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Rooted Reading List: the Murray-Darling edition

Welcome to the second edition of the Rooted Reading List, a round up of the most exciting environment stories of the week. As always, please feel free to add your own interesting reading finds in the comments.

The biggest environmental story of the week was obviously the release of leaked documents from Heartland Institute, the US-based conservative think tank that actively pushes a climate change denier agenda. We’ve covered it quite a bit in Crikey this week — check out the story I wrote yesterday about the Anonymous Donor who has donated over US$13 million, if you haven’t already.

Journalist Neela Banerjee wrote a great article for the LA Times contrasting the reaction to Heartland of its leaked email and the reaction to Heartland during the “Climategate” email scandal:

Once in a while, there comes along a reason to believe in karma.

…Known largely for its work for the tobacco industry and its annual convention of climate change doubters in Washington, Heartland has asked the media to refrain from publishing documents obtained under false pretenses and from jumping to conclusions based on material taken out of context.

“Disagreement over the causes, consequences, and best policy responses to climate change runs deep. We understand that,” Heartland said on its website. “But honest disagreement should never be used to justify the criminal acts and fraud that occurred in the past 24 hours. As a matter of common decency and journalistic ethics, we ask everyone in the climate change debate to sit back and think about what just happened.”

That’s not quite how Heartland saw things in November 2009, when someone hacked the correspondence of some of the world’s leading climate scientists working with the University of East Anglia in Britain and released thousands of emails, with the intention of suggesting that researchers had massaged data to show that the planet was warming.

“The release of these documents creates an opportunity for reporters, academics, politicians, and others who relied on the IPCC to form their opinions about global warming to stop and reconsider their position,” wrote Joseph Bast, Heartland’s president. “The experts they trusted and quoted in the past have been caught red-handed plotting to conceal data, hide temperature trends that contradict their predictions, and keep critics from appearing in peer-reviewed journals. This is new and real evidence that they should examine and then comment on publicly.”

Public meetings on the Murray-Darling Basin Plan draft began last week, with meetings so far occurring in Goondiwindi and Mildura. So far they seem a far cry from the 2010 meetings where copies of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan were being burnt. The Goondiwindi Argus offered a nice look at how the meeting with 250 residents went down:

“Mr [Craig] Knowles [chairman of the Murray Darling Basin Authority] said the way the guide had been introduced had been “very disrespectful of communities” and said he believed that it was better to work with people.

“My preference is to create an opportunity for cranky old crusty buggers like Bruce (McCollum) to have their say,” Mr Knowles said with tongue-firmly-in-cheek.

“He might not like the decisions that are made in the end, but at least he’ll feel like he had some part in it.”

“Take ownership. If you don’t like it, you can get involved and help change it,” he said.

More than one person asked what good water buy-backs would have done during the recent long drought.

Others asked about the water flowing out of the mouth of the Murray into the sea.

“There are millions of megalitres of water in the system now. How much of that needs to be stored? The whole thing was designed in the middle of a drought,” farmer Bob Yabsley said.

Mr Knowles said there was “no normal” in the Australian landscape.

He said there were often extremes in the landscape.

“It’s either drought or flood. But we have to manage for the average year.

But how will the water that is being restored get used? That remains as flexible as the reeds that line the Murray, writes Murray-Darling Basin Authority chief Craig Knowles on the MDBA blog:

“The Authority would be roundly criticised, and rightly so, if it scheduled a flood event in March next year for the Macquarie Marshes and then stuck by the schedule even if the Marshes were flooded naturally in January. This is what would happen if we put the flow rules into the Basin Plan as a piece of law.

Much better to remain flexible — and be ready to seize opportunities as they present themselves.

This flexibility allows us to devolve responsibility to a regional and local level where appropriate, so the best use can be made of water where and when the opportunity arises. This local input is a critical part of the environmental watering plan.

While we want to improve river flows, the water won’t be sent down the river haphazardly to achieve environmental outcomes. It will be managed with similar rules and regulations to the ones that now apply to irrigation and town water. Environmental flows can be carefully managed, for example ‘piggybacking’ on irrigation flows, so that as little water as possible is lost in transmission.

The same applies to watering floodplains, wetlands and river red gum forests.”

And lastly, for something a little different, this article in The New York Times about the implementation of treated waste water being used for drinking. How do you feel about drinking it? Minus the yuck factor, it’s great technology, reports Felicity Barringer:

“The original technology for recycling wastewater was developed in the 1950s — involving chemical disinfection, carbon-filtration treatment or both — and is in use on the International Space Station. The bulk of recycled water is used on lawns or golf courses, in factories or as an underground barrier against seawater intrusion.

The newest iteration, in use in Orange County, is a three-step process involving fewer chemicals and more filtering.

First, wastewater is filtered through string-like microfibers with holes smaller than bacteria and protozoa. Then it goes through reverse osmosis, an energy-intensive process forcing the water through plastic membranes that remove most molecules that are not water. Finally, it is dosed with hydrogen peroxide and exposed to ultraviolet light, a double-disinfectant process. The result is roughly equivalent to distilled water, Orange County officials say.

After touring the $481 million plant in Orange County, visitors are offered a glass of the water. Is it safe? The new National Academy analysis suggests that the risk from potable reuse “does not appear to be any higher, and may be orders of magnitude lower” than any risk from conventional treatment. There are currently no national standards for water reuse processes, only for drinking-water quality.”

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  • 1
    fredex
    Posted February 18, 2012 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

    “The release of these documents creates an opportunity for reporters, academics, politicians, and others who relied on Heartland to form their opinions about global warming to stop and reconsider their position,” wrote Joseph Bast”

    I changed Joe’s words just a tad in the quote above.

    As an aside, has anybody noticed the mainstream media in Australia paying any attention to Heartland’s self expose?
    I tried searching the ABC but couldn’t find anything but that could be just me.

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