Drought’s Footprint

Infographic of the day!

(I want to see this animated.)

Organized by decade with the 2012 right below these words. See the NYTimes original for the year labels and full size.

via NYTimes.com, related story.

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Infographic of the Day: The World’s Large Dams

See NYTimes for the missing text from: The World’s Large Dams: Almost 7,000 and Counting from the dam boom in the amazon

Credits: By JOE BURGESS and BILL MARSH |

Sources: Global Water System Project (dam locations); World Wildlife Fund; International Hydropower Association (new dams); United States Dept. of Interior

City River Bridge

[Another post that I've been intending on finishing for a while, but got shelved 
due to my move back to Los Angeles last fall...]

The 2007 I-35W Mississippi Bridge Collapse in Minneapolis has become just one of many infrastructure failures from the past few years.  But here in the Twin-Cities, crossing the River is part of our daily life. The impact of the collapse and rebuilding is still resonating  within our collective memory and in the fabric of our metropolis. Following the collapse, there was a symposium at the University of Minnesota in October 2008 to explore the fallout and implications of the bridge collapse hosted by the River Life project. My colleague and friend, Patrick Nunnally, edited the essays that emerged from the symposium into a book published in spring 2011. I promised him a no-holds bared review, so here it is.

The City, the River, the Bridge: Before and after the Minneapolis Bridge Collapse (University of Minnesota Press, 2011) covers a range of topics from the hyper-local impacts of the bridge closures and detours on the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood, to bigger questions about our technological society. Organized into themes:

  1. The Bridge: Object, Metaphor, Process;
  2. The City: Neighborhoods and Transportation;
  3. The River: After the Collapse;

The essays vary in relevance to potential readers and perhaps limit the overall significance of the book by limiting their connections to the larger context.

Not to say that essays about one neighborhoods trauma and hardship, or the specifics of the local political solutions to an engineering problem don’t have a wider societal relevance. But this book is peculiarly Minnesotan in its insistence of ignoring the bigger picture and refusal to make connections with national and international precedence or similar project. (I’ve had many students at the U question why traveling outside the region was important since folks from elsewhere wouldn’t visit Minnesota!)

The one essay that transcends this provincialism is Tom Fisher’s chapter ‘Fracture-Critical: The  I-35W Bridge Collapse as Metaphor and Omen’ (an excerpt/derivation of this essay can be read on Places). Tom connects the failure of the gusset plates to the failure of our financial system, the failure of the levees in NOLA in Katrina, and our culture that cares more about paying the lowest up-front price for anything. He wraps up his chapter by discussing the need to build a more resilient future (which of course gets me all excited).

Over the coming decades, we need to bring together all of the environmental knowledge we have in order to nurture the natural systems we depend on, with all of the ethical understandings we can muster to help us thrive within the material constraints we will face. Of the bridges we will need to build in the process, the bridge in understanding that will help us leave behind our old hubris in order to reach a newfound humility may be the most important of all.

Avoiding fracture critical systems is a significant challenge for the 21st century. Conversely, avoiding unintended failures caused by the increasing complexity of systems is also a rising threat.

There is a good failure analysis of the bridge on Free Republic, and the official MnDOT 35w bridge pages on the history of the bridge, about the collapse.

Thanks to Patrick Nunnally and the University of Minnesota Press for provided the review copy.

Los Angeles Aqueduct Centenial Project

Aqueduct Futures

Excited to share news of receiving the word that I’ll be getting a $100,000 grant (thanks to the assistance of Dean Woo) to organize activities to commemorate the November 2013 Centennial of the opening of the Los Angeles Aqueduct at Cal Poly Pomona.

Once the gift is finalized, I reveal the sponsor and details of the project. In the meantime, I’m busy organizing the courses and exhibition that are the core of Aqueduct Futures. Stay tuned!!!!


[Photo bys Jet Lowe for the Historic American Engineering Record]

Other folks working on Aqueduct Centennial Events:

I’ve also heard that CLUI, Occidental College, and Arid Lands Institute are all possibly planning efforts to commemorate the Centennial.  Please let me know if there are other efforts in the works!

Dust Up On Owens Lake Again

The LADWP has pushed back against the shifting target of dust control on Owens Lake, precipitating another round legal battles to ensure the public health along the Eastern Sierras.

So far, the Owens Lake dust control project has reduced emissions of PM10 dust by 90% – this is agreed to by both parties the LADWP and the Great Basin Unified Air Pollution Control District. The conflict is over who should pay for further dust mitigation efforts, most of which is on land that recent archeological research shows was not submerged before the LA Aqueduct was completed in 1913, which defines the area that was agreed to in the 1997 when the dust control project was ratified. So the question is: does the LADWP or the State Land Commission pay for controlling dust on the disputed 10 square miles?

“We have no intention of walking away from our responsibility for the dust at the dry Owens Lake bed,” Nichols said. “But the reality is that we don’t create all the dust out there, never did.”

LADWP’s appeal at the California Air Quality Board is being heard today. So stay tuned for the ruling.

via LATimes

Water World

A new visualization of all the water in the world from Howard Perlmann of the USGS balls up all the water on earth.

Spheres representing all of Earth’s water, Earth’s liquid fresh water, and water in lakes and rivers

The largest sphere represents all of Earth’s water, and its diameter is about 860 miles (the distance from Salt Lake City, Utah, to Topeka, Kansas). It would have a volume of about 332,500,000 cubic miles (mi3) (1,386,000,000 cubic kilometers (km3)). The sphere includes all the water in the oceans, ice caps, lakes, and rivers, as well as groundwater, atmospheric water, and even the water in you, your dog, and your tomato plant.

Liquid fresh water

The blue sphere over Kentucky represents the world’s liquid fresh water (groundwater, lakes, swamp water, and rivers). The volume comes to about 2,551,100 mi3 (10,633,450 km3), of which 99 percent is groundwater, much of which is not accessible to humans. The diameter of this sphere is about 169.5 miles (272.8 kilometers).

Water in lakes and rivers

Do you notice that “tiny” bubble over Atlanta, Georgia? That one represents fresh water in all the lakes and rivers on the planet, and most of the water people and life of earth need every day comes from these surface-water sources. The volume of this sphere is about 22,339 mi3 (93,113 km3). The diameter of this sphere is about 34.9 miles (56.2 kilometers). Yes, Lake Michigan looks way bigger than this sphere, but you have to try to imagine a bubble almost 35 miles high—whereas the average depth of Lake Michigan is less than 300 feet (91 meters). Continue reading

LA Aqueduct Bibliography 2012

I revisited the LA Aqueduct for a grant proposal related to the upcoming centennial of it’s opening (stay tuned), and started updating my earlier bibliography. My methodology was searching via google scholar, amazon.com and cal poly’s library. Items in bold are seminal books and essential reading about the LA Aqueduct. The links take you to the most recent edition of the book.

(all images by HAER/Library of Congress.)

OWENS RIVER DIVERSION GATES

2012

2011

2010

2009

2008

Alabama Gates

Continue reading