I resumed my work for OSF today and Murphy's law ruled the morning. All of the most recent Premiere and After Effects files were not uploaded to the cloud, nor copied to my hard drive. To recreate all of the work necessary to be in a position to complete what I was intended to finish this week, would itself require a week of work. I searched everywhere three times before contacting my supervisor and inquiring about the possibility of him logging into my laptop and copying all the .aep and .pproj to box. Afterward, I changed my Okta password.
The time difference meant that the morning was spent researching exactly what was left outstanding and the evening, after I had received the files, were conforming the tasks to the current files. I worked 16 hours Monday.
Later in the evening Dr. Steven Weiss, a marine biologist from Uni Graz, met me at Preisterseminar to talk about the Murkraftwerk and the Zentraler Speicherkanal. Since my project was an extension of the Illinois River Project, I started by asking him about carp. Native to Central Europe, carp were part of the local sport fishing as well as holiday carp recipes. Weiss didn't have a recipe that he personally enjoyed; the recipes he did enjoy consisted of heavily disguising the flavor of the fish with something else. As bottom feeders that can thrive in toxic waters, the carp topic framed the following question about the condition of the Mur.
Historically river had been very polluted, even to the point that some people avoided it, or warned others to stay away from it. But an aggressive clean up had started in the 1980s, in part by ecological movements that have gotten hold after the postwar period when food, subsistence and class were at the forefront of sociopolitics in Austria. But the river was still heavily polluted, although huge improvements had been made.
There was already a chain of hydropower plants on the Mur, so the ecology had already been greatly altered. But the little life that persisted was going to be squeezed out. Each accumulation of life that formed behind the dam would be washed away each time the locks were opened. Steve’s concern was for life, biodiversity and he was open about his indifference to wastewater entering the river through overflowing sewer pipes; that was where the biggest fish were. When a river is polluted, it can be cleaned up and life will return, if the headwaters are still functional. But once a river is dammed, its amputated until that structure is removed.
In the minds of most Austrians hydropower was considered a clean, renewable energy. Although late getting out the door, when the information about the Murkraftwerk was publicized it was sold as cleaning up the river. Weiss saw this as a deliberate misrepresentation, contesting that the amount of organic matter that would diverted from the Mur was less than 2% of what was already in the river when the waters were in Graz.
The term “water rich” doesn’t just describe having water as a natural resource. If that were the case, every coastal city would be water rich. When Austria is referred to as ‘water rich’ it more accurately describes the value that pure water has to the people but also the wealth that has been extracted from water ways, such as through hydropower. Weiss stated that hydropower has a long history in Austria: since the beginning of the 20th century, not a single year has passed without the construction of a hydropower plant. At one point most of the electrical power used in Austria came from hydropower. In 2018, it produced about 60% of the electricity consumed. And, as wealth grows in Austria, consumption is expected to grow.
In Steve’s opinion the biggest environmental problem in Graz was not the management of the Mur river, but he air quality. The fine particulate matter in the air collected in the city center with wind stagnating due to the surround hills. And as the city population grew due to Austria urbanization and immigration initiatives, traffic would increase and the condition would become worse. The fact that the Murkraftwerk felled thousands of trees pinpointed his opposition to the project.
The representation that Austria is green is, by Weiss’ metrics dishonest or at least misleading. The image was really about being tidy or clean, but not environmental. He noted a number of regressive practices that included very poor encouragement for organic farming from the central government, and outdated management techniques of fisheries and wildlife, and a general disregard for biodiversity. Local protections were flawed and companies held considerable influence over their regulations that should have governed them. The Murkraftwerk summarized these poorly order priorities.
Steve joined the protest by accident and was reticent to get involved in a small country in which everyone knew everyone. But he became one of the faces of the protest, due to his scientific background as a marine biologist. But when the trees were finally downed, and the Speicherkanal and hydropower plant moved forward, he was devastated. The city had been ripped apart, governmental coalitions broke up, people’s lives were smothered. He had to come to terms with the mantra of never giving up while being prepared to lose.
What was amazing about talking with Steve was that his perspective was at once informed both from the very local, the very specific case study, but also by the larger cycle. He thoughts flowed fluidly between the technologies that were yet to be adapted and the very old. He used the notion of the swamp as the core of medieval fear to demonstrate how our perceptions of nature and cities have changed. He framed the pursuit of modernity in terms of how Mur had been straightened, motivated by normalization property lines, but the example gave a visual reference to how this pursuit had played out: When a river is channelized, the riverbed deepens because the currents move more quickly, the water digs at the earth. The water table sinks. Erosion at banks occurs, sometimes destabilizing bridges and roads. The Banks towered over the surface of the Mur by at least four meters. But his general point was why should the city be concerned about a small improvement in the water quality of a polluted river if the entire ecosystem in the water would be destroyed?