The whole purpose of securing water assets is to ensure that we can make a living from them. To make a living involves using water in an efficient way.
One way we do this is through improving the techniques we use for water distribution and irrigation. Since irrigation is the largest user of water, that’s a high priority in increasing efficiency. Irrigation water is used in regional areas and it’s on a much larger scale than city water, so security for irrigation water is more difficult.
Large dams are used in regional areas for storing water. These dams have the same level of security as dams for city water and local authorities regularly monitor the sites. In the same way, surveillance of rivers and channels is important to ensure water is safely transported from dams to farms.
To minimise the area we have to cover for water security, we can ensure that water only goes to the most efficient users. Those that have more efficient irrigation techniques and crops will be able to pay more for water. To set a price on water, it’s best to use a market mechanism.
A water market is a relatively new thing. It’s had most success in Australia, where the government set up a water market in the 1990s. The government has extensive resources online about this system. Private water brokers were quickly established and these days you can even do web based water trading in the Murray, Murrumbidgee and Goulburn rivers.
This means water goes to the best uses. The system has been studied extensively and will be used as a model for future water trading systems. Many in the USA are exploring copying this system to ensure the water in California is used effectively. The drought in California has devastated that part of the country.
Overall, it’s an interesting development in water security because those who are uncertain and have less need for security will pay less than those who do. As well as sending water to efficient uses, this makes the water distribution system more robust and efficient.
There are many facets of water security, so this post will cover the areas I’m most familiar with, physical security. There are plenty of websites out there that cover water security from other angles, such as biosecurity and climate change. While those websites cover securing water before it can be stored, transported and used, I will cover the security situation once it has been captured from nature.
The first thing we need to identify is threats.
Who Are We Protecting Water Assets From?
The two most obvious ones are terrorists and foreign governments. Since water is an essential need for the population, it makes sense for those who want to do us harm to target our water assets. By taking out a dam, you can also flood villages downstream. This was used to great success in the Second World War and there is plausibility in terrorists aiming to do similar things.
However, the biggest threats are much more boring. We mainly need to prevent citizens from accidentally drowning and also prevent unauthorised use of the water assets.
Unauthorised use can include those using it for recreation (eg water skiing), using it as rubbish dump and unauthorized taking of water.
Water assets need to be protected by different layers of physical security. This security is ineffective if we can’t detect problems.
Most dams are covered by CCTV cameras and so are other critical infrastructure pieces. These detect anyone trying to gain unauthorized access to the infrastructure.
Another technology we can use is aerial surveillance and also satellite imagery. These can be used to detect physical intrusions, such as those by terrorists, but generally not because their resolution is too poor. What these eyes in the sky are used for is detecting borders, places where infrastructure needs to be repaired (for example, riverbank collapses) and also unauthorised taking of water.
By analysing the vegetation near the water course, you can determine whether it is being irrigated. If that’s the case, then the water might be being taken illegally.
The third detection technology is water meters. By measuring the amount of water each user takes, we can detect unauthorised use of water. This might not be seen if the culprit has jammed or bypassed the meter and that’s where satellite imagery comes in. If all the detection sources don’t make sense, then the property can be followed up on the ground for further surveillance.
Physical security of water assets is especially important to prevent intrusions in the first place. Many pieces of infrastructure are protected by fences with barbed or cyclone wire. This is a deterrent for the vast majority of intruders.
Fences won’t stop determined intruders from gaining access to the infrastructure. One way they can get around it is a cyber attack. This is why maintaining security patches and other types of cyber security are important for water asset control devices.
Having the local police forces informed of the assets is also vital. Joint exercises to encourage training between security professionals, police and water resource asset managers will provide everyone with new insights and make knowledge on water asset security all the more easier.
We have a number of fields to cover in security for water assets, but this is a brief overview and the exact details will vary depending on your circumstances.
Our water storages are one of the most important links in the chain of our water and irrigation systems. They’re important because most natural water sources do not flow when we need them to. Nature doesn’t know when we humans will need water to irrigate our crops or turn our taps on. For this reason, we need to build sophisticated water storage and distribution systems.
Most water is carried in pipes for household water. From the storages, water flows into large pipes that flow to the suburbs. Then smaller pipes connected to the large pipes flow down every street. Then every house has a smaller pipe to take water out.
Also we have sewerage distribution systems to collect the water after it has been used.
For farms, some water goes through pipelines, some comes straight from a river and some run through man-made rivers called channels. These water distribution systems are larger than those for household water, but the purification standards aren’t as strict.
All water supply systems need storages for the water.
Tanks are the most expensive type of water storage and they are usually used for storing household water. This is because household water is more expensive and they can afford to keep the infrastructure for tanks.
Many tanks are raised up on stilts. The benefit of this is because the distribution systems can run on gravity instead of pumping the water. Storing the water up high makes everything simple. Sometimes these raised tanks are called water towers.
These are the largest forms of water storage and are essential to any water system. They are made from various materials, the two most common ones are earth and concrete.
Earthen dams are more popular because they are cheaper to make because their material costs are low. The downside is they are not as strong as concrete dams and need good valleys to sit in. The dam walls exert a lot of pressure on the valley and ground, so extensive geological studies are required.
In areas where earthen dams aren’t possible, concrete dams are used. They are usually faster to build too. The only downside is that concrete is more expensive than clay and rocks used for earthen dams.
Securing the Storages
Many storages have physical security systems in place. Tanks and dams have fences around them with spikes (barbed or cyclone wire) and they stop most people from getting in. Further security measures are needed to protect storages when people breach the fence. All important storages have security cameras so local security and law enforcement services are alerted when the fence is breached.
In the field of security, water storages present not just physical security problems but also biological. Water used for drinking must be of sufficient purity to ensure the population doesn’t get sick. This can happen through water borne diseases, so ensuring the water storages are not contaminated is important.
Another problem that can creep up are algal blooms. These are not just a health issue, because pumps, valves and pipes can become clogged due to algae build up. This is a real issue in rural areas because many farms use fertilizers that make algal blooms worse.
Overall, security at water storages is an important issue from both a physical security standpoint and a biosecurity standpoint.
Here is an interesting video I found from Credit Suisse on the analysis of water security.
This is a very important issue and it’s great to hear from intelligent analysts for their take on the issue.
Most of the water we use ends up being drained in some way. On farms and in gardens it’s often drained back into the river or the water table beneath the ground. This is fine because these water sources were not very pure to begin with so putting drained water back isn’t going to badly affect its purity. Anyway, the water hasn’t been used for cleaning humans or anything that will carry serious transmittable diseases from humans to other humans.
In the home, water is drained into pipes that drain into successively larger pipes until it finds its way to the sewerage treatment plant. From this plant it is filtered and then typically piped to the sea if it’s a coastal city or the waste water is further treated and then piped back into the environment.
This is quite wasteful and technologies exist which enable us to reuse waste water. There are essentially two levels of reclaimed water and that is water that can be used for irrigation and industry or water that can be piped back into the clean water distribution network.
Most reclaimed water is used for irrigation, such as for watering gold courses. The benefit to golf courses is that the water is sold to them at a far cheaper price than if they used regular tap water.
In very dry climates or places where water cannot be secured, reclaimed water can undergo reverse osmosis and come back as clean drinking water. For example, in Singapore they reuse all of their waste water because they can’t get sufficient water from rainfall or from Malaysia.
Reclaimed water can be of a purity just as good as normal tap water. In fact, Sinapore’s NEWater claims their reclaimed water is more pure than typical tap water.
Reclaimed water will be a big industry in the future as cities look to reduce their water use and save money by reusing water they already have.
Now that water industry managers need to be on alert for terrorism or pressure from farmers, it’s easy to overlook other users of water. With the way the world is, it’s easy to overlook the role the environment plays in water management. Apart from feeding and cleaning humans, the environment is the most important water industry stakeholder to keep in mind.
Plants and animals need water in the same way us humans do. They need it for cleaning and drinking, but also they need water to grow the food they eat. This last use of water is pretty big and it’s why the environment needs more water than you think.
Unlike modern irrigated agriculture, the natural environment is not that water efficient. Wetlands require far more water for their area than the equivalent farm to grow the same amount of food. This further adds to the requirements of environmental water. In a similar way to wetlands, rice paddies and other irrigated fields can support similar wildlife to the natural environment. This is something to keep in mind when water managers say they need to set aside water for the environment.
As well as disturbing the flow of water, modern agriculture involves significant earthworks. These earthworks may even be to save water, such as laser levelling of fields. By levelling a field so that it’s perfectly level, less water is required on that field. This is because it drains off much slower. There are other benefits, such as weed control that come with laser levelling. If earthworks mean that there will be less water and land used in agriculture, it may be that those improvements are actually good for the environment.
We have a number of other things to look out for when managing water for the environment. It’s not just water volume that we are worried about, it’s also the quality of the water. Environmental water needs to be low in salinity otherwise the trees that would benefit from water will die. To prevent this the easiest method is to only pour as much water onto fields as is necessary and use different fields in different years. The main cause of salinity in freshwater systems is rising water tables, which is what we prevent by limiting the amount of irrigation.
The other water quality issue to look after is keeping water free of fertilisers, pesticides and other chemicals. Farms needs to have proper drainage set up and use as little chemicals as needed. If possible, substitute less environmentally friendly chemicals for environmentally friendly ones. A switch to organic farming might be possible and this is the best solution.
Managing water for the environment is not an easy task. We have many factors to consider when managing environmental water from a government and farmer perspective. Everyone wants healthy rivers and we can achieve this by taking the time to study, engineer and design solutions to have enough high quality water to leave for the natural environment.
It’s still the 31st, but it’s close enough to the new year to give a new year celebration. I’ve launched this blog this week while I have some downtime from other projects I’ve been working on.
I hope you will find this blog interesting as I’ll be spending a lot of time getting useful information and content up for you to read. The blog will cover the intricate interdependencies between geography, the environment, our infrastructure and our water consumption habits.
This blog will be useful as we move into the future with less certainty around water security and terrorist threats. Water is our most precious resource and I hope to inform readers on how we can appreciate it and information on how it is captured and used.