Uri Shamir, Founding Director of the Steven and Nancy Grand Water
Research Institute, Israel Institute of Technology, provided relevant
insights into the role that technology has played in water management in a
dry land.

“Technological innovations include both the supply and demand sides of water
management. Desalination and reuse of treated wastewaters augments the
scarce supply of natural water,” he said.

“Innovative irrigation methods and selection of crops, recycling and reuse
in industry, and water saving devices in home and gardens act to control
demands,” he said.

“Combined with an appropriate pricing mechanism, these are the tools for
balancing demands and supplies,” said Dr Shamir, President, Union of Geodesy
and Geophysics, Consultant to the Israeli Water Commissioner, and member of
the water negotiating team with Israel’s neighbours.

“Interdisciplinary water research is more relevant than ever, in the face of
increasing pressure on the water resources by rising demands and tighter
water quality standards, together with recognition of associated environment
and sustainable development goals,” he said.

“Since agriculture is the largest water user in Israel, as it is in most
countries, with irrigation accounting for 60-70% of water consumption,
technologies for efficient irrigation were the first to appear in Israel’s
water efforts: from flooding to furrow to sprinkler to drip, with dramatic
results,” he reported.

“Together with selection of crops and developments in plant physiology, the
ratio of crop value to water input has risen by a factor of five or more.
Irrigation is allocated today only 35-40% of the total fresh water
available, the remainder being treated wastewater effluents whose quality
must be raised so it does not harm the environment and water resources,”
reported Dr Shamir.
“Industry has also achieved substantial reductions in its water use, through
recycling, dry cooling and other measures.”

“More attention is currently being paid to efficient water use in the urban
sector, by water saving devices, tighter control of waste, through education
and regulation,” he added.

Dr Shamir noted that replacement of fresh water with effluents for
irrigation has released more water for the urban sector, but with the
further rise of urban demands, and to overcome the hydrological variability
of the sources, the Israeli water plan for the coming decade includes
seawater desalination of some 400 mcm/year, desalination and advanced
treatment of brackish and polluted groundwater, and expansion of the
conveyance and distribution systems.

“The cost of the Israeli Water Plan over the coming decade is some
US4.5billion, to be executed by the public and private sectors,” he

“The cost of seawater desalination has dropped to below US$0.55 per cubic
meter for large membrane based plants, down from US$1 per cubic meter a
decade ago. Private companies are building the plants under 25 year BOT
contracts,” reported Dr Shamir.

 “While technology has much to offer, the adaptation of laws and
institutions is probably the most critical element in improving water
management in dry lands,” he emphasized.

“Some of the lessons learned in Israel, and the technological advancement
employed, should be applicable in Australia where conditions are similar,”
concluded Dr Shamir.

As an example of the water saving and value adding options that are possible
in Australian agriculture, James Moody provided the participants with an
explanation of the work being done through the Pratt Water program in the
Murrumbidgee Valley.

“In parts of the Murrumbidgee Valley, some estimates put total water losses
at up to 50%, due to seepage, contamination, evaporation, inefficient
delivery, and reticulation,” Mr Moody said.

The Pratt Water project is investigating a range of water saving and value
adding technologies for improved understanding of the farming system; more
efficient application of irrigated water; better soil and crop-monitoring;
new dryland cropping, and remote sensing for improved farm management.

“Australian farmers will soon find that they have no choice but to invest in
higher precision approaches to irrigated agriculture,” said Mr Moody, who
was Young Professional Engineer of the Year and Young Australian of the Year
in Science & Technology in 2001.

“For example, Southcorp, one of Australia’s largest wine companies, has
specified that after 2004 it may only purchase grapes from suppliers using
drip irrigation,” he noted.

Some of the examples Mr Moody provided include:
-	a farmer using soil moisture probes linked to scheduling software
increasing the net return on his crop by 56% while reducing his water usage
by 22%
-	increases in crop yields by up to 20% on heavy clay soils under zero
tillage methods
-	stubble retention increasing crop yields by up to 25% and higher if used
with zero tillage.

Additional press releases and further information is available at
http://www.atse.org.au  or contact Cathy Reade, Media Liaison, ATSE, 0413
575 934

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