On the 19th and 20th April 2012, I attended an Event on ‘Community Resilience – Emerging Opportunities around sustainable Water Infrastructure’ as part of my new post as ‘Community Enabler’ with ‘the Kirkton Woodlands and Heritage Group’
The event was organised by a partnership of many organisations including CIFAL , HIE, UHI, Scottish Water, IRRI, Smallest, UNITAR, Carnegie trust etc.
One of the organisers explained to me that, they are traditionally very good at organising discussion and networking events between specialists, academics and governing bodies, but this event was unique because community organisations like ours were represented. It presented a fantastic opportunity for industry experts, representatives from Scottish government, leading professors and consultants to talk to the activists working in the remote rural communities of the Highlands, trying to stimulate positive and sustainable change at a grass roots level.
~‘Water is central to our national identity, from our lochs and reservoirs to the very origins of our industries, and the food and drink on our tables. Managing our water resource imaginatively, creating a Hydro Nation, is crucial to our future success and a key component of the transition to a low carbon economy.’
Scotland: The Hydro Nation Prospectus and Proposals for Legislation 2012~
Here is the official information about the event.
Day one of the event entailed two Field trips.
My colleague went to visit a micro Hydro scheme built by David Wells at Tomatin Inverness-shire. This project demonstrated just what one determined and resourceful individual could achieve, despite the layers of legislation, regulation,planning and logistical difficulties which we heard a lot about during this event.
I went on the other field trip was to Findhorn to visit the Waste water treatment plant there.
Who would have thought that a sewage treatment works could have been an inspiring and pleasant place to visit! We were shown about by Michael Shaw
who is an engineer and a partner in Biomatrix Water, a company that creates ‘bioremediation’facilities all over the world. This Waste treatment unit treats the waste of around 400 people living on the Findhorn Caravan Park, in caravans, camper vans and stunning eco-homes.
This unit was built in the 1995’s and now similar ones are being built all over the world by this company. The work starts in the households, with community education vital to the process, using ecological washing powders and soaps, not flushing away plastics, nappies and other nasties. Because Findhorn is a community, it is easier to get people to buy into these ideas which benefit everyone, to get across the concept of personal responsibility. The waste water is then gravity fed into a massive septic tank, where clever anaerobic ( no oxygen ) bacteria start breaking down the toxic mess. This is then fed into two small plastic tanks which are again anaerobic and closed over because at this stage the bacteria are breaking down complex toxic compounds into smelly gases like methane.
This then goes down through a series of open tanks. Oxygen is pumped in and a different Aerobic bacteria find their own balances and process the water. No sludge is produced because the oxygen keeps everything moving. The plants in the tanks provide roots where the bacteria thrive. The system is an ‘Active’ one because it is moving and oxygenated, a reed bed would be an example of a ‘passive’ system where nature just sorts everything out itself. A reed bed however would need to be four times bigger to process the same amount of waste. This system uses some energy to drive pumps and oxygen. there is a play off between the amount of energy needed and the speed of processing and size of processing unit required.
Water is one of those things we tend to take for granted, especially in Scotland. We don’t think about the costs when we switch on the tap, or flush away high quality drinking water. But to drive all those pumps to out taps, and process all that waste water has a massive energy cost. Scottish Water is the largest consumer of electricity in Scotland.
We had a quick tour of the village and the Eco Houses, a lovely peaceful atmosphere with people on bicycles, no satellite dishes or cars outside each home. Each house unique, individual with veggies, herbs and flowers growing outside.
The auditorium built in the 1970’s.
The Biomass plant which supplies the energy to some homes, businesses, and community buildings.
The actual Seminar was in HIE’s Cowan House, Inverness.
We were treated to some fascinating, stimulating and though provoking talks and presentations. Before having a chance to discuss some specific and general issues and community projects in front of a panel. A very healthy debate ensued when someone suggested that all community energy projects would be bought over by bigger energy companies and that private, public partnerships and private enterprise could assist community projects. It seems people who have worked hard for decades at building community cohesion, taking control of local assets and planning their own futures – will not relinquish that to outside interests very easily!
Professor Bob Kalin, Director of the David Livingston Centre for sustainability, gave us the global perspective. Water is becoming an increasingly precious resource, We in Scotland are in a very good position with being water Rich. We have all heard about carbon footprinting, how much oil, coal, gas we use daily in everything we do, which of course is not sustainable. But Water footprinting also yields some scary facts. When we buy an orange from tescos, we are paying the shipping costs, but we do not pay the water costs to the producing country.
It takes 300 litres of water to produce 1 litre of beer.
1600 litres of water to produce 1 kg of bread.
15400 water to produce 1kg of beef .
It follows then that a water rich country like scotland could be producing and exporting products which use the most water to produce, like beef , and importing the lower water footprint products like cereals.
Robert Dunn, and Richard Laybourne from Sunart Community company Hydro electric scheme gave a presentation about their communities efforts to generate revenue for the things they need, by utilising their natural assets of water, a downhill drop and an unused dam. Applecross is also working on a similiar project. this could be a great way of communities ensuring better resilience and sustainability. There are a few stumbling blocks however to do with the costs, economy of scale and costs of linking into the grid. Technically if an energy scheme produces a surplus to the community needs, it can sell it on to the grid, but there are issues with this which is why wind turbines are getting switched off and smaller schemes can’t get off the ground. Hopefully the various bodies involved are starting to listen and find ways of solving these problems if we really are to be an renewable energy rich nation. We Also had a talk from Eric Glasgow from Co Fermanagh in N Ireland who’s community Hydro scheme has been running successfully since 1999. There have been struggles along the way but they have proven that it can be done.
Nick Wilding or the Carnegie UK trust, gave a very illuminating talk on the work being done on what is community resilience. So often we hear of things only being valued in economic terms, but the overall feeling of this seminar is that all the players now recognise that not all ‘worth’ and ‘value’ can be measured in conventional terms. Culture, arts, a sense of wellbeing, play, socialising are all as important for communities as housing and employment.
It is now generally achnoledged that we need a more holistic approach to solving our needs and individuals and communities. The Web site Fiery Spirits that they run contains some great resources.
Scottish Government was represented by Jon Rathjen who is team leader of the Water Industry Team. He explained how the Scottish givernment is working to enshrine our relationship with Water in legistlation . This will make it the duty of Minsiters to be responsible for
~”… the Hydro Nation agenda which focuses on the economic, social and environmental development of the water sector in Scotland and the raising of Scotland’s international profile through its performance on global water issues” ~
He also stressed that water is not only an substantial asset in terms of energy production or drinking water but part of our national identity and culture. ‘Water is also nice to look at’ .
Scottish Water is the public company which manages all our water. This is paid for of course in our water rates. George Ponton, head of research and innovation- with Scottish water explained that for the past few years the company emphasis has been on getting the infrastructure up to legistlation compliance, providing the core services and upgrading. They are now at a stage where they are performing well, have driven down costs, and can start to look at more innovative community solutions, focus on generating their own energy to drive down their carbon footprint and assist communties. legistlation places some limits on their ability to do this so they have set up a sister company Horizons, which has more freedom to look at sustainability and more local solutions. He asked some interesting questions, like do we really need high quality drinking water to flush down the toilet ? is it sustainable ?
This was a very stimulating event and it has certainly given us fresh momentum, ideas and impetus to look at new ways of managing our community assets, new ways of thinking, and of course helpful new contacts.
It was good to feel that people who write legistlation, drive industry, provide funding are listening to and interested in what we are doing in our rural communities. Now is a good time to think outside the box, work together to do things differently. How can we use and appreciate water differently and better in our own area?