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Posts Tagged ‘arid’

Photo: Bobby Bascomb.
Gabions are baskets of rocks that Valer Clark places in stream beds to hold onto infrequent and precious rainfall at her ranch in Agua Prieta, Mexico.

Today I’m passing along some ideas for conserving water in dry areas. They come from a rancher in Mexico but could work elsewhere.

At the environmental radio show Living on Earth, “Bobby Bascomb visits acclaimed land preservationist Valer Clark at her ranch, Cahone Bonito, in Agua Prieta, Mexico. Valer has been a steward of dried-up lands in Mexico and the southwestern US since she purchased this property in the 1970’s, and she’s dedicated herself to finding ways to restore and maintain it. …

“BOBBY BASCOMB: For a couple months each year the region is awash with water from the seasonal monsoons. The normally dry river beds fill with flood water and swell to create habitat for all manner of water birds and amphibians. The watery paradise is short-lived though, and most of those streams dry up in a matter of weeks. But that wasn’t always the case. A network of streams, rivers and wetlands once crisscrossed the landscape. In fact, more than 150 years ago, around the time of the Civil War, people in the region struggled with malaria, a mosquito-born illness typically associated with tropical wet climates. Last year, I went to Mexico and I found a ranch owner that’s working on ways to keep some of that water on the land longer.

“My journey starts at the Gadsden Hotel in Douglas, Arizona. … The opulence of the hotel hints at an earlier time of prosperity and wealth. Valer says the whole region, north and south of the border, was made rich more than 100 years ago by the same things.

“VALER CLARK: This was copper, cotton, and cattle. The three Cs, you know, all in the early 1900s.

“BASCOMB: Those three Cs made a lot of money but heavily degraded the land. Before the arrival of settlers the region didn’t have much water but there were some dense grasslands. Forests grew alongside rivers that meandered across the open landscape. And wetlands popped up every 20 or 30 miles along those rivers. But when Valer first visited back in the 70s, decades of mining and agriculture left the arid soil dry and cracked, few trees remained and the river beds were deeply eroded.

“Valer [and] her husband at the time were traveling in Mexico and fell in love with the austere land. The wildness of the open parched landscape drew them in.

“CLARK: We just came across this ranch, by accident. And he said, Well, why don’t we bid on it, and I bid so low, I didn’t think we’d ever get it. … When I got here and started seeing the lack of water and seeing the situation, what it looked like, and the hills were bare, and there was no grass. And I thought I wonder if you could make a change. …

“BASCOMB: Valer eventually bought and rehabilitated some 150,000 acres of land in northern Mexico and the Southwest US. [Her] work here has been transformative, says Ron Pulliam.

“RON PULLIUM: There are four great geological forces: there’s volcanism, plate tectonics, there’s erosion. And there’s Valer. …

“BASCOMB: Ron is an ecologist, formerly with the US Department of Interior, and founder of the nonprofit Borderlands Restoration Network. … I pile into a pickup truck with Ron. Valer, in her own truck, leads the way out of Douglas, Arizona and across the border to Agua Prieta, … We leave behind the maquiladora factories in the duty-free trade zone of Agua Prieta and drive an hour southeast to Valer’s ranch. Pavement and two-story buildings give way to dusty soil and brittle pale green grass. To me, as a New Englander, the landscape looks rather inhospitable, but Ron says this is prime cattle grazing territory.

“PULLIAM: Generally speaking now, the stocking ratios are on the order of one cow to one hundred or two hundred acres in this area. And then think of around the turn of the century, 100 times that number of cows. … If you put hundreds of cows out on a small area here you basically reduce all the ground cover. So, when the rain comes it just runs off the land rather than being caught up in the vegetation.

“BASCOMB: And keeping that rainwater on the land is the fundamental key to what Valer is doing to rehabilitate her property. More water will mean more grass and trees, habitat for the wildlife that was once common here. … She takes me on a walk around her property. …

“CLARK: This is what we call a gabion, which is a wire basket that is filled with rocks. …

“BASCOMB: They’re about 3 feet tall, some just 5 or 6 feet wide, others more than a hundred feet across. Valer and her crew have built more than 20,000 of them on her property. They all sit in riverbeds which are dry most of the year until the monsoon rains come. That’s when the gabions get to work. They slow down the water rushing through the river bed so silt can accumulate behind them, like a sponge.

“CLARK: And that sponge holds the water. And so the water, instead of just whipping through fast, when it rains, 30% of it’s held back and goes into the ground. And so it filters down very slowly. …

“BASCOMB: Those pools of water are home to insects, birds, rare frogs, and endangered fish species.

“CLARK: And trees, all these trees coming up, they’re a result of having water here. … Some of them grow 10 feet a year. … We’ve seen ocelot, we’ve seen bobcats and lions and bears and coatimundis and javelinas, ring tailed cats.”

More at Living on Earth, here.

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A sheep farmer in northern Jordan fills up water containers for his flock at a spring that for generations has been used to water livestock — Souf, Jordan, Aug. 24, 2022.

Either there is too much water or too little. In New England, where I live, there’s a drought, but when we get a heavy rain, the roads flood, the storm drains overflow, and instead of water going into the places where we need it, it washes into the sea.

Today’s story shares advice on water from those who have had little over the centuries and have learned to conserve.

Taylor Luck reports at the Christian Science Monitor, “In towns and cities across Jordan, ‘water day’ announces itself with a cacophony of high-pitched screeches filling the air. Motors groan and strain to pump a trickle of water from ground-level pipes up five stories to aluminum and plastic rooftop storage tanks – tanks that will hold a family’s water for an entire week or more.

“Families race to and fro across their apartments to run the pumps, do laundry, wash dishes, and water the garden before their 12-hour period is up. If they miss it, they have to wait until the next week – or perhaps weeks – for the next trickle.

‘Water day is more important than an anniversary or birthday in our household,’ says Um Uday, a working mother of five in West Amman.

“In Jordan, the second-most water-poor country in the world, people have long learned to live without the constant running water that most American families take for granted. Yet the dwindling resources due to climate change and population growth mean the most effective innovation in parched Jordan is not novel water distribution schemes, technology, or dam construction – but how people change their daily lives to get the most out of each drop. …

“In largely arid Jordan, water resources are less than 90 cubic meters (almost 24,000 gallons) per person annually, a fraction of the 500 cubic meters (about 132,000 gallons) per capita the United Nations defines as ‘absolute water scarcity.’

“Instead of supplying constantly running water, authorities release water through networks to a given village or neighborhood for one day on a weekly or twice-monthly basis as part of a rotation. The water distribution schedule is designed to distribute water equally in different parts of the country, without waste, while maximizing the rapidly diminishing reserves. …

“Suleiman, a retired air force officer who gave only his first name, stops his pickup at a roadside natural spring in the village of Souf, 35 miles north of Amman, to fill containers for his thirsty flock of sheep. As they have for generations, area residents come to this spring to stock up on water for livestock or washing; a second, purer, cold-water spring 2 miles up the hill is used for drinking water. With official water distributed to the village for a few hours once a month in the summer, these springs have become a main source. …

“Suleiman says, wiping his brow from the noon sun., ‘We have to make the most of each water source we have.’

“Yet this year has been particularly hard; Jordan’s Ministry of Water and Irrigation described 2022 as ‘the most difficult year’ yet. A shift in weather patterns means Jordan is witnessing a slight decline in rainfall. The rainfall it now receives occurs in intense, shorter time periods in concentrated areas, leaving its network of dams struggling to catch the torrential runoff.

“The dams are dry or nearing dry; green patches of earth mark where once mighty reservoirs stood. Plans to desalinate seawater at Aqaba, the nation’s only port, are two decades off at best and are costly. … With the capital getting priority for dam and aquifer water, towns and villages north and south of Amman bear the brunt of shortages – often going months without fresh supplies as summer demand spikes.  

“Um Mohamed, a widowed mother of four in Bayt Idis, a hilly, tree-dotted village in northern Jordan, heads one of thousands of households going without state-supplied water for the summer.

“On this day she purchased from a licensed private well 3 cubic meters (792.5 gallons) for $21 – enough for her family’s weekly consumption, but taking 15% of her monthly income. She will try to make it last one month. Like many, she is sticking to tried-and-true methods to stretch out each drop.

“She does the dishes in a single bucket of water placed in the sink, careful not to splash out of the bucket. Once she soaps and rinses the pots, dishes, and silverware, she pours the food-clouded water onto a few of her plants, watering in a rotation.

“Showers are timed and scheduled. Laundry is hand-washed in a large plastic basin utilizing the same water. Her backyard is dotted with jugs and buckets filled with water from her purchase; they will be used to water the plants and wash the floors over the next two weeks.

“ ‘We have entire summers where we don’t get water from authorities, so we have to rely on ourselves,’ she says. ‘If we don’t manage what we consume, then we consume ourselves.’ ”

More at the Monitor, here. No firewall. Want to read a novel about building a well in a dry land? Try Red-Haired Woman by Turkish Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk. It’s kind of dark, though.

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ranching_gabions

Photo: Bobby Bascomb
Gabions are baskets of rocks that Valer Clark places in stream beds to slow the water as it rushes through in the rainy season. They’re part of her work to bring dried-up land back to life.

Having woken up today to more US nuttiness (our whole family could visit Erik’s mom in Sweden and bring back whatever germs might be there, but she herself will have to postpone her trip to visit grandchildren because she’s Swedish), I decided to focus on an American actually doing good in the world.

In this episode of Living on Earth, Bobby Bascomb visits land preservationist Valer Clark at her ranch in Agua Prieta, Mexico. …

“BOBBY BASCOMB: Today the lands of the Southwestern US and Northern Mexico are considered desert or semi-arid. But for a couple months each year the region is awash with water from the seasonal monsoons. The normally dry river beds fill with flood water and swell to create habitat for all manner of water birds and amphibians. The watery paradise is short lived though, and most of those streams dry up in a matter of weeks.

“But that wasn’t always the case. A network of streams, rivers and wetlands once crisscrossed the landscape. In fact, more than 150 years ago, around the time of the Civil War, people in the region struggled with malaria, a mosquito-born illness typically associated with tropical wet climates. In Mexico, I found a ranch owner that’s working on ways to keep some of that water on the land longer. … My journey starts at the Gadsden Hotel in Douglas, Arizona. ..

“The opulence of the hotel hints at an earlier time of prosperity and wealth. Valer says the whole region, north and south of the border, was made rich more than 100 years ago by the same things.

“VALER CLARK: This was copper, cotton, and cattle. The three Cs, you know, all in the early 1900s.

“BASCOMB: Those three Cs made a lot of money but heavily degraded the land. … When Valer first visited back in the 70s, decades of mining and agriculture left the arid soil dry and cracked, few trees remained and the river beds were deeply eroded. …

“CLARK: When I got here and started seeing the lack of water and seeing the situation, what it looked like, and the hills were bare, and there was no grass. And I thought I wonder if you could make a change. I wonder if there’s something you can do about this. …

“BASCOMB: Valer eventually bought and rehabilitated some 150,000 acres of land in northern Mexico and the Southwest US. That’s more than 10 times the size of Manhattan. And her work here has been transformative, says Ron Pulliam, … an ecologist, formerly with the US Department of Interior, and founder of the nonprofit Borderlands Restoration Network. …

“PULLIAM:  If you put hundreds of cows out on a small area here, you basically reduce all the ground cover. So, when the rain comes it just runs off the land rather than being caught up in the vegetation.

“BASCOMB: And keeping that rainwater on the land is the fundamental key to what Valer is doing to rehabilitate her property. More water will mean more grass and trees, habitat for the wildlife that was once common here. It’s sort of a build it and they will come philosophy. …

“CLARK: This is what we call a gabion, which is a wire basket that is filled with rocks.

“BASCOMB: That’s it, a wire basket full of rocks. They’re about 3 feet tall, some just 5 or 6 feet wide, others more than a hundred feet across. Valer and her crew have built more than 20,000 of them on her property. They all sit in riverbeds which are dry most of the year until the monsoon rains come.

[When] the gabions get to work, they slow down the water rushing through the river bed so silt can accumulate behind them, like a sponge.

“BASCOMB: Nearly all these trees have sprouted up since Valer began keeping more water on the land. Near the stream, a canopy of cottonwood trees towers over us and a lush green understory creates the feeling of a jungle that follows the narrow band of water. We continue our walk on the edge of the forest, which she says is a vital corridor for wildlife in the region.

“CLARK: We’ve seen ocelot, we’ve seen bobcats and lions and bears and coatimundis and javelinas, ring tailed cats. …

“BASCOMB: We drive past parched bare earth cracked into the shape of a hexagon and stop at a different ecosystem all together. …

“Instead of a riparian forest this is a wetland teeming with life. Reeds and cat tails poke up through the water. At least a dozen different species of brightly colored birds dart about, butterflies sun themselves, and bright blue dragon flies copulate in mid-air. Ron Pullium says this region is a hotbed for insect diversity, including some 450 different species of bees. …

“BASCOMB: [The next day] we walk alongside a small creek, craning our necks up, hoping to spot some birds.

“PULLIUM: This creek is interesting just in itself. It was protected by Valer because it was identified as the most intact fish stream in northern Mexico, and perhaps the most intact in all of Mexico. …

“BASCOMB: For all her ecological work, Valer is still mindful of serving as a model for other ranches in the region that depend on raising cattle for their livelihood. She removed most of the cows from her ranch when she bought the place. But she did keep a small herd and is very deliberate about where and when they graze. And it’s paid off. Her ranch manager recruited members of his family to enter three novio steers in a large cattle exposition.”

Read more at Living on Earth about Valer Clark and why preservation is so satisfying to her.

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Following up on my 2012 post about fairy circles.

Rachel Nuwer writes at the NY Times, “When Stephan Getzin, an ecologist at the Helmholtz Center for Environmental Research in Leipzig, Germany, opened the email, his heart began to flutter. Attached was an aerial image of fairy circles, just as he had seen in countless photos before. But those images were always taken along long strips of arid grassland stretching from southern Angola to northern South Africa. These fairy circles — which looked nearly identical — came from Australia, not Africa. …

“The emailed photo came from Bronwyn Bell, who does environmental restoration work in Perth. She had read about Dr. Getzin’s research in Namibia and made a connection to the odd formations in her home state, Western Australia. …

“Scientists have been interested in fairy circles since the 1970s, but have not been able to agree on what causes the patterns to form. Researchers generally fall into two groups — team termite and team water competition — but there are other hypotheses as well, including one involving noxious gases.

“Dr. Getzin, like others on team water competition, explains the circles through pattern-formation theory, a model for understanding the way nature organizes itself. The theory was first developed not by biologists, but by the mathematician Alan Turing. In the 1990s, ecologists and physicists realized it could be tweaked to explain some vegetation patterns as well. In harsh habitats where plants compete for nutrients and water, the new theory predicts that, as weaker plants die and stronger ones grow larger, vegetation will self-organize into patterns …

“In the case of African fairy circles, the bare patches act as troughs, storing moisture from rare rainfalls for several months, lasting into the dry season. Tall grasses on the edge of the circles tap into the water with their roots and also suck it up with the help of water diffusion through the sandy soil.

“Although similar in appearance, Australian fairy circles turn out to behave differently, Dr. Getzin and his colleagues have found. … Aussie circles feature a very hard surface of dry, nearly impenetrable clay, which can reach up to a scalding 167 degrees during the day. Despite the differences, though, they believe the fairy circles’ function remains the same. When the researchers poured water into the circles in a simple irrigation experiment, it flowed to the edges, reaching the bushy grass …

“The new research ‘moves us closer toward a unifying theory of fairy circle formation,’ said Nichole Barger, an ecosystem ecologist at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

“It could be that more fairy circles are yet to be discovered in arid environments around the world, she said.

“According to Walter Tschinkel, an entomologist at Florida State University, the findings strengthen the claim that the circles are a result of self-organization by plants. He cautioned, though, that to be more certain, scientists would need to control environmental factors — water and termites, for example — to see which produce the predicted outcome.”

More here.

Photo: Norbert Jürgens
Tracks of Oryx antelopes crossing fairy circles in Namibia.

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