Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Southern Catalans don't give a dam ("Sense presa")

Former and current Francoists often picture dams as a success of the former regime. Most dams were built in upstream portions of upper Catalonia rivers and had the main purpose of power generation (at the time hydroelectric power generation in Spain used to amount to over 50% of the total electrical consumption.) But this system planned by dictatorship technocrats has been proved to be highly ineffective regarding flooding of coastal areas and usage of seasonal floodwaters . However, since the end of the Franquism, no major project has been endeavored to improve the management of these problems in southern Catalonia.

Presently twelve water systems in southern Catalonia run with no flow regulation. Among these are the Besòs and Fluvià rivers and its tributaries. Smaller watercourses as the creeks in the Maresme region have no flow control either and its seasonal floodwaters are also wasted to the sea.

Among the reasons to avoid undertaking any project to avoid water flooding and to collect rain water in coastal areas is the fact that these watercourses have a very low average flow and run along highly populated areas. These are, nonetheless chief reasons to think about new water management solutions. Flooding of coastal areas occur almost every second year along the courses of unregulated rivers like Besòs and Fluvià. On the other hand, droughts are becoming a serious problem in the Barcelona area.

For instance, Besòs river – a system that takes two thirds of its water from the Ter and Llobregat systems- has a typical average Mediterranean flow of only 2 cubic meters per second . But this value is actually ten times higher than the median daily flow of Santa Ynez river in California prior to the construction of Cachuma reservoir in 1952.

Santa Ynez river flows used to be highly variable before its regulation and could multiply by 2000 during seasonal storms (twice as the Besòs river).

Considering an area of 400 square kilometers along the Besòs river and its tributaries where the annual precipitation is around 900 mm, a water collecting system could collect up to 360 milion cubic meters (Sau-Susqueda-Camarasa system has a capacity of 459 milion cubic meters.) Even collecting a fraction of this amount would be highly beneficial.

California seacoast projects like Cachuma, Santa Maria and Ventura are highly explanatory on what should be a properly planned water management project in a Mediterranean climate. Instead of poorly planned canals or inflatable dikes along the course of the river (as those made recently in the Besòs river) management of the level of the aquifers and capturing seasonal floodwaters are key in avoiding floods and fighting drought.

A project of this magnitude should include several regulating reservoirs and multiple conduits and water tunnels in both sides of the litoral mountains. Properly designed flow regulation must ensure environmentally healthier water systems.

It must be noticed that by no means I am proposing to re-create the Pharaonic Francoist dams neither some of the errors of the Southern California water management. Coastal water collecting in plausive conditions for the natural environment and for its proper attainment imply that the banks of the feeding streams must be wooded to avoid silting of the reservoirs. Deforestation is therefore totally adverse to a project of these features.

Friday, December 7, 2007

What is a Banana Kingdom?

“Banana Kingdom” refers to a banana producing country with a Monarch of its own. Commonwealth banana producers with the Queen of England as a head of state are therefore excluded of this definition. Spain is one of the 11 Banana Kingdoms of the world. The other 10 Banana Kingdoms are Thailand, Malaysia, Cambodia, Morocco, Swaziland, Lesotho, Brunei, Bhutan, Samoa and Tonga.

Spain is the 24th world's banana producer. The totality of the Spanish banana production -over 375,000 metric tonnes - is grown in the subtropical Canary Islands and destined to the internal market.

Bananas were apparently introduced in the Canary Islands by the British at the end of the 19th Century. Some other sources locate its origin in the former Spanish colony of Equatorial Guinea (Spanish territory until 1967).

Spanish bananas (known as "plátanos") are usually smaller in size and have more black speckles and are less sweet and tasty than tropical bananas. However, they are the favorite in the kingdom of Spain.