May 2011

Flood of Ideas

24.05.2011 - Posted by Dom Blackham
Flooding occurred in many areas of Queensland during late December 2010 and early January 2011, with three quarters of the state declared a disaster zone. FLOOD OF IDEAS is a forum gathering diverse and creative ideas for how we could plan and respond to floods and natural disasters in our community. Here’s a post from Alan Hoban, Manager of the Water by Design program at the SEQ Healthy Waterways Partnership.

Last summer I was followed by floods. First, a soggy Christmas at Bundaberg, then I managed to get back down the highway to Brisbane in the few days it was open. Then, as everybody now knows, it rained. Really rained.
Almost everyone we spoke with during and after the floods had some bright ideas about what we could do differently; ideas about ways as a society we could become more flood resilient.

Understandably, under great public scrutiny, our partners in state and local government had to be risk averse and not entertain wild ideas. But we knew from international experience that the floods were a catalyst for new thinking about floods.

I was inspired by the work of James Surowiecki in his book The Wisdom of Crowds: Why the Many Are Smarter Than the Few(2004)which is about the aggregation of information in groups, resulting in decisions that, he argues, are often better than could have been made by any single member of the group.

Others had been thinking the same way so we initially partnered with the State Library and Institute of Architects to get the Flood of Ideas project happening. Ideas are coming in daily. We’ll have an exhibition, and then some focussed workshops analysing and recombining the ideas, and hope to be able to make some useful recommendations to government.

The Earth Surface Dynamics Laboratory

19.05.2011 - Posted by Mark Stacey
This week the ABC’s Science Show on Radio National visited the new Earth Surface Dynamics Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology. This laboratory is designed to facilitate physical experiments and models to study the processes that erode, transport, and deposit sediment on the surface of the Earth and other planets.
The laboratory’s latest showpiece is a new state-of-the-art tilting flume, which can tilt up to a massive 30% slope over its 20m length, corresponding to a 6m vertical fall.

There are only a handful of labs like this in the world according to Michael Lamb, Assistant Professor of Geology. The flume has a huge 75,000L collection reservoir, allowing experiments to run continuously with a flow rate of over 30,000L/min (0.5m3/s), continually cycling both sediment and water. With its high tilt and pumping capability, the flume can produce hydraulic forces sufficient to move particles up to 100mm in diameter.
The researchers hope to use this to learn more about geomorphic response in catastrophic river floods, mudslides and debris flows — hopefully saving lives as a result.
You can download the audio here or see more photos at the lab’s website:  

DSE Planned Burns

17.05.2011 - Posted by Dom Blackham
Some amazing photographs of various planned burns undertaken by the Victorian Department of Sustainability and Environment can be found here.

You’ll need a Facebook account to view them.

2011-12 Federal Budget

11.05.2011 - Posted by Kane Travis

Today I opened the newspaper to see what our Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Treasurer Wayne Swan had budgeted for our future. I scanned The Age for any leadership (and cash) on managing our catchments and waterways and, finding nothing, stepped up to The Australian, still with no results. Realising it was time to go to the source I read the transcript of Wayne Swan's speech to Federal Parliament presenting the 2011-12 Budget.

The most notable aspect of the speech for me was the total absence of environmental and indigenous affairs.

Those of us who have focused our careers on improving the health of our catchments and rivers know firsthand the level of investment that is required to turn around the last 200 years of our management. If the level of degradation and loss of species is not sufficient motivation, then we can now draw on a larger pool of science that describes the value of ecosystem services and the intrinsic link between health of the environment and health of communities.
Over the past few years I have been active in reviewing the way we measure and communicate success of our NRM investment and I have concluded we are not good at collectively telling a compelling story of our successes and the scale of challenges we face. If we are ever going to make a real impact in Canberra, we need to get better at working together. Service providers, catchment management authorities, state and federal NRM organisations need to firstly figure out how to reduce duplication, increase sharing of data and resolve issues of trust. From there we can then work out how to collectively come together to tell a compelling story regarding the issues of our environment and most importantly to communicate clearly how the investment to date has been instrumental in moving towards longer term outcomes.

It is a challenge, but if we want to create a step change in funding for natural resource management, one key element is our ability to collectively tell our story of issues and success in a much more compelling way.

Pasig River Project Update

10.05.2011 - Posted by
Following my last post (see Jan 2011), the tributary to the Pasig River near the Paco Market has undergone a massive transformation. Works including litter removal, installation of floating water treatment systems (from Biomatrix Water) and canal edge planting and beautification have transformed the canal from this:

To this:

The local resident “River Warriors” did most of the manual work and are quickly becoming a very skilled work force dedicated to the Pasig River cleanup. This section of works was opened in early April by the tireless force leading the project, Gina Lopez, Director of the ABS-CBN Foundation. The opening was attended by President Benigno S. Aquino III of the Philippines in a show of national support for this ambitious project.

The physical transformation of the Paco River certainly looks amazing. It will now be interesting to follow the operation of the treatment and see the impact of the floating islands on water quality.