Ron Sandland recently wrote about the new phenomenon of 'big data' - weighing up the benefits and concerns. Terry Speed reflected on the same issue in a talk earlier this year inGothenburg, Sweeden noting that this is nothing new to statisticians. So what's all the fuss about? Here's another take on the 'big data' bandwagon.
The Queensland government has announced that it is looking at delaying construction of its proposed desalination plant as storage levels peak at 94%.
What a difference a storm makes! We believe climate change and climate variability (a tautology!) are real. What is a little unreal is the knee-jerk responses of our state governments. Victoria has built its north-south pipeline to harvest water from the north of the state for consumption by city-dwellers. At the same time, construction proceeds at break-neck speed on the Wonthaggi de-salination plant - the largest in the southern hemisphere. The Victorian government dismissed alternative uses of the massive amounts (~ 370 million litres per day, every day - equivalent to Adelaide's daily water use!) of an almost potable resource that is being dumped into Bass Strait (not far from Wonthaggi!) on the basis that the options under consideration were too expensive (click here for related News Item).
So what happens when the drought breaks (as as happened in Queensland) and we experience a significant flood event and the spillways are overflowing? Do we turn off the de-sal plant? Being a PPP (Public Private Partnership) there are clearly commercial interests to protect. Turning off the de-sal plant is probably not an option.
Where this has all gone horribly wrong is the undue (indecent?) haste with which politicians embraced the 'quick-fix' solutions. In 1999, CSIRO released the results of its Effluent Management Study (go to our Download page and scroll down to the section Eastern Treatment Plant Effluent Management Study to get a copy of the report). On page 52 of that report a number of reuse options were discussed. One suggestion was to treat the effluent to potable standard and pump it back into Cardinia reservoir. CSIRO's assessment of this option was that "this could provide a total solution, which would eventually lead to no ocean discharge". At the time, this option was ruled out by the Government on the grounds that it was too expensive, would require the burning of more brown coal in Latrobe Valley (to power the pumps) - thereby exacerbating the Greenhouse effect, and had low public acceptance. Advance the clock 11 years and what's happening? Over $300 million has been spent by Melbourne Water in upgrading the Eastern Treatment Plant to advanced tertiary treatment (meaning the effluent discharged to the ocean is one small step from being drinkable) while having committed to an energy intesive de-sal plant that will (at least initially) result in more brown coal being burnt. Go figure!
The solution: simple - stop the de-sal plants and make use of what we've already got. If the risks of putting treated effluent into the same storage that collects rainwater and run-off are unacceptably high, then construct a holding dam for the treated effluent and have constant monitoring at multiple points (at the treatment plant, after treatment, in the transfer pipes, in the holding dam, and prior to "shandying"). An added bonus of this strategy is that the tap gets turned off at Boags Rocks (near Gunnamatta Beach) which means no more damage to the local ecosystem and swimmers and surfers no longer having to contend with a brown, smelly plume and 'floatables' such as cotton sticks and other undesirable 'stuff'!