The Clearing is a vision of the future in the grounds of Compton Verney Art Gallery and Park

Workshop report

22 April 2017

The Clearing

Workshop 3 - Drink The Water

There’s nothing we take for granted more than water. Every time we turn on the tap, it’s just there, it just is. We don’t know where it comes from, how it was treated, where it goes afterwards, or how much energy this all takes.

Our third workshop* aimed to teach participants how we could get our hands on water if this system breaks down. Clue: it won't be coming in plastic bottles from the French Alps.

Just like our toilet workshop, it was led by Ariana Jordao, from the Centre of Alternative Technology. Ariana explained that water is the reason they chose the site at CAT, 30 years ago. CAT’s water supply is totally off-grid. They have access to 500 million litres – Ariana referred to them as ‘sovereign in water’, which was to be a bit of a theme of the day.

We began with a glass of water from the mains.

We talked about where this water came from (mostly reservoirs in Wales, for the Midlands).

We talked about how reservoirs work: water is held at higher altitudes, and gravity is used to move water down to lower altitudes. Tip: use big pipes first, decreasing in size to small pipes as you get closer to where you want to use it, to retain the pressure.

We talked about how it would feel if we didn’t have access to water (2/3 of the world’s population don’t).

We talked about water scarcity, and how our (global) rate of extraction and use of water means that aquifers are not replenishing at a fast enough rate.

We talked about how water scarcity is fuelling conflicts across the world (in Syria and Yemen, for instance), and how access to water is used as a weapon. Then we talked about how Wales is traditionally the bathtub of the midlands, and how it’s not too much of a leap to imagine civil strife here, and the pipes being cut off, or blown up, or held hostage.

It’s amazing how good it tastes when you think about all this stuff.

Next, we talked about how we could get water at The Clearing, if the mains supply wasn’t available.We talked about how water filters work in theory:
- First, you use a physical barrier, to get rid of the solids.
- Then you use biological filters, to treat the water at a microbial level. These barriers (for instance, sand and charcoal) improve with time. You don’t have to seed them – the microbes are present in all untreated water. Ariana told us about the man who invented the microscope, Antonie Van Leeuwenhoek, first looking at his first water droplet, and discovering the party that was taking place at a microbiological level. Here he is:

- Finally, at the end of the process, you can boil the water, to make 100% sure – but this eats into your fuel, and takes time.

We then set off, with our glasses, to collect some water from the environment around The Clearing. Capability Brown was quite fond of it, so there’s a lot of water in the local area.

(Gratuitous shots of The Clearing looking beautiful).

We found the spring that leads into the lake, and got some samples (and from the lake, too). Michiel was the only one wearing welly boots, so he had to go in.

We all brought our samples back from the lake (1 and 2) and the spring that feeds it. The smart money is on the spring.

We stopped for lunch. As amazing as ever. The previous week’s caretakers had even left us some noodles. (We’re aware that sitting around having our fill of food is one of the things that’s most inauthentic about The Clearing. Can we talk about the future with full bellies? Discuss).

(I tried to make some coffee, but the filter had been misplaced. I attempted to improvise with a used takeaway cup, which would have won me 20 Clearing points if it had worked at all, which it didn’t. There's no coffee in the future anyway.)

After lunch, we set to work on the filter. Ariana had brought sand, charcoal, sheeps wool, a hessian sack, and a silk-scarf. People went off to find other mateials too: sphagnum moss, pebbles, more sand.

Some people got to work crushing charcoal.

Some people fetched stones from the bottom of the lake.

We made a plan of the various materials we could use: a combination of physical barriers and biological.

We started to assemble the actual filter. We had to make a decision about using the scarf. Some people felt it was too pretty to sacrifice. Other people felt that clean drinking water was more important than needlework. Practicality won out.

This was quite an improvised process. The group had to decide what materials to use, and what to leave out. The sheeps wool proved to be a no-no, as it was too stinky. As you need to change the biological elements like charcoal and the moss every six months or so, we were going to put it in a bag – but decided to have it loose for educational reasons (and because it looks better).

We added sand, and began to fill it up with water from the lake, right next to the dome.

Michiel, a dutch geologist, stepped in here to demand a control sample (the one on the right). This is the sort of scientifc thinking we're going to need in the future. Well done Michiel.

The water took a while to seep through. The water sank slowly through the filter, changing the colour of the sand. At first it came out grey (from the loose dust of the charcoal), at which point someone commented ‘maybe we should just focus our attention on preventing the apocalypse in the first place’.

However, after about half an hour, we were getting something pretty clean.

In the future, we could probably drink this (though Ariana said to start off slowly, as our stomachs wouldn't be used to it). Particularly the spring water would work through this filter. Then we could think about bottling it, and making a Clearing version of the Evian to sell, and starting the whole mess off, all over again.

*Note: this workshop was supposed to take place on Saturday 1st April, but was postponed due to Ariana ironcially getting food poisoning.