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CLIMATE CHANGE AND WATER RESOURCES by Professor Will Alexander April 14, 2009

Posted by honestclimate in Discussions.
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Received via email, April 2, 2009

Email 17/09.

Thursday 2 April 2009

Dear all,


As I write this e-mail the world is in economic turmoil. There are riots on the streets of London as the G20 nations search for a solution. The riots are by the increasing numbers of jobless people on the streets.

On top of this there is another pressure group. These are from the more affluent members of society. They are represented by climatalogical and environmental extremists supported by NGOs and others who insist that life on this planet is under threat. Their only solution is to impose punitive and costly measures that can only further increase the cost of food, water, electricity and joblessness for the world’s poor. Our Water Research Commission has allied itself with this group.

An explosive situation is developing.

I have had a long and very satisfying professional career in the fields of civil engineering and applied hydrology. Now for the first time I find myself in a conflict situation. I cannot remain silent. It is not pleasant. Please bear with me.

After spending 30 years closely involved in all aspects of water resource development and management I cannot remain silent while I see the country and people that I love, being manipulated by alarmists in the natural sciences. I believe that it is very possible that within months South Africa could be entering a period of sustained water supply and water quality problems. Coming on top of the present turmoil these could have very serious economic and humanitarian consequences. This is the reason for my agitation.

Now this alarmism has spread to the Water Research Commission. It is very clear that the Commission is blindly following the climate change path. It has completely ignored studies by generations of civil engineers in this field as if we never existed.

Civil engineers being conscientious and cautious simply shrug their shoulders and move on. Now we are under pressure to adopt procedures that are unscientific and professionally dishonest. A crisis situation is rapidly developing. I am desperately trying to avoid it.

On Tuesday as a matter of courtesy I sent a copy of my Memo 17/09 to the Commission and informed it that I would distribute the memo today (Thursday). It included the statement that I had yet to receive a simple yes or no response to my proposal submitted on 7 December last year. This was in response to the Water Research Commission’s offer of an undefined consultancy for the amount of R200 000. I recommended that I produce a handbook on water resource development and management. I provided details and requested approval of this proposal. I am still waiting.

Yesterday, once again I received an evasive reply. After three months of supplying the necessary information in a number of emails, I was requested:

Kindly forward me your revised proposal that entails aims, methodology and deliverables for the R200 000 project as agreed with WRC as that will enable us to prepare a contract and then go ahead with the project.

My response was:

You have my revised proposal. It is the production of the handbook detailed below.

The aim is the production of the handbook. The methodology is the compilation of the handbook from a large number of documents in my possession. The deliverable is the handbook in publishable format. I have nothing more to add.

I require an immediate reply please as I intend distributing my memo first thing tomorrow morning. Thereafter you can take your time. The WRC has more than enough information on which to base its decision.

Their reply was:

The agreement that we should have will be a legally binding contractual agreement which must be finalized according to our requirements. I hope that the proposal will eventually be finalized and sent to us in the right proposal format, so that we can move forward. Consultancies are supposed to be low in transaction cost. This particular one is proving to be very high already compromising other pertinent work that we also need to take care of.

I would suggest that if we are unable to sign a contract in this month together with the other contracts deadline, then we might as well cut the losses and motivate to Executive to indefinitely suspend this particular consultancy.

NB. I copy Prof Alexander, so that we are all on the same page

Just one more comment from me. Early last July the Commission drew my attention to the research proposals the on the climate change issue knowing that this would be of interest to me. I expressed an interest and responded in the required format. It was the Commission that rejected my subsequent submissions and offered me an undefined consultancy instead. I did not ask for it. The sum of R200 000 was offered by the Commission. I did not initiate it. I provided full details of my methodology and phased submissions chapter by chapter, but this was ignored. I estimate that it will take me six months to produce the handbook. I will also have to purchase sophisticated document scanning equipment and software.

I now have the strong impression that the Commission would prefer not to have a handbook for practitioners and decision makers that would be in conflict with its own policy on climate change. This is the reason for its obvious delaying tactics.

The Water Research Commission will have to bear the consequences of its foolish decision that must inevitably result in a setback to research in this nationally important field.

My door is still open but I require an unequivocal approval of my proposal to produce the handbook before proceeding any further.

I now expect the Commission to inform me formally and in writing of its decision so that I can make it publicly available. I need to know why my responses during the past three months were deliberately ignored. Let others be the judge.

In a separate communication I recommended that this email and the accompanying Memo 17/09 be drawn to the attention of the Water Research Commission’s Executive as a matter of urgency, together with all the correspondence since July last year.

I get no satisfaction whatsoever in preparing and distributing this email and the attached memo. It is humiliating to me as well as to the Commission.

Enough said. Please study the attached memo with care and understanding. Much is at stake.

Memo 17/09

Climate change and water resources

Will Alexander

2 April 2009

This is part of Raphael’s famous fresco (wall painting) titled the School of Athens in the Vatican. I had the privilege of studying it during WWII when we had plenty of time to spare. The theme of the fresco is Philosophy and this part of the fresco shows Euclid teaching mathematics to a group of enthusiastic pupils. He has a pair of dividers symbolising measurement and is pointing to a visual image on a slate. His studies have enabled us to measure distances from a point on earth to a point on the moon with a high degree of accuracy. But we still cannot predict future climate other than in probabilistic terms. This is the difference between accurate mathematical descriptions and broad probabilistic methods that we have so much difficulty in mastering.


The post-war introduction of electronic computers facilitated the storage, retrieval and processing of large volumes of hydrological and meteorological data. It also coincided with the realisation that many countries of the world with dry climates, including South Africa, faced increasing water shortages within the normal planning horizon of 30 to 50 years.

This resulted in large, co-ordinated research programmes and frequent national and international symposia. A characteristic of the research was its multidisciplinary nature and strong desire to solve nationally and internationally important problems in the water field. This extended into other environmental concerns. Our CSIR operated a very successful National Programme of Environmental Sciences. I chaired its Inland Waters Ecosystems Committee.

Things have changed. These coordinated programmes no longer exist. The scientific disciplines jealously defend their own territories. It has been described as grain silo science. The situation has deteriorated even further.

This whole climate change issue is driven by the combination of two scientific disciplines – climatology and the environmental sciences. Multidisciplinary approaches to this difficult problem are not only ignored, but these scientists have resorted to unethical and unscientific practices of publicly humiliating those who differ from them. Sadly, there is no scientific body that has either the interest or the power to intervene.

Water resources

This contagion has spread to our Water Research Commission. I have worked co-operatively with the Commission ever since its establishment more than 30 years ago. Last December I received a letter of appreciation from the Commission. In recent memos I criticised the Commission’s policy on the climate change issue. Surely the point of departure in any research on the effects of human activities on water resources must be a sound knowledge of the undisturbed conditions. This baseline knowledge becomes increasingly important as the level of water abstraction from a river increases. The WRC’s advisers clearly do not appreciate this when they assume stable, unvarying baseline conditions.

This is what I wrote in Memo 19/07 that was distributed in May 2007 – two years ago. Why has the WRC ignored it?

Until now, the basic assumptions in the analyses of annual rainfall, river flow and flood peak maxima are that the annual data are (1) independent, (2) identically distributed, and that (3) the series are stationary in time. All three assumptions are wrong. The annual values are sequentially independent but not serially independent. The sequential values are not identically distributed as both their mean values as well as their distribution about the mean values change from year to year in 21-year sequences. The series are not stationary in time because of the presence of statistically significant 21-year serial correlation. All of these properties are related to a synchronous linkage with solar activity. This linkage was observed and reported in South Africa by Hutchins more than 100 years ago but nobody listened.

On this climate change issue we could not be further apart. I firmly believe and can prove that there is no meaningful linkage between climate change and South Africa’s water resources. Our correspondence has been distant. Also in last December, the Commission on its own initiative invited me to undertake a consultancy project as a substitute for my failed research submission related to climate change.

I immediately accepted the invitation and submitted my proposal. For the past three months I have repeatedly requested a formal decision on whether my proposal was acceptable or not. I stressed the need for urgency. The replies were evasive. I have still not received a yes or no response.

I have attached a copy of the third draft of my proposal.

Conflicting views on available water resources

There are conflicting statements in the press regarding our future water resources. The first was that we would run out of water by 2013. This was immediately denied. It was claimed that we have enough to last us until 2025. My prediction is that our troubles are likely to start within the next 12 to 24 months at the latest.

In any event, climatologists have no hesitation in making predictions for the next 100 years but we have yet to be told where our future water supplies will come from 20 years from now. There is only one possible source and that is seawater desalination. But where will the electricity come from to desalinate the seawater? I have not seen this included in any plans for the future electricity supplies in this country.

South Africa is by no means the only country whose future water supplies are under threat. Again, the associated demand for electricity does not seem to be accommodated in international plans for radical greenhouse gas emission reductions.

Surely this is an issue that should be of greater concern to our Water Research Commission than the nebulous linkages with climate change.

Present water situation

As I write, large regions of Namibia, Angola, Malawi, Zambia and Mozambique are experiencing unusually high river flows. Large numbers of people have been displaced. Fortunately the loss of life has been minimal.

At Bali, the Hadley Centre of the UK Met office distributed a document ‘New science for managing climate risks’. It predicted that the Zambezi River would experience a 34.9% reduction in river flow. [Note accuracy to three significant figures!] But as I write, the flow in the Zambezi River at Katimo Mulilo is the highest in decades. These inconsistencies are never acknowledged by the climate alarmists nor reported in the media.

Nearer home, how many times have we not heard that the climate in our part of the world will become progressively warmer and drier? This is in direct contradiction to an analysis of the wealth of hydrometeorological observations. Basic hydrological data analysis does not feature in their computer models.

Surely, an impartial body such as the Water Research Commission should either dissociate itself from this alarmism or appoint an independent multidisciplinary panel of experts to advise it? Why does it remain silent?

In the meantime, South Africa is heading rapidly towards a water supply crisis.

An answer to my prayers

The statement by the Vice Chancellor of the University of the Witwatersrand that I quoted in my last email was an answer to my prayers. The policy of the university to encourage healthy scientific debate was unequivocal. The stubborn refusal by others to enter into a constructive debate with those who disagree with them was described as scientifically and ethically unacceptable at the highest academic level.

Regrettably, the Water Research Commission has not followed this policy of encouraging vigorous debate in the nationally important water field. The Commission accepted the alarmist views of climate change scientists without question or debate. For example, it ignored the many publications on water resource development and management by the Department of Water Affairs and the Wits Hydrological Research Unit over the years. I have a garage full of this material. How can I remain silent with a clear conscience?

Recommendation to the Water Research Commission

The Water Research Commission was established to provide guidance and leadership in the days ahead. It was not established solely as a mechanism for funding research by others. With the above in mind, this is my constructive recommendation to the Water Research Commission.

I recommend that the Commission should make the following four detailed publications on this issue available to interested scientists and others in digital format, as a matter of urgency. The Commission should then establish a multidisciplinary body of experts to call for comments, process the responses, and advise the Commission on the way ahead. These are the documents.

On 21 June 2006, nearly three years ago, I drew the Commission’s attention to my 474-page technical report Climate change and its consequences — an African perspective. The report has 11 chapters, 51 tables, 33 figures and 218 references. This is the most comprehensive document on climate change in South Africa and possibly elsewhere. But the Water Research Commission ignored it. I have attached a copy of the table of contents. I intend bringing it up to date.

The second document is our refereed, five-authored paper ‘Linkages between solar activity, climate practicability and water resource development.’ <click for paper>It was published in the Journal of the South African Institution of Civil Engineering in June 2007. This refereed paper was directly relevant to the Commission’s responsibilities but was also ignored. Since then my colleague Fred Bailey demonstrated that the influence of variations in received solar energy are more than 17 times those caused by greenhouse gas emissions. This completely undermines the very basis of climate change theory. Our paper is available from the SAICE in digital format.

The third document relevant to my recommendation is the Commission’s report ‘Towards defining the WRC’s research portfolio on climate change for 2008 to 2013’. I described the shortcomings in my Memo 09/09. This report completely ignores the current practices and procedures based on generations of studies, publications and experience in the water resource development and management field. I have attached the table of contents. Compare it with the table of contents of my 474-page report.

The fourth document is the IPCC’s publication Climate Change and Water published in June 2008. Civil engineers in the water field will find it especially amusing. It is available from the IPCC website.

The establishment of the advisory committee and the call for comments should be advertised in WaterWheel as well as in Civil Engineering, which has a readership of 8000.


The alternative option is for the Commission to continue on its present policy of suppressing contrarian research on the climate change issue. [I have examples.] The Commission should be prepared for the inevitable criticism when the predicted severe droughts occur and the public start asking awkward questions. The disintegration of its policy could commence within months.

Approval of my consultancy proposal

Hopefully this memo will also prompt the Commission to reply to my repeated requests for a decision on the consultancy project that I submitted three months ago at the request of the Commission. It is fundamentally relevant to the situation that we now find ourselves in regarding water resource development and management in South Africa. A reasoned yes or no decision would be helpful.

If the Commission has any reservations regarding my consultancy, which they themselves initiated, then please inform me so that I can inform everybody else of the Commission’s decision and the reasons for it.


The Sunday Times of 29 March carried the headlines ‘Jobs bloodbath. Up to 300 000 South Africans could lose their jobs this year.’ Now consider the simultaneous occurrence of the job losses and severe drought conditions. Should this possibility not be of major national concern? Why has the Water Research Commission deliberately suppressed our scientifically sound drought predictions and substituted unproven and unverified claims regarding climate change?


Climate change and its consequences – an African perspective

W.J.R. Alexander

Professor Emeritus, Department of Civil and Biosystems Engineering, University of Pretoria

Honorary Fellow, South African Institution of Civil Engineering

Member, United Nations Scientific and Technical Committee

on Natural Disasters, 1994 – 2000

Email: alexwjr @iafrica.com

June 2006

This report is my independent contribution to the current climate change debate. The purpose is to provide linkages between climatic processes and hydrometeorological responses. This is required for the reconciliation of climate change theory with observational deductions derived from extensive studies of a comprehensive South African database.

The report also provides a sounder numerical basis for future climate-related research than is currently available.

I have neither requested nor received any financial or other material support from any source in connection with these studies.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any form without the written permission of the author.

Table of contents

Chapter 1 Introduction

Chapter 2 Basics of hydroclimatology

Chapter 3 Climate prediction model

Chapter 4 Climate and solar activity

Chapter 5 Climate and rainfall

Chapter 6 Climate and river flow

Chapter 7 Climate, droughts and water resources

Chapter 8 Climate and floods

Chapter 9 Climate and natural disasters

Chapter 10 Climate, the natural environment and agriculture

Chapter 11 Conclusions and recommendations


A Cycles of drought and good seasons (1889)

B Commission of Enquiry into Water Matters (1970)

C Long range prediction of river flow (1978)

D Floods, droughts and climate change (1995)

E Declaration on science and the use of scientific knowledge (1999)

F Development of a climate prediction model (2005)

G Flood alerts (2005/06)

H Data files (2001)

PowerPoint presentations

1. The return of Hurst’s Ghost. (Proxy vs historical data.)

2. Climate change and the multi-year properties of hydrometeorological processes

3. Climate change and water resources

4. Dimensionality, uncertainty and scale in water resource modelling

5. Structural and non-structural aspects of flood risk reduction

6. Scenic flora in the arid regions of southern Africa


Water resource development and management

Handbook for practitioners and decision-makers

W.J.R. Alexander


· South Africa’s water resources are approaching the limits of their exploitation.

· The quality of the water in our rivers is deteriorating.

· Severe drought conditions are imminent.

· The welfare of the poor and disadvantaged communities is deteriorating for a number of reasons.

· Environmentalist pressures from elitist groups and NGOs are increasing.

· False claims of global warming and its consequences are being propagated.

· The gap between theorists and practitioners is widening.

· There is a growing shortage of trained staff.

· Scientific research organisations are losing credibility.

Available water resources


River flow



Desalination (conventional and ice-freeze desalination)

Rainfall enhancement


Numerical characterisation of the hydro-climatological processes

Noah and Joseph effects

Hurst Phenomenon

Change detection. (There is no evidence of the claimed effects of global warming)

Water resource development

Time series analyses

Pattern recognition

Mathematical models

Multiyear prediction modelling

Dimensionality, uncertainty and scale

Predictability of floods and droughts

Early warning systems

Multi-criteria water resource development

Multi-disciplinary studies

Water resource management

Operation and management


Restriction criteria


Flood warning systems

Antecedent precipitation indices

Multi-objective optimisation

Decision-making under uncertainty

Risk management

Environmental aspects



Conservation of the water environment

Sociological aspects

Risk reduction

Natural disaster mitigation

River mechanics and channel stabilisation


Morphological degradation

Climate change

Technology transfer

Refereed publications

Symposia proceedings


Short courses

Wrap up

Compare the above with the following table of contents of the WRC’s document ‘Towards defining the WRC’s research portfolio on climate change for 2008 to 2013’. This is a totally useless document for identifying the real research needs as our water resources approach depletion and as the quality of the water in our rivers continues to deteriorate.

Please note the huge gaps in the research portfolio when compared with the items above.


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