Sunday, 21 June 2009

Survey on watermills

I have started the social research bit of my watermills renovation thesis. If you have a watermill and have a few minutes to answer some questions, have a look here.

Of course mostly I have to go and ask people this stuff directly, which takes hours, days. Weeks in fact: to locate the owners, find out what time/where they are. Introduce the issue, me, the survey, what, why. for whom and so on... As I made so many changes to the survey (Monica being the master editor) I didn't have time to translate into Portuguese, so I have to explain each question with my fairly basic grasp of the language. It has seemed to work, albeit with several promptings in some cases.

This couple in the picture are in their 70s, still working away on the land, and running one of the remaining grinding mills in the region. What quality of flour! What simplicity of technology!

Such interesting results. Most owners are over 65 years old, live on the land, have let their watermills go to ruin because there's no longer a market for milled corn or wheat. Nor much of local production of these products, except to fatten the pigs. In fact, we usually ended up talking about the demise of local agriculture, how there are so few subsidies or support from the state. Agriculture in general is, they think, at the bottom of the Government's priority list.

Most people hadn't heard of climate change - at least in terms of dangerous levels of greenhouse gas emissions; urgent need to reduce emissions or global climate will go haywire and all that. Instead they were familiar with local changes over the course of their lifetime, "it used to be much colder in winters", or, "now there's a changable climate - it's sunny in winter, can be pouring in July" and so on.

I also had a bunch of questions on peak oil. Despite the huge oil price rises last year, almost none of those interviewed had heard that global oil production could soon fail to meet global demand, leading to price instablity, economic and social chaos, etc.

This seems odd, given the potential severity of the situation. Probably the highest profile report so far on this was by Robert Hirsch, for the US Department of Energy (DoE) back in 2005 or so. The DoE apparantly shelved his report when it first came out because of his fairly alarming conclusions. His report can be seen here.

Further, the impact of peak oil on agricluture and food production is seriously disturbing. Surely any rural community should be worried, and getting ready for less fuel-hungry food systems. Richard Heinberg, probably the best known author and speaker on peak oil, describes our current food supply predicament in his usual eloquent and concise manner in this article.

But all this was a kind of background context to the watermill questions. It forms part of my thesis introduction into watermill renovation, so I thought I should add it to my survey. Anyway, upshot of survey is:
  • almsot all interviewed showed interest in mill renovation
  • didn't know you could generate electricity or hot water from the mills
  • would be interested in knowing more about the options
  • don't have much money to invest
  • would be interested in partial investment if Govt / EU / whatever funds could help
  • are interested in using mills as part of a new eco-tourism watermill trail (cheap shelter, cleared river access routes for mountain biking or walking).
More later


Gray said...

go to
Graham Mewburn

Quinta das Abelhas said...

have you got a portuguese version please?

d_hornor said...

Very interested in your work,I was hoping to find an email address so we could connect. but here is mine
d underscore hornor at yahoo dot com

I have two leads that will interest you regarding a scalable technology for use in low-head power gen. and pumping, drop me a line.

-Sandomil, C. portugal

Magnus said...

This survey is now up in both English and Portuguese