Public: Fire
mountaintop watertanks   (+2, -1)  [vote for, against]
pre-pump water to top of mountains for fire fighting

Many forest fires occur in the mountainous west (in the USA), where it is difficult to quickly bring in large amounts of water to quench the fires. But we could pre-position the water by putting large storage tanks on or near the top of major mountains and ridges, connected via small pipes to pumping stations on available sources of water (streams or small wells, etc.), powered by solar panels or wind turbines. The power demands would be modest, since they could run steadily for months or years before the next fire; unlike residential-area water tanks, there would be no continual drain from the tanks. Especially high tanks might need multiple pump stations to transport the water. Electronic detectors can transmit info about flow & storage levels so we have a good idea of when they are fully operational, and when maintenance is needed. We also need a temperature gauge, insulation, and possibly a heating element to keep the water from freezing, but presumably we can just borrow technology from municipal water tanks systems which have already solved this problem, even for high-altitude tanks.

When a fire occurs, you helicopter a few firefighters to the tank to direct water downslope in whatever direction the fire is located. Hoses and other equipment can of course be in storage lockers at the tank, supplemented if needed given the current situation. The tanks, pipes, and pump stations could also be helicoptered in, and assembled from pre-fabricated modules. The initial construction could still be costly, but should be soberly compared to the cost of firefighting and preventable losses from fires.
-- scottinmn, Jul 23 2023

small pumped hydro https://www.western...-mini-pumped-hydro/
[pertinax, Aug 02 2023]

'Electric Mountain' https://en.wikipedi...orwig_Power_Station
big pumped hydro station [hippo, Aug 02 2023]

If your source is a stream then you should be using a hydraulic ram
-- pocmloc, Jul 23 2023

[+] [Voice]'s rant about preventing forest fires. Still, water good idea. ifiwrite for years I won't be able to best it. Tanks!
-- Voice, Jul 23 2023

" should be using a hydraulic ram" - and a flock of hydraulic sheep
-- hippo, Jul 24 2023

Flock ewe, [hippo], I'll punnish you for that.
-- pocmloc, Jul 24 2023

Canada's wildfires this year have burnt more than ten million hectares.

We're shearly getting fleeced.
-- 2 fries shy of a happy meal, Jul 24 2023

Please do some calculations on the amount of water stored and how quickly they could be brought to bear, and how that compares to the current system.
-- Loris, Jul 24 2023

Leave the tops open and the bears will come to the tanks.
-- Voice, Jul 24 2023

Combine these with pumped hydroelectric storage.
-- pertinax, Jul 24 2023

This might work in a small country. Here, we've got natural reservoirs throughout the mountain ranges which routinely get used to douse wildfires.
So it works, but only on a small scale.
The amount currently burnt here is larger than one of our provinces.

Prevention by undergrowth burning in the off-seasons is the only cure... and it's what our grandfathers used to do.

If somebody could just relay that fact to the tourism lobby groups complaining about about too much smoke deterring travel in the fall, that'd be great.

10,000,000 f#cking hectares.

Bloody fools.
-- 2 fries shy of a happy meal, Jul 24 2023

Loris: "Please do some calculations on the amount of water stored and how quickly they could be brought to bear, and how that compares to the current system."

OK, sure. A quick google search reveals that Canada used 6.7 million gallons to fight fires over the entire country in 2021, while a single bolted water tank can hold up to 8.2 million gallons. I'm not suggesting that there be a tank quite this size on the top of every mountain, but clearly matching or exceeding current capacity is technically feasible, the only question being at what cost.

Is anyone skeptical because you imagined that I was talking about small farm-sized water tanks of a few thousand gallons? Yeah, that wouldn't work.

I must defer to experts on delivery time, and am not sure anyone will know until it is tried. Air transport of either water or crews would probably take similar times to prepare the crew and aircraft. But once operational, the former can deliver 1000-3000 gallons per trip, while if the tanks can deliver pressure similar to city hydrants, they can deliver 1000 gallons per minute, more or less. So I think that volume and delivery speed clearly favor this proposal, the main problems being both initial cost, and then getting the water into the fire without endangering the ground crew. Since the crew is above the fire, there's a risk of heat and smoke rising up at them; OTOH, maybe you can spray the water downslope from a considerable distance.

I must, however, concede 2 fries' point that selective undergrowth burning is a more broadly effective preventative strategy. Putting out every fire often just makes future fires worse. Perhaps the water tank idea is only a niche solution for areas where, for whatever reason, we really need to sometimes put out certain fires temporarily, giving us more time to find other solutions to the ongoing issue. Perhaps the greatest risk is that we might rely on water too much instead of other known preventative measures. Like not building houses etc. up there in the first place.
-- scottinmn, Aug 01 2023

pocmloc: "If your source is a stream then you should be using a hydraulic ram."

Granted, at least as long as this provides enough pressure to get it up from the source to the mountain; if not, or if the source is not flowing water, then other renewable power is needed.

pertinax: "Combine these with pumped hydroelectric storage."

I doubt that building remote hydroelectric dams would be cheaper than just installing a solar panel. Of course we should use existing grid power from any source when available, but the sites will often be too remote for this. Remember that there's no need for continuous or overnight power, a fill time of several months will usually be fine.

So these may be useful niche suggestions, but I also think that details of the water and power sources are the least interesting parts of the proposal.
-- scottinmn, Aug 01 2023

//I doubt that building remote hydroelectric dams would be cheaper than just installing a solar panel//

Of course it wouldn't - but the point of *pumped* hydro is not to generate power but to store it.

For the idea itself, you're going to be pumping water uphill in any case, so you'll have to install and power a system for doing that (whether with solar panels or any other power source). In summer, you'll need the water to stay up there so it's ready for the fire. But the rest of the year, you've got these solar panels and this electric pump sitting there. What I'm suggesting is that, once fire season's over, you let some of the water back down the mountain so that nearby settlements can use that solar power after sundown.

Small-scale pumped hydro is becoming a thing (see link).
-- pertinax, Aug 02 2023

pertinax: Ah, now I see your point; reducing the overall system cost by providing a side benefit via grid hook-up, since the overall energy, including potential energy in the tank, is likely to exceed demand (and for reliability, should be built to do so). But I still have doubts since the tanks are so small (1000s of m3), compared to the typical lakes formed for pumped hydro (millions of m3). Say you release 1000m3/month back down a 1000m elevation to the pump acting as a turbine in reverse; at 80% efficiency, you get 2200 kWh. Compared to solar+battery storage source cost of 5-8c/kWh, this is worth, say, $110-170. This might power, I don't know, a dozen homes at night? This would rarely justify the cost of running wires between the pump and the grid unless they are very close. I suspect that the mini-hydro systems you're referencing have more conveniently-located turbines. The main advantage of piggy-backing this idea onto mine is the considerable elevation of the tanks; but this cuts both ways, since the pumps are also likely to be relatively high and remote.

So while this is fine in niche cases, I suspect it's a small factor compared to the other costs and benefits of the proposal.
-- scottinmn, Aug 03 2023

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