Australians have learned significant lessons from our war-fighting experiences during our nation’s short history. General [GEN] Sir John Monash and the Australian Corps proved this by employing a combined arms doctrine where infantry, artillery, tanks and aircraft act in concert to win battles.
Another vital component to successful military operations is logistics - where
everything from boots, bullets, food and water must arrive in a timely manner.
Successful war-fighting, drought mitigation and fire-fighting campaigns all share one common, yet vital ingredient – water.
The failure of the 1915 Gallipoli campaign to take the Ottoman Turkish Empire out of World War I required a major rethink. In 1917, the allies decided to push north and east from Egypt, through Palestine and Syria. After early successes, this campaign also stalled along the Gaza – Beersheba Line. With two failed and costly attacks against Gaza, the next operation was directed against the inland town of Beersheba.
The Desert Mounted Corps [part of General Allenby’s army], comprised Australians, New Zealanders, British Yeomanry and Territorial Horse Artillery. They were commanded by an Australian Lieutenant General [LTGEN] Sir Harry Chauvel and played a significant part in the breakthrough.
“After a gruelling night march from the south, the British infantry launched their attack from the south and west of Beersheba at dawn on the 31st October 1917. For this operation to succeed Beersheba had to be taken in one day, otherwise this huge force would exhaust its water supply.
Most of the horses had at this time been without water for 48 hours and the nearest adequate water supply for the Desert Mounted Corps was some 12 hours ride away. As sunset approached, most of the positions had been taken, but Beersheba with its legendary water wells was still in the hands of the Turks.”
This famous charge of around 800 Australian Light Horsemen commenced sometime after 1600 hours. By sunset, the Battle of Beersheba was over, and the town and its precious water wells were safely in Allied hands.
“By nightfall, Beersheba was in the hands of Allenby's Army. Great disorder prevailed in the enemy camp, armed and unarmed Turks were scattered about in small groups awaiting capture. The two Regiments took prisoners to the number of 38 officers, 700 other ranks, captured 9 field guns, 3 machine guns, a large number of transport vehicles and many other materials. By 10 pm approx. 58,000 light horsemen and 100,000 animals had swarmed into Beersheba. It took 1,800,000 litres of water to shed their battle thirst.”
Australia is the driest inhabited continent on Earth. As Dorothea Mackellar reminds us her poem, My Country;
“I love a sunburnt country,
A land of sweeping plains,
Of ragged mountain ranges,
Of droughts and flooding rains.
I love her far horizons,
I love her jewel-sea,
Her beauty and her terror
The wide brown land for me!”
We are all familiar with ‘......her terror’ – this includes droughts, bushfires, floods and cyclones.
How other people fix their water problems
Ancient civilizations have been very innovative in ensuring plentiful water for their people. In Egypt this is epitomized by the famous shadoof.
Residents in the cradle of civilization, ancient Mesopotamia, built a system of dams, cisterns and irrigation channels that ensured the development of farms, trade, culture and influence.
The Romans were widely known for their irrigation and aqueduct systems.
These famous water-wheels at Hamar [Syria] were based upon Roman designs.
Many Australians still believe that we live in the Clever Country. Despite living in the driest continent, we are still not using even these most basic constructions to water our own country.
Meanwhile, these same ancient Middle Eastern peoples have adapted and embraced new technologies that provide a super-abundance of water. Today they thrive as economic powerhouses – nations like the United Arab Emirates [UAE].
Dubai UAE – 1991
Dubai UAE – 2005
Dubai UAE at night –2012
How does a place without rivers or freshwater lakes undergo such a transformation in just 20 years? How has Dubai undergone such exponential growth without vital natural resources?
There is no better showcase of this success than with the spectacular Dancing Fountain in Dubai.
Where did this city-state find such plentiful power and water to build such a world-class attraction?
A modern answer to an ancient problem
The UAE have been using a technology that enables them to build modern power stations AND harness the waste heat for thermal desalination of seawater, providing enough water for tourist projects like the Dancing Fountains. This technology is known as cogeneration.
This above graphic illustrates the basic principles of cogeneration; with combined heat and power, 100 units of fuel provide 35 units of electricity and 50 units of heat, with 15 units of loss.
To achieve the same numbers in separate systems of heat [boiler] and power [electricity], 180 units of fuel are required.
Overall efficiency – Regular = 30% Vs Residual Heat Recovery = 85%
Using this clever technology, nations like the UAE have been ‘manufacturing’ distilled water as a by-product from their power stations and aluminium smelters since 2005.
This water production continues to this day.
It has six gas turbines that generate power and the hot exhaust gases are fed through boilers that heat seawater to produce steam. The steam is either used to drive steam turbines, producing more power, or fed through the eight desalination units to produce drinkable water. The plant’s flexible design means the amount used for each purpose can be adjusted to meet their demands. The desalination units are the largest individual ones of their kind in the world.
“We are utilising the waste heat in order to produce either water or power,” said Mr Al Tayer. “The technology is very reliable and advanced.”
This technology is also available for us in Australia – however, our engineering apparatchiks and elected representatives have decided not to use it. They chose instead a much less
efficient method of desalination, Reverse Osmosis [RO]. This begs the question, why?
Making fresh water from seawater
There are three basic options for plentiful water via desalination, including;
- Reverse Osmosis [RO]. The seawater is subjected to high pressure pumping to separate the salt and minerals, which are filtered out with the use of a semi-permeable membrane.
- Multi-Stage Flash [MSF]. Seawater is heated and evaporated repeatedly, and the steam is condensed to produce desalinated water. This method is used in about half the world's desalination plants, particularly when the plants are high-capacity.
- Multi-Effect Distillation [MED]. This method is similar to multi-flash effect: hot steam passes through tubes enclosed in pressure vessels. Sea water is sprayed on the outside of the tube and is turned to steam. The process occurs in a progression of stages or effects, with each ‘effect’ increasing the efficiency of the system.
Dubai chose the MED method, because of the following;
“The authority said the facility’s advanced technologies have reduced greenhouse gas emissions and generate power and water with a minimal carbon footprint.”
In 2006, this author submitted a 2 research papers to the Victorian Government’s ‘Our Water – Our Future’ Project for the construction of two Multi-Effect Distillation [MED] plants in Victoria. The proposals, entitled, “The Clever Country – Dying of Thirst” and “Recycling – Hot Topic or Just Hot Air?”, detailed how recycling waste heat [known as cogeneration] from the 2 Victorian aluminium smelters plus power stations near the coast, can manufacture low-cost distilled [desalinated] water.
Instead of using a heat recycling method via the MED process – the Victorian govt chose to build a reverse osmosis [RO] plant. The entire RO desalination campaign is still very controversial with many Victorians protesting about the costs, plant site location and the likely environmental impacts.
“The Wonthaggi Reverse Osmosis Desalination plant was budgeted to cost approx. $2,100 million [$2.1 Billion], however, the costs blew out to over $5,600 million [$5.6 Billion]”
“In 2013-14, the plant will cost Victorian taxpayers $649 million even without water ordered.”
When we compare and contrast the costs of the combined Dubai power station and MED
desalination plant with the Victorian RO plant, we find;
Cost – Dubai Jebel Ali power station + thermal [MED] desal plant = approx USD 3 Billion.
Cost – Wonthaggi RO desalination plant only = approx USD 6.89 Billion at 2007 rates.
Reverse Osmosis plants require significant electrical energy necessary for the steep pressure gradients [pumps] that drive the desalination process. With the rising cost in energy prices and the controversy surrounding pollution from coal-fired power-stations, recycling waste heat from power stations and heavy industry provides a much more economical and environmentally friendly option.
Why would Australia sign onto Kyoto Protocols and fail to take advantage of a proven recycling technology that not only reduces our carbon footprint, but helps drought-proof our country?
This will result in lower costs for distilled water in comparison to RO methods.
Even South Australia, the driest state on the driest continent, chose to build RO plants. Like Victoria these also continue to be controversial, with recent reports of the Commonwealth Auditor General ‘blasting’ the project.
Despite our experiences with many droughts, we obviously just don’t get it.
Without water, these members of the of the RFS Stony Creek crew have absolutely nothing ‘in the locker’ to fight bushfires.
Without adequate water supplies Victorian CFA fire-fighters like these in the Bunyip State Forest would have had nothing to fight the Black Saturday Firestorms of 2009.
There are also modern and clever methods to store this water for our homes and communities. Note the mobile phone and specialised communications transmitters & receivers on this water tower. During the Victorian Black Saturday bushfires, many communities lost mobile phone communications. Towers like these ensure safe communications and also provide a platform for manned or remote sensors during bushfire emergencies.
There is one Australian who has been helping farmers and rural communities fight drought for more than 30 years. Peter Andrews has appeared an unprecedented four times on ABC’s Australian Story where he presented his now perfected low-tech solutions for combating drought.
Peter has been converting drought-stricken, salt-devastated, unproductive and clapped-out farmland back into pristine primary producing areas for many years. His proven methods can be modified to drought-proof our Crown Lands, State forests and those areas surrounding at-risk communities.
Plan for drought prevention and bush fire mitigation
Water from thermal desalination plants is piped inland, where it is utilised by Peter Andrews and his Natural Sequence Farming team, by;
- Trickle-feeding the headwaters of inland creeks and rivers, that
- Create obstacles for bushfires plus refuges for our precious native fauna, with
- Storage systems & water-towers near at-risk communities for bushfire mitigation, including,
- Augmenting community water storages in times of drought, and, finally,
- Any additional water may then be used for irrigation.
Incised valley floodplain – water flows quickly down creek gullies ensuring erosion and rapid depletion of water until the next rains.
Intact valley floodplain – water flows slowly down a broad expanse of watercourse, creating several chains-of-ponds. Minimal erosion and water stays for much longer.
For streams in hilly terrain, water is slowed by placing gabions beside & across the stream, reducing erosion, scouring and creating chains-of-ponds.
Some National Parks are already using Peter Andrew’s NSF methods. At the Conondale National Park in Qld, the rocks provide a ‘pedestrian’ crossing, create a substantial pond upstream and best of all, an obstacle to bush fires. These low-cost enhancements also provide refuges for our already endangered fauna.
Are the lives of Australians worth saving?
Our fluctuating weather cycles between droughts and floods are becoming more severe.
The cost in terms of lives, livelihoods, homes, properties & infrastructure destruction has reached unprecedented levels. These losses are unsustainable.
Ash Wednesday  took the lives of 75 people whilst Black Saturday  claimed 173 lives and severely injured over 400 people.
Entire communities were obliterated and the financial cost was put at $4,400 million.
For our small population it is unacceptable to lose our most precious assets – our people.
It is also untenable to lose valuable infrastructure – only to face massive rebuilding costs.
With our small population carrying an overall debt of over $300 billion we cannot face more losses of these scales.
In the spring of October, 2013, extremely dangerous bush fires broke out in NSW.
Drought and bush fire threats will never go away unless we take action.
If we want to be ‘the Clever Country’, then we must face the challenges from our climate patterns, irrespective of whether we are climate change skeptics or not.
In reality we are experiencing skewed climate swings between drought-bushfire-flood. We could have been leaders in addressing our water scarcity.
Instead, our elected representatives were advised to choose RO desalination, at huge and unacceptable costs to the public.
Furthermore, no political party has considered the increase in efficiency plus benefits of carbon emission reductions by harnessing the waste heat from heavy industry and power stations. This is further compounded with plans to dump the Carbon Tax, but then introduce a Carbon Trading scheme, which will still inevitably increase household costs.
Who is giving our representatives such bad advice?
Compare and contrast
In 1917 the Ottoman Turkish forces understood the life-saving need for water. This is why they built strong defences at Beersheba.
In 1917 our Light Horsemen understood the need for water and fought hard for it. Today, Australia is yet to apply any comprehensive drought-proof and fire-proof plans utilising inland water distribution.
If nations like Israel, UAE, Spain, Chile and Libya can use thermal desalination to produce high quality, low-cost and low carbon-emission water, then why can’t we?
With no such ingenious operations we can no longer claim to be a clever country, can we?