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Indian Freshwater Supplies Necklace:

Coastal Tri-nodal Multi-macroproject Proposals
for India and Its Neighbors




Richard Brook Cathcart
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I anticipate an "Indian Ocean Rim Century" – how will the world's publics recognize the IORC when it begins? Perhaps the truest indication of the IORC will be obvious when crowded and farmed India, an ecosystem-state where practically-speaking only the sky is still semi-natural, first attempts macro-engineering the Indian Ocean's summer monsoon climate (Mall, 2006). Macro-engineering the Hindi "Megha" linked with a 21st Century story sequel to The Meghaduta may become necessary (Auffhammer, 2006); holding the land's albedo steady and reducing the Indian Ocean's albedo – perhaps with a strategically-sited coating of connected "Mega-Float" hulls (Shuku, 2001) – it ought to become possible to prevent the Indian summer monsoon climate from destabilizing abruptly (Zickfield, 2005)). But, before that happens, or 2007 Nobel Prize winner Rajendra Pachauri devises some other means, India must equal the national industrial capabilities of its advanced global competitors (Nath, 2007). It seems desirable for India (and some of its closest neighbors) to make a technological and infrastructural "long jump" causing a subsequent mid-21st Century structural transformation of the country and region's economy, effective and peaceful regional trade relations, and strong and persistent future commercially integrated economic growth (Hildalgo, 2007). Naturally, India's heritage will have to be honored as well as sometimes preserved while fast-paced national modernization occurs (Bamzai, 2007) and the inevitable macro-ecological changes must be continuously and very carefully monitored (Kerr, 2007).

Here, I offer a comprehensive macro-engineering proposal that will help industrialize India's converging coastlines consisting of three nodes of necklaced intensive near-term future infrastructure emplacements: (I) contiguous Tibet; (II) Palk Bay and (III) the Gulf of Khambhat.


I. Tibet

On 1 July 2006, China commenced commercial operations of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway, supplementing a poor-quality twin-lane road constructed along nearly the same route during the 1950s, to bring people, cargo and military forces less expensively and more expeditiously to Tibet from the rest of China (Peng, 2007). There are plans to extend the Qinghai-Tibet Railway from its current terminal at Lhasa to Xigaze and Nyingchi by 2011. Tibet is a notorious international tourist destination (Mercille, 2005) and, more importantly, it is the major resource region for freshwater consumed in Bangladesh and India (Jain, 2007). The Himalayas are the most important northern source of freshwater for the adjacent lowlands of Bangladesh, India and Pakistan. However, storage capacities in the mountains are insufficient in terms of collecting winter runoff for summertime use downstream (Viviroli, 2007). And, furthermore, rivers on the lowland tend to migrate drastically (Radhakrishna, 1999). There is now, and will continue to be for some open-ended period of time, an "alarming scarcity" of freshwater in India (Garg & Hassan, 2007).

A joint India-China macroproject and use of waterpower resources in eastern Tibet could facilitate a mutually beneficial balance – or, even, a long-term resolution – of geopolitical power in the Himalaya. A multinational macroproject, composed of one inflated bladder dam, a shallow Yarlung Zangpo valley reservoir, and a short pressure tunnel feeding a series of powerhouses equipped with Francis turbines with falling freshwater, all capitalizing on the sharp descent of the Yarlung Zangbo (also known as Brahmaputra River) at a topographic loop, could supply Earth's two most populous nation-ecosystems with a low-cost means of rapidly improving national standards of living through widespread electrification (Cathcart, 1999). Such a facility will also provide significant insurance against the supercomputer-modeled likelihood of widespread "novel climate" changes by 2100 possibly caused by Rajendra Pachauri's UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Control forecast Global Warming (Williams, 2007).

Competition between India and China over parts of Tibet's territory indisputably commenced on 20 October 1962 and since that deadly military conflict, both nation-ecosystems have mainly indulged in a lively diplomatic confrontation. China has boldly contemplated – publicly – a freshwater diversion macroproject that would siphon water from the Yarlung Zangbo near the town of Pai, Tibet, pumping it across ruggedly mountainous terrain to the Yellow River's headwaters in Tibet; China does need to augment the dwindling outflow of the Yellow River but the cost of using electricity-powered pumps consuming several tens of thousands of megawatts to do so from a remote site in southern Tibet is wasteful, especially with current, non-superconductive electricity transmission technologies.

The 1,790 km-long Yarlung Zangbo flows out of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau near the 7,756 m-high peak Namjagbarwa Feng. A 42 km-long bored pressure tunnel, with a fall of ~2,160 m, could carry all or part of the river's flow through multi-staged Francis turbine power plants, annually generating ~240 TWh.

This unique power generation installation would very likely be humanity's mightiest renewable electricity-producing facility. An India-China cooperative Tibet macroproject would obviate any need for China to pursue an old-fashion macro-engineering plan involving the detonation of several peaceful nuclear explosions in the Himalayas bruited during the December 1995 Beijing meeting of the Chinese Academy of Engineering Physics. India's astute macro-engineers have relevant practical experience in Himalayan tunneling and foreign advice is available from Switzerland's contract tunnel experts who have undertaken the New Transalpine Railway Lines planning and excavation (Samuel, 2002). What if India-China macro-engineers opt to co-operatively emplace a simple low-rise inflated dam at the key site at Pai upstream of the Yarlung Zangbo's loop (Singh, 2006)? A 10 m-tall inflated nylon-reinforced rubber bladder – it can be filled with air or freshwater and have a length of ~100 m – securely anchored to a rock-locked steel-reinforced concrete river-spanning base-plate will induce a shallow freshwater reservoir to quickly accumulate at and upstream of Pai. As a consequence, ~0% up to 100% of the river's average 4,160 m3/second flow could be diverted through the pressure tunnel's controlling head-gate. It is commonly alleged that a 21st Century anthropogenic atmospheric global warming will cause enhanced glacier melting in the Himalayas and, thereby, increase the outflow of all Himalayan rivers (Barnett, 2005). Natural and artificial freshwater flow fluctuations mean the pressure tunnel must be very well designed, dug and defended by a strong impermeable lining. Unlike the Qinghai-Tibet Railway (Wei, 2006) which faces serious threats from slope instability caused by on-going and predicted changes in the active layer of the permafrost ground over which it is laid, the impoundment near Pai with a shallow pool depth ought not to increase significantly the local seismicity and rock slide hazard. Before the dam's base-plate can be laid, the tunnel must be bored.

Imagine an integrated hydropower generation and super-conducting electric power or even an extra-high-voltage transmission super grid netted throughout the eastern Himalayas (Service, 2005). The more vociferous global warming advocates beg or bully India and China not to use their affordable existing coal resources the more self-righteous India and China may become when they do jointly harvest Tibet's tremendous hydropower resource. India and China are outer space-faring nation-ecosystems, both aiming to visit the Moon during the early 21st Century. International cooperation of these two country-ecosystems – both of which are remarkably dependent on ocean shipping to conduct their commerce – will enhance Tibet's chances of becoming a preserved and improved environment, socially and geographically. Such a socio-economic outcome is much preferable to the current and ongoing dispute stemming from China's independent completion during 1993 of the Manwan Dam in the Mekong River's headwaters (Campbell, 2007).

Freshwater that passes through the final powerhouse at the base of the pressure tunnel (as well as the others) will furnish Tibet, India and Bangladesh with electricity and a regulated freshwater supply. From the powerhouse, the freshwater will continue its natural journey to the Indian Ocean via its present-day course (Clarks, 2003). Its flow, possibly increased substantially by forecast glacial ice melting in the mountains, may make the long-standing dispute between India and Bangladesh over the daily Indian operation of the (2,240 m-long) Farakka Barrage on the Ganges River a significantly reduced irritant in their international relations. Bangladesh is a peculiar deltaic region where the Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers meet the ocean (Mikhailov and Dotsenko, 2006). The Farakka Barrage began operating on 21 April 1975 and it was constructed mainly to guarantee that the Hooghly River would receive – however low the flow of the Ganges River might be – as much as 40,000 m3/second of freshwater. This macro-engineering decision was premised on the speculative geographical assumption that the availability of freshwater in the Ganges River at Farakka Barrage in the worst of droughts or dry season would be 50,000 to 55,000 m3/second, and that the remaining 10,000 to 15,000 m3/second available to be released to Bangladesh. I suspect that future Indian Ocean sea level rise during the 21st Century – perhaps as much as 0.25 to 1.0 m – and the advent of nuclear-powered dredgers may reduce India's requirements to maintain its seaports dependent on the Hooghly River's navigation depth. Ancients accommodated to or were overwhelmed by past sea level rise (Gour and Vora, 2007). In other words, the Farakka Barrage may become part of an international flood-control system rather than a seaport maintenance device (Messerli and Hofer, 2004). It may become necessary for the signatory powers to revise their 1996 Ganges Water Treaty between India and Bangladesh sometime before its 2026 expiration (Mirza, 2004).

Freshwater can be siphoned from rivers entering the delta that is Bangladesh and be easily packaged in movable plastic-fabric bags – in effect, very large flexible textile barges carrying a fluid low value bulk commodity – that can be towed southward to serve India's coastal cities (Cathcart, 2005). Such floating textile bags, sometimes referred to as "Medusa Bags", could be loaded/unloaded in 3.5 hours if freshwater were pumped at 100 m3/minute. They must be fabricated of textile materials that will cause even empty bags to floating; floating filled bags can be successfully and economically towed at 10 knots. Employment of lightermen would increase markedly and the urgency for expensively linking India's rivers in a single vast controversial macroproject would decrease significantly (Misra, 2007). During 2007, the Chennai Port Trust commenced building a "mega terminal" that may be adaptable for floating bag off-loading purposes.

India's freshwater resources are becoming over-strained due to irrigation agriculture and population increase (Kumar, 2005). India is a nation-ecosystem consisting of >260,000 villages (Black, 2005). Many villages situated inland of India's southeast coast – the Madurai-Ramanathapuram Region – presently are served by tanks (Narayanmoorthy, 2007). India's geographically distinctive "tank landscape" is created by the presence of many small streams and their adjacent overflow lands that over a period of many years have been laboriously dammed with earthen barriers; UK geographers have colorfully described the tank landscape as very like "... a surface of vast overlapping fish-scales" (Spate and Learmouth, 1967). Such heavily populated places that are dependent on tank irrigation may refill such perennial freshwater storage tanks during the dry season or drought period by using a fully developed rolling freshwater-conveying plastic-fabric bag technology invented by Francisco Alcalde Pecero (1941-2004) (Pecero, 1974). (Of course, freshwater could be stored long-term in such transport devices if they were cheap enough to spare for that dedicated task and such use would stop the spread of mosquitoes such as Anopheles culicifacies and Culex quinquefasciatus which are rural malaria vectors using uncovered presently tanks as breeding places.) Pecero's huge tire-like freshwater textile bags could be economically moved uphill from the coast by motorized vehicles or by already employed common draft animals. However, Pecero did not outline in detail the terra-mechanics of his device, which was to move ~100 m3 of freshwater at ~10 km/hour with the distributed tread pressure of his device not exceeding that of the walking human foot (~0.3 kg/cm2).

Environmentalists will surely offer the complaint that freshwater derived from the Himalayas, running through human-populated regions such as India and Bangladesh are likely to harbor harmful and unique bacteria and other organisms that must not be allowed to pollute or contaminate freshwater supplies stored elsewhere. I quite agree! So, I propose that a well-manned and efficiently structured organization deal with this incipient macro-problem. For many decades it has been known that cargo vessel ballast water – whether seawater or freshwater – acts as a vector for the transport of exotic, and sometimes pathogenic, organisms (Ruiz, 2000). A cost-effective method to rid shipments of freshwater of such deleterious organisms is to pump bubbling nitrogen gas into the floating containers and the reliable rolling Pacero Bags to remove oxygen which, in turn, transforms the freshwater into a toxic medium for most aquatic organisms, which are extremely sensitive to oxygen levels (Tamburri, 2002). Targeting unwanted and unneeded living stowaways with a pre-shipment management option (deoxygenation) will prevent all biotic invasions (Tilman and Lehman, 2001).

Not being a citizen of any country-ecosystem in the region under discussion, I truly have neither the right nor the necessary facts to make any worthwhile estimation of the US dollar costs of these inter-related and inter-linked macroprojects.


II. Palk Bay

India is constructing the Sethusamudram Ship Channel Project (SSCP), slated for completion in 2008, in Palk Bay. On-site macro-engineers are overseeing the rapid excavation via floating dredgers of that 167 km-long ship channel. (Dredging was not required for 78 km of that total.) The SSCP will be a well-marked, safe ship passage built to reduce by ~500 km the distance ships must currently travel between India's east and west coasts. After its opening to marine traffic, the SSCP will cause an increase of the extant intra-national and international freight and passenger movement (along with participating corporate profitability) of India's major tip-of-India seaport, Tuticorin (established 1974). The estimated cost to achieve the SSCP will be nearly 2007 US$600 millions. I foresee that Palk Bay will likely become a major industrial site (Cathcart, 2004), and possibly a unique source of methane gas supplies for India and Sri Lanka (Cathcart, 2007). The use of methane is a viable energy option for industrializing nation-ecosystems such as India since aerial methane levels that tend to cause some "Global Warming" have steadied in the Earth-atmosphere (Khalil, 2007). Viable new chemical technologies, using either bromine or chlorine, have been recently introduced commercially that can convert methane into petrochemicals such as ethylene or propylene for plastics manufacture. In terms of global warming India and China are now widely seen as greenhouse-gas emissions "giants"– literally saddled with the increasing capacity to change the Earth-atmosphere drastically (Cetron and Davies, 2006). "Responsibility" is likely to follow "capacity" in the eyes of world-publics.


III. Gulf of Khambhat

Densely population Hong Kong built two freshwater reservoirs in places that were once part of the ocean. Plover Cove, completed in 1973, and High Island (finished in 1977) reservoirs currently serve the geographically restricted populace of Hong Kong. 21st Century India contemplates the creation of an artificial coastal freshwater lake by the "Kalpsar" macroproject, located on India's west coast north of Mumbai [Bombay] (Gupta and Sharma, 1995). News reports state that the Government of the State of Gujarat has planned to undertake Kalpsar's construction by 2011 with the prospect of its final macro-engineering construction phase being met by 2020. Unaffected by the proposed Kalpsar macroproject planning, the Alang-Sosiya Ship-Breaking Yard will likely continue to affect adversely the seawater and seabed of the Gulf of Khambhat (Reddy, 2007). Nor will the Kalpsar macroproject affect known submarine archaeological sites (Kathiroli, 2003) or reduce the region's industry-caused air pollution problem. Just what structural stresses may be imposed by rare storm surges remains to be experienced (Jain, 2007).

The Kalpsar macroproject plan, only briefly reviewed in Elements of Tidal-Electric Engineering (2007) by Robert H. Clark, remains to this day a somewhat vague macro-engineering concept. The Gulf of Khambhat is a trumpet-shaped gulf. Rivers that enter the narrowest uppermost part of the gulf include the Sabarmati, Mahi, Narmada and Tapti. The highest tidal range occurs at Bhavnagar, where the famous scrap-yard, the Alang-Sosiya Ship-Breaking Yard, sits. The maximum tide at Bhavnagar is 8.84 m. The maximum average power-generation rate of strong tidal currents in confined channels is ~20% to 24% (Garrett and Cummins, 2005).

Exact technical specifications of the Kalpsar macroproject are not publicly available yet. Apparently, the macroproject will be composed of a 64.16 km-long earth-fill dam joining Ghogha on the west coast of the gulf with Hansot on the east coast, forming a water enclosure of ~2,000 km2. Since freshwater could be transported from the mouths of the rivers entering the Gulf of Khambhat, it seems evident to me that there is no need to create an evaporating freshwater lake as a portion of the "revised Kalpsar" macroproject! Why not redesign the macroproject taking this stricture into consideration? In other words, draw freshwater only from the rivers present and not collect locally precious freshwater in an artificial lake of ~16,791,000 m3 where waste caused by impinging solar energy poses a daunting macro-management problem! Thus, I urge India's National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (founded in 1958) to add my suggested macroproject revision consideration to its task mandated by the 20 June 2007 governmental agreement to do fifteen months of technical feasibility Kalpsar project studies. A 35 m-wide tidal-power dam crest is expected to support at least a paved highway and possibly a railway; a tidal-power gulf crossing would give major transport advantages for coastal India and even, potentially, southern Pakistan.

As the population increases on and about India's arid west coast, active Thar Desert sand dunes pose an increasing threat to sedentary humans, their fixed infrastructure and domestic livestock. Even the finest topsoil, on which food and fiber crops are nowadays grown, is ~50% empty pore space, about the same as sand (Marshall, 2007). Quantifying the spatial variability of net seawater infiltration for the Thar Desert's active coastal sand dunes becomes critically important for accurately inventorying seawater availability for planted microbial halophytes (Maxwell, 2007). There may be some instances when it is desirable to quickly fix moving sand dunes without the employment of surface vegetation grown by using costly, sometimes imported freshwater. In that case, a novel human-induced process of causing the formation of biologically produced calcium carbonate (calcite) in appropriate sand deposits may well be warranted on some coastal land in India and Pakistan (Stocks-Fischer, 1999). Soil bacteria injected into sand dunes could, for example, rapidly transform loose sand into sandstone; such an Anthropic Rock (Underwood, 2001) would cement sand grains together and furnish macro-engineers with a means to consolidate sand and to create an obstruction to sand movement. In other words, to harden dredged dyke materials for the Kalpsar project! Application of the technique could offer the benefit of cheap-to-construct soil retaining structures and firm foundations for various infrastructures. One of the pioneers in the biocementation or lithification R&D effort is Victoria S. Whiffin whose September 2004 doctoral dissertation, "Microbial CaCO3 Precipitation for the production of Biocement", at Murdoch University in Perth, Western Australia, set the standard for all future laboratory and fieldwork.

The primary problem for those who follow my slight-imprint footsteps, when considering India's active coastal sand dunes, is to discover and breed suitable local bacteria species able to flourish in seawater pumped inland and sprinkled onto the offending sand dunes to fix them permanently. Nourishment of appropriate artificial colonies of local bacteria may be accomplished by injecting collected and slightly cleansed urban sewage into the extracted seawater flowing inland through photovoltaic-powered pipelines (Badescu, Cathcart and Bolonkin, in press) urea is consumed by selected microbes voraciously. V. S. Whiffin's biocementation technique is also referred to in the common literature as "bacteriogenic mineral plugging" (DeJong, 2006). This technique of cementing porous sand dunes artificially using calcite depends on flushing a mixture of nourishing chemicals through sand to cause bacteria to achieve biocementation. Rather interestingly, what such intentional human actions also create is a subsurface network forming an integration of biological, geochemical and geophysical event-processes (Ntaslagiannis, 2007)!

In conclusion, I advocate a tri-nodal energy generation and freshwater delivery system for the extensive converging coasts of India that instigates and stimulates a "long jump" for India and its ecosystem-nation neighbors (China, Bangladesh). Such an instigative facility will form, in effect, a secure, safe and plentiful water supply necklace for coastal India. I think such a massive effort in future building will eventuate in the onset of the "Indian Ocean Rim Century"!


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