Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Intermission Floods

Early last year I wrote a post about the sudden spikes in demand for electricity that happen nightly in Britain, when millions of Britons put on their teakettles at the conclusion of the soap opera Eastenders. A lone engineer sitting in a high-tech control room watches the program with the rest of the nation, and as soon as the credits roll, he opens the floodgates through dozens of European hydroelectric dams in order to deliver enough electricity.

It's a deluge equivalent to ten Niagara-sized waterfalls set loose for fifteen minutes every evening. On the surface, it's hard to see any connection between a cultural predilection for hot beverages, a television drama, and the ecosystems of European rivers. But it's certainly there - unfortunately, most Brits are too busy making tea to notice the hydrologic spectacle that their utility bills are paying for.

The big gold-medal hockey game between Canada and the United States provided another striking example of how a cultural phenomenon can set loose Biblical floods through the pipes of our modern infrastructure. EPCOR, the water utility in Edmonton, Alberta, recently published this chart of water consumption during the big game, which two-thirds of Canadians were watching (graph courtesy of Pat's Papers):

The scale of the y-axis is in megaliters, which means that between the final seconds of the third period and the pre-overtime intermission, water consumption spiked by 140 million liters, or 37 million US gallons - roughly the amount of water that flows over Niagara Falls in a two-minute interval. During the span of one commercial break, this water flowed from huge city reservoirs, through arteries of water mains and millions of bathroom pipe capillaries, then out through another mesh of pipes, into Edmonton's sewer system.

How's that for a natural wonder? Unfortunately, most Canadians missed the opportunity to witness it in person - they were locked in their bathrooms instead.

1 comment:

Colin Woodard said...

Fantastic. I cross-posted that one this morning.