Category Archives: Water

Vetoing Business as Usual After the Storm

Source: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/20/arts/design/changes-needed-after-hurricane-sandy-include-politics.html

“…the decisions ahead come down to nature and numbers, to density, economics and geology. Our relationship to the water can’t stay the same, and at the same time the city is not worth saving if it sacrifices its principles and humanity.”

CRITIC’S NOTEBOOK

Patrick Ward/Corbis

A flood barrier on the Thames, one of the ideas American experts are looking at in the wake of the destruction wrought by Hurricane Sandy.

By 
Published: November 19, 2012

Not a month after Hurricane Sandy there’s a rough consensus about how to respond. America is already looking to places like London, Rotterdam, Hamburg and Tokyo, where sea walls, levees and wetlands, flood plains and floating city blocks have been conceived.

Tineke Dijkstra/Hollandse Hoogte

The Maeslant surge barrier between Rotterdam and the North Sea. Building similar projects to protect the New York region would test the limits of American democracy

West 8/Rogers Marvel/Diller Scofidio & Renfro/Quennell Rothschild/SMWM

A rendering of a proposed 40-acre park for Governors Island, with a shoreline promenade.

Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

An aerial view of the Thames flood barrier in London.

MTA Bridges and Tunnels Special Archives

Robert Moses, about 1938. He accumulated unbridled authority to build major projects.

New York clearly ought to have taken certain steps a while back, no-brainers after the fact. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority ought to have installed floodgates and louvers at vulnerable subway entrances and vents. Consolidated Edison should have gotten its transformers, and Verizon its switching stations, out of harm’s way, and Congress should have ordered the Army Corps of Engineers to study the impact of giant barriers to block parts of the city from the sea.

Scientists, architects, planners and others have, of course, been mulling over these issues for years. They’ve pressed for more parkland and bike lanes, green roofs and energy-efficient buildings, and warned about the need for backup generators, wetland edges along Lower Manhattan and barrier islands for the harbor to cushion the blow of rushing tides.

Hurricane Sandy was a toll paid for procrastination. The good news? We don’t need to send a bunch of Nobel laureates into the desert now, hoping they come up with some new gizmo to save the planet. Solutions are at hand. Money shouldn’t be a problem either, considering the hundreds of billions of dollars, and more lives, another Sandy or two will cost.

So the problem is not technological or, from a long-term cost-benefit perspective, financial.

Rather it is the existential challenge to the messy democracy we’ve devised. The hardest part of what lies ahead won’t be deciding whether to construct Eiffel Tower-size sea walls across the Verrazano Narrows and Hell Gate, or overhauling the city’s sewage and storm water system, which spews toxic waste into rivers whenever a couple of inches of rain fall because the sea levels have already risen so much. These are monumental tasks.

But more difficult still will be staring down the pain, dislocation and inequity that promise to upend lives, undo communities and shake assumptions about city life and society. More than requiring the untangling of colossal red tape, saving New York and the whole region for the centuries ahead will become a test of civic unity.

In New York last week to tour the damage, President Obama named Shaun Donovan, his secretary of Housing and Urban Development, a New Yorker and former housing official in the city, to spearhead federal recovery efforts. Mr. Donovan is an obvious choice. But then the president reflexively pledged (and the vice president followed up with the same promise on Sunday) to restore ravaged neighborhoods and homes in Queens and on Staten Island to the way they were before Hurricane Sandy.

 That was business as usual, and the last thing the region or the country needs. At this point there’s no logic, politics and sentiment aside, to FEMA simply rebuilding single-family homes on barrier islands like the Rockaways, where they shouldn’t have been built in the first place, and like bowling pins will tumble again after the next hurricane strikes.

“Retreat is a dirty word,” as Robert S. Young, a North Carolina geologist, has described American sentiment, but better finally to face reality and make plans for smarter construction, compensation and even, where necessary, relocation. Elected officials and utility companies shouldn’t just turn on the lights and heat and restore crippled elevators in forgotten public housing projects that were inadequately designed in the first place.

Common sense dictates upgrading many of these projects to withstand floods but also devising new homes elsewhere for some residents. Cost-benefit analyses, long overdue, should answer tough questions like whether it’s actually worth saving some neighborhoods in flood zones. Communities like Breezy Point should be given knowledge, power and choice about their options, then the responsibility to live by that choice.

This means embracing a policy of compassion and honest talk. It’s no good merely to try to go back to the way things were, because they are not.

This sort of conversation is a third rail of American politics, so it’s no wonder all presidents promise to rebuild and stick taxpayers with the tab. That billions of dollars may end up being spent to protect businesses in Lower Manhattan while old, working-class communities on the waterfronts of Queens, Brooklyn and Staten Island most likely won’t get the same protection flies in the face of ideas about social justice, and about New York City, with its open-armed self-image as a capital of diversity.

But the decisions ahead come down to nature and numbers, to density, economics and geology. Our relationship to the water can’t stay the same, and at the same time the city is not worth saving if it sacrifices its principles and humanity.

So the real test post-Sandy will be negotiating between the two.

Faced with cholera and calamitous urban living conditions in the early 1800s, city planners ran roughshod over property rights to install the street grid. Outrage gradually yielded to rising real estate values, Central Park and the modern metropolis.

During the last century Robert Moses, accumulating unbridled authority to get what he wanted done, bulldozed into existence parks and beaches, highways and housing projects by recklessly destroying old neighborhoods, starving mass transit, crushing opposition and “hounding the people out like cattle,” as Stanley Isaacs, the former Manhattan borough president, said of the hundreds of thousands of mostly poor New Yorkers that Moses displaced.

 The defeat of Westway, a Moses-scale proposal during the 1980s to bury the West Side Highway and cover it with parkland and new development, in a sense became the public’s epitaph for Moses. Whether that defeat was bad for the city is a question for another time. But New York became more attuned to community-based initiatives, to preservation, environmentalism and circumspection, all good things in ordinary circumstances.

At the same time it lost something of its nerve.

I walked around Brooklyn Bridge Park last week with the landscape architects Matthew Urbanski and Michael Van Valkenburgh, who designed it. We stood by the salt marsh they installed where an old pier had once been. An acre of formerly obscured shorefront opened to the sky. The park survived Hurricane Sandy with hardly a scratch, proving the virtue of soft edges.

In the design process Mr. Van Valkenburgh had asked the state Environmental Conservation Department, which polices the coastline, for permission to float a north-south footbridge, just 12 feet wide, between the embankment where the old pier ended and the next pier over, where the architects are installing sports fields. The idea: People wouldn’t have to walk all the way around the shore to get from one pier to the other.

The department said no. The narrow bridge’s shadow might disturb the habitats of fish. It was the argument that torpedoed Westway.

Now the task is to create a whole new ecological infrastructure for the region. The hurdles go beyond just a single state authority fearful to concede even a footbridge. They include an alphabet soup of agencies and public officials: Congress and the governors of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut; the Corps of Engineers; FEMA; the Homeland Security Department; the New York State Public Service Commission (which in principle has the leverage to compel companies like Con Ed and Verizon to safeguard its equipment); Amtrak; the Metropolitan Transportation Authority; the city’s planning, transportation, parks and environmental protection departments; and the Port Authority, devised as the organization in charge of such epic undertakings, today a shadow of its former self.

 The Australians have a mantra for battling climate change: Protect, Redesign, Rebuild, Elevate, Relocate and Retreat. Guy Nordenson, a New York engineer who has spent years researching the subject, talks about controlling floods and controlled flooding, accepting that the water will ultimately get in. This means thinking like the Australians, long term about evolving nature. Our election cycle tends to thwart infrastructural improvements that can take decades and don’t provide short-term ribbon-cutting payoffs for politicians, which is why it’s a wry commonplace among engineers and architects that autocratic regimes make the most aggressive builders of massive projects.

For New York sea gates alone won’t fix the city’s problems any more than will porous streets with catchment basins and waterproof vaults under sidewalks to secure electrical systems. At the same time this is a golden opportunity for the United States to leapfrog countries that have pioneered innovative architecture like garages doubling as floodwater containers and superdikes serving as parks and high-density housing complexes — a chance for designers, planners and engineers finally to get back, after so many decades, to the decision-making table.

 The question is: Can we accomplish this in time and fairly?

The young Moses was a political savant with the vision to operate beyond the boundaries of municipalities, cities and bureaucracies and get big things done. But that same genius enabled him to extend his power beyond reasonable limits and finally to sweep aside the precious, small-scale urban values and human decency that sustain a civic democracy. His biographer Robert Caro wrote in the 1970s that Moses “bent the democratic processes of the city to his own ends to build public works,” albeit “left to themselves, these processes proved unequal to the building required.”

“The problem of constructing large-scale public works in a crowded urban setting,” Mr. Caro added, “is one which democracy has not yet solved.”

And it still hasn’t.

A version of this article appeared in print on November 20, 2012, on page C1 of the New York edition with the headline: Vetoing Business as Usual After the Storm.

Week 31 Time Lapse

I missed Weeks 28, 29 + 30.  The water level has dropped about 3 meters in that time.  All photos here on Flickr.

Live water levels from the Mekong River Commission here and here and here. Rainfall levels are here (Tonle Sap Delta).

Phnom Penh (Bassac)
Flood level = 12.00 m
Alarm level = 10.50 m

Water level on Monday, November 05, 2012 at 07:00 AM = 5.87 m
Minimum level = 1.58 m
All levels are above zero gauge
(Zero gauge Phnom Penh (Bassac) = -1.02 m above MSL)

Water level on Tuesday, October 09, 2012 at 07:00 AM = 8.47 m
Forecast level on Wednesday, October 10, 2012 = 8.43 m

Water level on Wednesday, October 03, 2012 at 07:00 AM = 8.36 m
Forecast level on Thursday, October 04, 2012 = 8.25 m

Water level on Wednesday, September 26, 2012 at 07:00 AM = 8.50 m

Water level on Wednesday, September 19, 2012 at 07:00 AM = 8.42 m
Forecast level on Thursday, September 20, 2012 = 8.36 m

Water level on Wednesday, September 12, 2012 at 07:00 AM = 8.13 m
Forecast level on Thursday, September 13, 2012 = 8.13 m

Water level on Wednesday, September 05, 2012 at 07:00 AM = 8.13 m
Forecast level on Thursday, September 06, 2012 = 8.27

Water level on Friday, August 31, 2012 at 07:00 AM = 7.76 m
Forecast level on Saturday, September 01, 2012 = 7.81 m

Water level on Monday, August 20, 2012 at 07:00 AM = 7.22 m
Forecast level on Tuesday, August 21, 2012 = 7.19 m

Water level on Tuesday, August 14, 2012 at 07:00 AM = 6.91 m
Forecast level on Wednesday, August 15, 2012 = 6.98 m

Water level on Monday, August 06, 2012 at 07:00 AM = 7.30 m
Forecast level on Tuesday, August 07, 2012 = 7.55 m

Water level on Tuesday, July 31, 2012 at 07:00 AM = 5.28 m
Forecast level on Wednesday, August 01, 2012 = 5.43 m

Water level on Tuesday, July 24, 2012 at 07:00 AM = 4.95 m
Forecast level on Wednesday, July 25, 2012 = 4.82 m

Water level on Wednesday, July 11, 2012 at 07:00 AM = 5.82 m
Forecast level on Thursday, July 12, 2012 = 5.69 m

Water level on Tuesday, July 17, 2012 at 07:00 AM = 5.26 m
Forecast level on Wednesday, July 18, 2012 = 5.18 m

Phnom Penh Port
Flood level = 11.00 m
Alarm level = 9.50 m

Water level on Monday, November 05, 2012 at 07:00 AM = 5.06 m
Minimum level = 0.14 m
All levels are above zero gauge
(Zero gauge Phnom Penh Port = 0 m above MSL)

Water level on Tuesday, October 09, 2012 at 07:00 AM = 7.61 m
Forecast level on Wednesday, October 10, 2012 = 7.58 m

Water level on Wednesday, October 03, 2012 at 07:00 AM = 7.50 m
Forecast level on Thursday, October 04, 2012 = 7.41 m

Water level on Wednesday, September 26, 2012 at 07:00 AM = 7.60 m

Water level on Wednesday, September 19, 2012 at 07:00 AM = 7.53 m
Forecast level on Thursday, September 20, 2012 = 7.48 m

Water level on Wednesday, September 12, 2012 at 07:00 AM = 7.25 m
Forecast level on Thursday, September 13, 2012 = 7.25 m

Water level on Wednesday, September 05, 2012 at 07:00 AM = 7.19 m
Forecast level on Thursday, September 06, 2012 = 7.33 m

Water level on Friday, August 31, 2012 at 07:00 AM = 6.85 m
Forecast level on Saturday, September 01, 2012 = 6.90 m

Water level on Monday, August 20, 2012 at 07:00 AM = 6.27 m
Forecast level on Tuesday, August 21, 2012 = 6.24 m

Water level on Tuesday, August 14, 2012 at 07:00 AM = 5.99 m
Forecast level on Wednesday, August 15, 2012 = 6.06 m

Water level on Monday, August 06, 2012 at 07:00 AM = 6.47 m
Forecast level on Tuesday, August 07, 2012 = 6.70 m

Water level on Tuesday, July 31, 2012 at 07:00 AM = 4.42 m
Forecast level on Wednesday, August 01, 2012 = 4.57 m

Water level on Tuesday, July 24, 2012 at 07:00 AM = 4.07 m
Forecast level on Wednesday, July 25, 2012 = 3.94 m

Water level on Wednesday, July 11, 2012 at 07:00 AM = 4.66 m
Forecast level on Thursday, July 12, 2012 = 4.54 m

Water level on Tuesday, July 17, 2012 at 07:00 AM = 4.35 m
Forecast level on Wednesday, July 18, 2012 = 4.28

Week 1
Week 2
Week 3
Week 4
Week 5
Week 6
Week 7
Week 8
Week 9
Week 10
Week 11
Week 12
Week 13
Week 14
Week 15
Week 16
Week 17
Week 18
Week 19
Week 20
Week 21
Week 22
Week 23
Week 24
Week 25
Week 26
Week 27
Week 28 – Omit
Week 29 – Omit
Week 30 – Omit

Location.

Map1

Week 31 – 8 November 2012 – view left.

Week 31

Week 27 – 9 October – view left.

Week 27

Week 26 – 3 October – view left.

Week 26 - Time Lapse

Week 25 – 26 September – view left.

Week 25 - Time Lapse

Week 24 – 19 September 2012 – view left.

Week 24

Week 23 – 12 September 2012 – view left.

Week 23 Time Lapse

Week 22 – 5 September 2012 – view left.

DSC_3443

Week 21 – 30 August 2012 – view left.

Week 21 Time Lapse

Week 20 – 20 August 2012 – view left.

Week 20

Week 19 – 14 August 2012 – view left.

Week 19 River Time Lapse

Week 18 – 6 August 2012 – view left.

Week 18

Week 17 – 1 August 2012 – view left.

Week 17

Week 16 – 24  July 2012 – view left.

Week 16 - Phnom Penh River Time Lapse

Week 15 – 17 July 2012 – view left.

WEEK 15 - PHNOM PENH RIVER TIME LAPSE

Week 14 – 11 July 2012 – view left.

11 July - Time Lapse

Week 13 – 3 July 012 – view left.

3 July - Week 13

Week 12 – 25 June 2012 – view left.

Week 12 - 25 June

Week 11 – 18 June 2012 – view left.

Week 11 - Phnom Penh River Time Lapse

Week 10 – 12 June 2012 – view left.

Week 10 - Phnom Penh Time Lapse

Week 9 – 2 June 2012 – view left.

Week 9 - Phnom Penh River Time Lapse

Week 8 – 26 May 2012 – view left.

Week 8 - May 26

Week 7 – 18 May 2012 – view left.

Week 7 - May 18

Week 6 – 11 May 2012 – view left.

Week 6 - May 11

Week 5 – 6 May 2012 – view left.

6 May - Week 5

Week 4 – 27 April 2012 – view left.

Week 4 - 27 April

Week 3 – 21 April 2012 – view left.

21 April - Week 3

Week 2 – 12 April 2012 – view left.

12 April 2012

Week 1 – 6 April 2012 – view left.

6 April 2012

Week 31 – 8 November 2012 – view right.

Week 31

Week 27 – 9 October 2012 – view right.

Week 27

Week 26 – 3 October – view right.

Week 26 - Time Lapse

Week 25 – 26 September – view right.

Week 25 - Time Lapse

Week 24 – 19 September – view right.

Week 24

Week 23 – 12 September 2012 – view right.

Week 23 Time Lapse

Week 22 – 5 September 2012 – view right.

Week 22

Week 21 – 30 August 2012 – view right.

Week 21 Time Lapse

Week 20 – 20 August 2012 – view right.

Week 20

Week 19 – 14 August 2012 – view right.

Week 19 River Time Lapse

Week 18 – 6 August 2012 – view right.

Week 18

Week 17 – 1 August 2012 – view right.

Week 17

Week 16 – 24 July 2012 – view right.

Week 16 - Phnom Penh River Time Lapse

Week 15 – 17 July 2012 – view right.

WEEK 15 - PHNOM PENH RIVER TIME LAPSE

Week 14 – 11 July 2012 – view right.

Week 14 - 11 July - Time Lapse

Week 13 – 3 July 012 – view right.

3 July - Week 13

Week 12 – 25 June 2012 – view right.

Week 12 - 25 June

Week 11 – 18 June 2012 – view right.

Week 11 - Phnom Penh River Time Lapse

Week 10 – 12 June 2012 – view right.

Week 10 - Phnom Penh Time Lapse

Week 9 – 2 June 2012 – view right.

Week 9 - Phnom Penh River Time Lapse

Week 8 – 25 May 2012 – view right.

Week 8 - May 26

Week 7 – 18 May 2012 – view right.

Week 7 - May 18

Week 6 – 11 May 2012 – view right.

DSC_9770

Week 5 – 6 May 2012 – view right.

6 May - Week 5

Week 4 – 27 April 2012 – view right.

Week 4 - 27 April

Week 3 – 21 April 2012 – view right.

21 April - Week 3

Week 2 – 12 April 2012 – view right.

12 April 2012

Week 1 – 6 April 2012 – view right.

6 April 2012

Laos approves Xayaburi ‘mega’ dam on Mekong

Source: BBC

Laos keeps saying that it has addressed the concerns of neighbouring countries, but this is misleading” Kirk Herberts on International Rivers

Laos has given the go-ahead to build a massive dam on the lower Mekong river, despite opposition from neighbouring countries and environmentalists.

A formal ceremony marking the start of full construction at Xayaburi would be held on Wednesday, the government said.

Countries downstream from the $3.5bn (£2.2bn) dam fear it will affect fish stocks and the livelihoods of millions.

The announcement came as leaders from Asia and Europe began a two-day meeting in the Laos capital, Vientiane.

Landlocked Laos is one of South-east Asia’s poorest countries and its strategy for development is based on generating electricity from its rivers and selling the power to its neighbours, says the BBC’s Jonah Fisher in Bangkok.

Xayaburi is being built by a Thai company with Thai money – and almost all of the electricity has been pre-sold to Thailand, our correspondent says.

Countries such as Cambodia and Vietnam point to a report last year that said the project should be delayed while more research was done on the dam’s environmental impact. Up to now, Laos had promised not to press ahead while those concerns remained.

Four dams already exist in the narrow gorges of the Upper Mekong in China but until now there have been none on the slower-moving lower reaches of the river, our correspondent says.

Laos deputy energy minister Viraphonh Virawong said work on the Xayaburi dam itself would begin this week, and hoped it would be the first of many.

“I am very confident that we will not have any adverse impacts on the Mekong river,” Mr Viraphonh told the BBC. “But any development will have changes. We have to balance between the benefits and the costs.”

Mr Viraphonh said he believed that concerns about fish migration and sediment flow had been addressed thanks to modifications to the original dam design costing more than $100m.

Sediment will be allowed out of the bottom of the dam periodically through a flap and lifts, and ladders will help the fish travel upstream.

“We can sense that Vietnam and Cambodia now understand how we have addressed their concerns. We did address this properly with openness and put all our engineers at their disposal. We are convinced we are developing a very good dam,” Mr Viraphonh said.

There was no immediate reaction from Cambodia or Vietnam, whose prime ministers are in Laos for this week’s Asia-Europe summit.

Under the terms of a longstanding agreement on the Mekong, there must be consultation between countries on any development on the river.

Environmental campaign group International Rivers said Laos’ promise to cooperate with neighbouring countries had never been genuine.

“The project has always continued on schedule and was never actually delayed,” the group’s Southeast Asia policy coordinator, Kirk Herbertson, told the BBC. “Construction on the project is continuing now because the wet season has ended, not because the environmental studies are completed.”

He said experts agreed it was doubtful that fish passages could work on the Mekong and “on the sediments issue, Laos is also jumping to conclusions”.

“Laos is playing roulette with the Mekong, and trying to pass its studies off as legitimate science.”

image of Jonah FisherJonah FisherBBC News, Bangkok

Bold, brave or perhaps a good way to bury the news? The Laos government chose to announce the dam would go ahead on the day it hosted one of the biggest summits in its history.

It won’t be hard to get immediate feedback. The prime ministers of two of the dam’s biggest opponents – Cambodia and Vietnam – are in Vientiane for this week’s Asia-Europe Meeting.

The problem both men have is that Laos has followed the letter, if not the spirit, of the 1995 Mekong Agreement. Under its terms, the countries that share the Mekong agree to prior consultations on the possible cross-border impact of any development on the river before deciding to proceed. Laos believes it has just done that.

Cambodia and Vietnam expressed concerns about the dam’s impact on fish migration and the flow of sediment downstream. So the Laos authorities brought in their own contractors and now say the problems have been solved.

Critics of the dam say many of the modifications to it are untested and the decision to proceed amounts to a huge experiment on one of the world’s great rivers.

Map

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Cambodia approves Lower Sesan 2 hydroelectric dam

SOURCE: BBC NEWS

Fishing in the Mekong River, Cambodia (file image)
Activists fear the dam will affect the livelihoods of people who live along the Mekong River

Cambodia’s government has approved a controversial hydroelectric dam on a tributary of the Mekong River.

The joint venture involves Cambodian, Chinese and Vietnamese investment of $781m (£488m) and is due to be completed within five years.

The project in northern Stung Treng province is known as Lower Sesan 2.

Environmental campaigners say the dam will damage the river’s biodiversity and devastate the livelihoods and homes of thousands of people.

A government statement said the approval came after eight years of study into the possible environmental and social consequences.

It said Prime Minister Hun Sen had ordered new homes to be built for an unspecified number of families who would be resettled for the project.

Activist Meach Mean, of the 3S Rivers Protection Network (3SPN), estimated that more than 50,000 people would be affected by the dam.

He called on the government to organise a public forum to discuss concerns before going ahead.

“We are surprised by the approval,” he told AFP news agency.

“We don’t know clearly about the process to build the project. We are really concerned about the impact on the people’s livelihoods, water, and ecology system.”

In September, a report by UN human rights envoy Surya Subedi also raised concerns about the dam, saying communities did not believe they had been adequately consulted about the project.

Damming the Mekong River has causes widespread controversy in South East Asia.

Although hydroelectric dams allow countries to generate vast amounts of electricity, they also threaten massive changes to the ecosystem across the Mekong basin.

In 1995, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam set up the Mekong River Commission to help manage and co-ordinate use of the river’s resources.

Map of the Mekong River

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Protecting the City, Before Next Time

Source: NYTimes

Architecture Research Office and dlandstudio

URBAN WETLANDS A rendering of Lower Manhattan that shows tidal marshes to absorb waves.

By 
Published: November 3, 2012 Arriving in Venice years ago, Robert Benchley, the New York journalist and wit, is said to have sent a mock-panicked telegram to his editor: “Streets flooded. Please advise.”

Related in Opinion

Related in Opinion
ROOM FOR DEBATE

Should New York Build Sea Gates?

How can we better protect New York City from flooding?

After the enormous storm last week, which genuinely panicked New York with its staggering and often fatal violence, residents here could certainly identify with the first line of Benchley’s note. But what about the second?

If, as climate experts say, sea levels in the region have not only gradually increased, but are also likely to get higher as time goes by, then the question is: What is the way forward? Does the city continue to build ever-sturdier and ever-higher sea walls? Or does it accept the uncomfortable idea that parts of New York will occasionally flood and that the smarter method is to make the local infrastructure more elastic and better able to recover?

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Wednesday gave a sea wall the nod. Because of the recent history of powerful storms hitting the area, he said, elected officials have a responsibility to consider new and innovative plans to prevent similar damage in the future. “Climate change is a reality,” Mr. Cuomo said. “Given the frequency of these extreme weather situations we have had, for us to sit here today and say this is once in a generation and it’s not going to happen again, I think would be shortsighted.”

The water rose in Dumbo, Brooklyn, on Monday.
Kirsten Luce for The New York Times

The water rose in Dumbo, Brooklyn, on Monday.

But some experts in the field who have thought deeply about how to protect New York from huge storms like Hurricane Sandy — and especially from the coastal surges they produce — suggested that less intrusive forms of so-called soft infrastructure might prove more effective in sheltering the city than mammoth Venetian sea walls. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg seemed to agree with them on Thursday when he said: “I don’t think there’s any practical way to build barriers in the oceans. Even if you spent a fortune, it’s not clear to me that you would get much value for it.”

According to the experts — architects, environmentalists and civil engineers — large-scale projects like underwater gates are expensive, cumbersome and difficult to build. More important, they say, such undertakings are binary projects that work just fine until the moment they do not.

Whatever the way forward, Klaus H. Jacob, a Columbia University seismologist and an expert on urban environmental disasters, said the century-event of Hurricane Sandy could become, because of rising seas alone, an annual occurrence by 2100.

“We know what we have to do,” said Dr. Jacob, who predicted last week’s tragedy with eerily prescient detail in a 2011 report. “The question is when do we get beyond talking and get to action.”

Among those actions already proposed are relatively minor alterations to the building code, to ban housing boilers and electrical systems in basements, and slightly more apocalyptic strategies, like one known as managed retreat, in which people would cede low-lying areas to the sea. While no one is calling for a mass and permanent exodus from the Rockaways, for instance, some experts, like Radley Horton, a climatologist at Columbia University, said that as parts of New York became more difficult — and costly — to protect, managed retreat needed at least to become “part of the public discussion.”

Here, then, are three proposals — some traditional, some fantastic, but all at least theoretically workable — designed to reduce the effects of storms like Hurricane Sandy on three especially vulnerable New York neighborhoods: Lower Manhattan, the Red Hook and Gowanus sections of Brooklyn, and the northern shore of Staten Island.

Lower Manhattan

Marshy Edges, Absorptive Streets

Picture a fringe of mossy wetlands strapped like a beard to Lower Manhattan’s chin, and you are halfway toward imagining the plan to protect the financial district and its environs dreamed up by the architect Stephen Cassell and a team from his firm, Architecture Research Office, and a partner firm, dlandstudio.

“Our goal was to design a more resilient city,” Mr. Cassell said. “We may not always be able to keep the water out, so we wanted to improve the edges and the streets of the city to deal with flooding in a more robust way.”

Among the most disturbing images to emerge from the aftermath of the storm was that of a pile of cars floating upended in the waters of a parking lot near Wall Street. Lower Manhattan, where most of the borough’s power failures occurred, is vulnerable to floods like this not just because it sits low in relation to the sea; it also juts out on heaps of artificial landfill, into the fickle waters of New York Harbor. It is probably not coincidental that the flooded areas of Manhattan, largely correspond to the island’s prelandfill borders.

To prevent incursions by water, Mr. Cassell and his planners imagined ringing Lower Manhattan with a grassy network of land-based parks accompanied by watery patches of wetlands and tidal salt marshes. At Battery Park, for instance, the marshes would weave through a series of breakwater islands made of geo-textile tubes and covered with marine plantings. On the Lower East Side of the island, Mr. Cassell and his team envisioned extending Manhattan by a block or two — with additional landfill — to create space for another new park and a salt marsh.

Beyond serving as recreation areas, these engineered green spaces would sop up and reduce the force of incoming water.

“When there’s a storm surge, it creates an enormous amount of energy,” Mr. Cassell said. “Wetlands absorb that energy and protect the coastline.”

As a complement to the parks and marshes, Mr. Cassell’s team would re-engineer the streets in the neighborhood to make the area better able to handle surging waves, creating three variations of roadway. On so-called Level 1 streets, asphalt would be replaced with absorptive materials, like porous concrete, to soak up excess water like a sponge and to irrigate plantings in the street bed. Level 2 streets, planned for stronger surges, would send running water into the marshes at the island’s edges and also into prepositioned ponds meant to collect runoff for dry spells. Level 3 streets — the only ones that might require a shift in the current city grid — would be parallel to the shoreline and designed to drain surging water back into the harbor.

“We weren’t fully going back to nature with our plan,” Mr. Cassell said. “We thought of it more as engineered ecology. But if you look at the history of Manhattan, we have pushed nature off the island and replaced it with man-made infrastructure. What we can do is start to reintegrate things and make the city more durable.”

Red Hook and Gowanus

Oysters to the Rescue

The architect and landscape designer Kate Orff based her plan to shield the Red Hook and Gowanus neighborhoods of Brooklyn on the outsize powers of the oyster. “The era of big infrastructure is over,” Ms. Orff said. By placing her faith in a palm-size bivalve to reduce the effects of surging storms, Ms. Orff said, she is “blending urbanism and ecology” and also “looking to the past to reimagine the future.”

Red Hook, Brooklyn, was hit hard last week by flooding from Hurricane Sandy.
Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Red Hook, Brooklyn, was hit hard last week by flooding from Hurricane Sandy.

Red Hook, in particular, was thrashed by Hurricane Sandy as some of the local inlets, like the Buttermilk Channel and Gowanus Bay, spilled into the low-lying area, swamping public housing projects and sending water rushing so high through the streets it occasionally swallowed up cars and bicycles.

Ms. Orff’s proposal., created by a team at her design firm Scape/Landscape Architecture P.L.L.C., envisions a system of artificial reefs in the channel and the bay built out of rocks, shells and fuzzy rope that is intended to nurture the growth of oysters (she calls them “nature’s wave attenuators”).

<strong>WATERWORLD</strong>&nbsp;A reef constructed from rock and shell piles to host oyster growth, as seen in a rendering for a proposal in Brooklyn. Such a structure could filter water and mitigate storm surge.
Scape/Landscape Architecture

WATERWORLD A reef constructed from rock and shell piles to host oyster growth, as seen in a rendering for a proposal in Brooklyn. Such a structure could filter water and mitigate storm surge.

 

The Bay Ridge Flats, a stretch of water that sits off the coast of the Brooklyn Army Terminal, was once home to a small archipelago of islands that protected the Brooklyn coastline. The islands have long since disappeared because of dredging, and Ms. Orff would replace them with her oyster-studded barriers, which, over time, would form a sort of “ecological glue” and mitigate onrushing tides, she said.

<strong>AQUACULTURE</strong> Oyster beds as depicted in a rendering for a proposal in Gowanus, Brooklyn. The shellfish could be cultivated by community groups and seeded on a planned reef, part of a water filtration and surge-mitigating system.
Scape/Landscape Architecture

AQUACULTURE Oyster beds as depicted in a rendering for a proposal in Gowanus, Brooklyn. The shellfish could be cultivated by community groups and seeded on a planned reef, part of a water filtration and surge-mitigating system.

 

At the same time, she imagines installing oyster beds along the banks of the Gowanus Canal in a series of what are known as Floating Upweller Systems (Flupsys) — essentially, artificial shellfish nurseries. A powerful fan blows aerated water through a group of eight chambers in which oysters or mussels can be grown. The chambers protect the budding oysters from predators like starfish. Above the Flupsys, Ms. Orff would place a public walkway for joggers and strollers, punctured every so often by hatches that could be lifted to permit a view of the nature below.

“This is infrastructure that we can do now,” she explained. “It’s not something we have to think about and fund with billions of dollars 50 years down the road.”

Oysters have the added benefit of acting as natural water filters — a single one can clean up to 50 gallons of water a day. By being placed in the Gowanus Canal, Ms. Orff hopes, they could further purify what has already been named a federal Superfund site. She wants, by way of her project, to change how we think about infrastructure projects.

“Infrastructure isn’t separate from us, or it shouldn’t be,” Ms. Orff said. “It’s among us, it’s next to us, embedded in our cities and our public spaces.”

Staten Island

A Bridge in Troubled Waters

A rendering of a storm barrier with a drawbridge on Arthur Kill, intended to protect Staten Island in a Category 3 hurricane.
CDM Smith, Inc

A rendering of a storm barrier with a drawbridge on Arthur Kill, intended to protect Staten Island in a Category 3 hurricane.

 

A few years ago, Lawrence J. Murphy, an engineer in the New York office of the global engineering firm CDM Smith, was asked by the local chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers to propose a way of protecting northern Staten Island from the forces of a Category 3 hurricane. He came up with a plan to build a classic storm-surge barrier across the Arthur Kill, the tidal strait that separates Staten Island from the mainland of New Jersey, designed to act in concert with similar barriers in the East River, the Narrows and the waters near the Rockaway Peninsula.

Staten Island was ravaged by Hurricane Sandy, as entire neighborhoods were flooded, a168-foot water tanker crashed onshore and city officials said that most of the fatalities in the city occurred there. It is arguably New York’s most exposed borough, surrounded not by peaceful rivers but by oceanic channels like the Arthur Kill and, of course, the Atlantic itself.

Mr. Murphy’s concept, created with his partner, Thomas Schoettle, calls for the construction of a damlike structure with suspension towers spanning the Arthur Kill. Tidal gates below the surface would open and close as needed.

A rescue from Dongan Hills, Staten Island, on Tuesday.
Michael Kirby Smith for The New York Times

A rescue from Dongan Hills, Staten Island, on Tuesday.

 

According to the Army Corps of Engineers, Category 3 hurricanes (Hurricane Sandy was a Category 1 storm, downgraded by the time it reached New York) would produce surges of slightly more than 14 feet above normal sea levels. Mr. Murphy designed his barrier to protect against “overtopping waves” of an additional 8 feet, for a total height of 22 feet. He also designed a complex system of locks and drawbridges to accommodate the numerous commercial ships that navigate the kill.

Mr. Murphy’s barrier would be run by a trained staff and would operate on emergency power in the event of an electrical failure. Because strong tides pass through the kill, he would also outfit the barrier with tidal generators, which, as an extra benefit, could produce electricity.

Nor did Mr. Murphy ignore the possibilities of public recreation. “The concept design of the Arthur Kill Storm Barrier has been made with a focus on aesthetics to create a destination,” he wrote in his proposal. “The multiuse path can provide bicycling and walking opportunities. Fishing and bird-watching amenities can also be provided.”

A version of this article appeared in print on November 4, 2012, on page MB1 of the New York edition with the headline: Protecting the City, Before Next Time.

Waterways go abstract

Source: Phnom Penh Post

Monday, 22 October 2012
Claire Knox
121022_19a

Kampong Phluk, near Siem Reap, captured in Lim Sokchanlina’s photograph Rising Tonle Sap 1, 2012. Photograph courtesy of the artist and Sa Sa Bassac

Rising Tonle Sap 4, Lim Sokchanlina’s portrait of the Siem Reap tourist attraction Kampong Phluk and its flooded forest, is an arresting one. Silhouettes of mangrove trees melt into tawny waters and flicks of tangerine reflect off large cubes of melting ice in the foreground.

The Phnom Penh-based artist’s photograph is part of a new exhibition that aims to provoke local discussion on climate change and the fate of Cambodia’s wide waterways.

The ice blocks – dissolving into fishing communities and important ecosystems – represent global warming, melting ice caps and last year’s devastating floods.

The Mekong, the Tonle Sap, the Red River, in Vietnam’s north, and Thailand’s Ping River — integral for centuries of transport, food production, energy supply and dynamic ecosystems — are widely acknowledged to be in grave danger because of economic exploitation, development and climate change.

The rivers now form the backdrop for Riverscapes In Flux, a regional exhibition sponsored by the Vietnam-based Goethe   Institut that opened in the capital’s Sa Sa Bassac galley on Thursday.

Three Cambodian artists are exhibiting in the display: photographer Sokchanlina; sculptor and artist Than Sok with an installation of scarecrows (metaphors for his family when they were stuck for months on their roof on the Tonle Sap); and photographer/audio artist Vuth Lyno.

Each spent time living on the Tonle Sap — a river and lake distinctive as the only waterway on earth with the ability to reverse directions every year, coerced by the monsoonal Mekong.

Thai video and installation artist Sutthirat Supaparinya and Vietnamese artists Luong Hue Trinh and Phan Thao Nguyen round out the show.

Nguyen’s stark film blurs the boundaries between documentary and more abstract art. It juxtaposes the idyllic imagery of the Mekong Delta with its sterile, smelly, industrial catfish factories.

Budget restraints have restricted the project to six artists — it showcased 17 in Bangkok, Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh — but the white, minimalist cubic sphere of Phnom Penh’s Sa Sa Bassac gallery is a good size and milieu.

Artistic director and Sa Sa Bassac co-founder Erin Gleeson said she had been hesitant to base an exhibition on a broad theme such as climate change, but had a change of heart after witnessing the tragic effects of the 2011 floods.

“We’ve been really surprised at the different reflections on one theme, which can often be limiting,” she says.

Gleeson said it was important to look at the waterways of South East Asia in a different medium.

“The Mekong River Commission has to work with five countries; it must be so complicated, and you think of all the technical reports we read about damming and pollution and so on.

“So I think it’s important to look at the river in a different space, to be able to look at the river and reflect on it in a different way… perhaps this platform can provoke something else than what we read in media reports,” she said.

Sokachanlina, who spent four months living on the Tonle Sap with fishing communities, talking to them about climate change, said he had been interested in the beauty of placing the 80kg shards of ice in a landscape and watching the landscape morph into something else as the ice melted.

“I went to all these places and looked at darkness, reflections, light coming through the trees. I want this to provoke discussion among Khmer people, and that our actions are contributing to these great disasters.”

Riverscapes In Flux runs until November 11 at Sa Sa Bassac, second floor, #18 Sothearos Blvd, Phnom Penh.


To contact the reporter on this story: Claire Knox at claire.knox@phnompenhpost.com

ScienceShot: Building Angkor Wat

By Traci Watson on 12 October 2012, 1:02 PM 

sn-ang.jpg
Credit: Uchida, E. and Shimoda, I., “Quarries and transportation routes of Angkor monument sandstone blocks,” Journal of Archaeological Science (2012), doi: 10.1016/j.jas.2012.09.036.

Scientists have long known that the sandstone blocks used to build the famous Angkor Wat temple and other monuments in the ancient Cambodian city of Angkor came from quarries at the foot of a sacred mountain nearby. But how did the 5 million to 10 million blocks, some weighing more than 1500 kilograms, reach Angkor? Researchers report in a paper in press at the Journal of Archaeological Science that when they examined Google Earth maps of the area, they saw lines that looked like a transportation network. Field surveys revealed that the lines are a series of canals, connected by short stretches of road and river, that lead from the quarries straight to Angkor. The roads and canals—some of which still hold water—would’ve carried blocks from the 9th century to the 13th century on a total journey of 37 kilometers or so. The researchers don’t know whether the blocks would’ve floated down the canals on rafts or via some other method. Scholars had previously assumed that the blocks were floated down a canal to the Tonle Sap Lake and then upstream on the Siem Reap River, a route of 90 kilometers. The newly reported canal network would’ve taken many months and thousands of laborers to construct, but it would have been all in a day’s work for Khmer engineers, whose elaborate reservoirs and other hydraulic works at Angkor still inspire awe.

See more ScienceShots.

No Where Island

Source: nowhereisland.org

INTRODUCTION
Nowhereisland was an island which journeyed from the High Arctic region of Svalbard to the south west coast of England in summer 2012. As it made this epic journey, it travelled through international waters, whereupon it became the world’s newest nation – Nowhereisland – with citizenship open to all.

Over its year-long status as a nation, it accrued over 23,000 citizens and 2,700 propositions to its online constitution, travelled 2,500 miles accompanied by its mobile Embassy and was greeted by thousands in ports and harbours around the south west coast of England. On Sunday 9th September, the island left Bristol and the territory is shortly to be dispersed amongst its citizens.

This showreel documents its journey from Arctic island to celebrated small visiting nation – a land artwork for our time.

MORE DETAILS
Nowhereisland arrived in Weymouth on 25th July for the sailing events of the London 2012 Olympic Games as a visiting island nation, accompanied by its remarkable mobile Embassy, packed full of intriguing objects and fascinating information and hosted by the Nowhereisland Ambassadors. It continued its journey, visiting other ports and harbours where it was hosted by choirs, bands, citizen marches, a flotilla of surfers, gig rowers, sea shanty singers and thousands of people on cliff tops, beaches, harbours and promenades. Find out more about Nowhereisland’s journey here.

Nowhereisland is an artwork by Alex Hartley and is produced by Bristol-based arts organisation Situations. It caught the imagination of thousands of people across the world. 23,000 people from 90 countries have signed up to be citizens, contributing to the online constitution and responding to the year-long Resident Thinkers programme. More than 20 schools and community groups across the South West helped to plan how to welcome Nowhereisland to their local port.

Nowhereisland was a Situations project, one of 12 Artists Taking the Lead projects across the UK, funded by the Arts Council of England, which formed part of the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad in summer 2012.

 

WATCH THE FILMS ABOUT NOWHEREISLAND

Introductory film

Filmed by David Bickerstaff and Razaka Firmager. Edited by David Bickerstaff

To view a BSL version of this video click here

 

Nowhereisland’s arrival into Weymouth

 

Resident Thinkers on Nowhereisland

 

For more information, on the project, check out the FAQs.

Download an introduction to Nowhereisland here.

Sewage Snow

Phnom Penh Ski Resort?

Those Snowy Slopes, Sprayed With Wastewater By LESLIE MACMILLAN

Skiers at the Arizona Snowbowl north of Flagstaff in 2005. This winter, the resort will spray snow made from sewage.Associated PressThe Arizona Snowbowl north of Flagstaff. This winter, the resort will spray snow made from sewage.
Green: Science

As I wrote in The Times recently, a ski resort in northern Arizona will become the first in the world to make artificial snow totally out of sewage effluent this winter. Last February, a federal appeals court ruled in favor of the resort, Arizona Snowbowl, ending a 10-year legal battle waged by environmental and Native American groups that warned that the wastewater snow would damage wildlife, human health and a mountain considered sacred by 13 Indian tribes.

Now, apart from longstanding concern about harmful chemicals in the water that will be used to make that snow — piped directly from the sewage treatment system of the nearby town of Flagstaff — new research indicates that the wastewater system is a breeding ground for antibiotic-resistant genes.

The genes were not detectable in the plant itself but “increased dramatically” at the point of use, meaning that they were found in places like sprinkler heads, the study said. “This means bacteria is growing in the distribution pipes,” said Amy Pruden, the author and an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Virginia Tech.

The study has not been published or peer-reviewed, but Flagstaff officials are taking it seriously enough to have invited Dr. Pruden to serve on an advisory panel that the city formed last week.

Antibiotic-resistant genes are an area of emerging concern to scientists because they impede the body’s ability to fight disease.

Dr. Pruden suggested that the next step would be to analyze the live bacteria that might be carrying those genes through the pipes. She said the initial findings were cause for concern but that such worries “would shift to alarm” if known antibiotic-resistant pathogens were found in the water. Bacteria can cause infections in broken skin, and there is a high likelihood of cuts and scrapes during skiing, she pointed out.

Snowbowl’s general manager, J.R. Murray, noted that trace levels of chemicals and contaminants were routinely found in ordinary drinking water. The plan to convert sewage to snow “is not so futuristic,” he said. “It’s just a sign of the times.”

The reality of climate change, prolonged drought, decreasing water supplies and an expanding population make water recycling and conservation more important than ever, experts say. But, unlike drinking water, reclaimed water is regulated not by the federal government but at the state level. A lack of mandates often leaves cities and towns to grapple with the issue of how to manage their water resources while balancing the emerging science against business or economic interests.

“Scientists are now able to detect things in minute amounts that they were never able to detect before,” said J.R. Murray, Snowbowl’s general manager. “That doesn’t mean those substances are harmful.”

Taylor McKinnon of the Center for Biological Diversity, a conservation group, counters that water use has exploded amid broad uncertainties. “The science is ahead of the policy, but our water use is way ahead of both,” he said. He cited the multiplying swimming pools, golf courses and turf lawns in desert cities like Phoenix.

Whether to wait for the policy to catch up to the science or forge ahead with planned development is a matter of intense debate.

Arizona Snowbowl sits on public land managed by the United States Forest Service. Before approving Snowbowl’s request, the agency conducted an environmental impact assessment in 2004 that deemed the water safe for snow-making because it satisfied a federal statute — the National Environmental Policy Act — that does not specifically police any of the chemical compounds that have since been found in the water.

Flagstaff officials say they went above and beyond the federal study by commissioning one of their own in 2005 that found endocrine-disrupting chemicals in the water.

The Arizona Daily Sun reported last month that Flagstaff may develop new water treatment standards, including removing contaminants not currently regulated by state or federal law.

Meanwhile, Snowbowl’s guns are set to spray the wastewater snow this Thanksgiving.