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Posts Tagged ‘water’

Photo: Jorge Sierra/WWF Spain.
“Hundreds of freshwater basins across the world, including the dried-up Santa Olalla permanent freshwater lagoon in Spain’s Doñana National Park, are the most likely to experience social and ecological impacts due to freshwater use,” says Xander Huggins at the Conversation.

I’ve been trying to learn meditation. Doctor recommendation. It seems to be mostly about focusing on breathing — in, out, in, out. I am starting to appreciate what a miracle breathing is. Unless we have asthma or COPD, we are too likely to take that miracle for granted.

Same thing with water.

Xander Huggins, a PhD Candidate in the Department of Civil Engineering, University of Victoria, writes at the Conversation, “When people use freshwater beyond a physically sustainable rate, it sets off a cascade of impacts on ecosystems, people and the planet. These impacts include groundwater wells running dry, fish populations becoming stranded before they are able to spawn and protected wetland ecosystems turning into dry landscapes.

“Developments in computer models and satellites have fostered a new understanding of how freshwater is being redistributed around the planet and have made clear the central role that people play in this change. This human impact is so significant that organizations like the United States Geological Survey are redrawing their water cycle diagram to include the impacts of human actions.

“Equally important to understanding how people affect freshwater availability, is understanding how people and ecosystems will respond to amplified freshwater challenges including drought, water stress and groundwater depletion. While these challenges impact localized sites, their impacts are scattered across the world. To address this global water crisis, global action is urgently needed.

In our recent study, we identified the basins of the world that are most likely to be impacted by two central and interrelated aspects of water scarcity: freshwater stress, which occurs when the consumption of water surpasses renewable water supply, and freshwater storage loss, which is the depletion of freshwater in reservoirs or in groundwater bodies due to persistent overuse.

“We identified 168 basins across the world that are the most likely to experience social and ecological impacts due to insufficient freshwater availability. These hotspot basins are found on every continent — a clear indication of the widespread, global nature of these challenges.

“To identify these hotspot basins, we assessed patterns in freshwater stress and freshwater storage trends and compared these to patterns in societal ability to adapt to environmental hazards and freshwater-based ecological sensitivity indicators.

“The hotspot basins are most vulnerable largely because they are likely to experience social and ecological impacts at the same time. … Hotspot basins are vulnerable as they are likely to face impacts such as low streamflow that harms aquatic biodiversity, reduced food security as agriculture is heavily reliant on freshwater supply, wells running dry and higher potential for social unrest.

“Reducing vulnerability in intertwined societal and environmental systems requires improved policy and management integration across sectors. Integrated Water Resources Management considers and balances social, ecological and hydrological sustainability goals by co-ordinating management across water, land and other related resources. Its inclusion in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal framework highlights its importance. …

Afghanistan, Algeria, Argentina, Egypt, India, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Somalia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan and Yemen have hotspot basins yet low implementation levels of much-needed integrated management practices. …

“While we focus on the identified hotspot basins, this does not mean that impacts cannot occur in basins with lower vulnerabilities. For instance, only a number of Canadian basins — all located in the prairies — are identified with moderate vulnerability in our global study. Yet, dry streams on Vancouver Islandfalling groundwater levels in the Lower Mainlandcrop yields affected by drought throughout the prairies and potential for salt-water intrusion along the East Coast are all instances of freshwater security challenges being faced in Canada. …

“While global studies, such as ours, are helpful at systematically highlighting regions for prioritization, they do not — and should not — provide explicit solutions. Rather, in such intricate social and ecological environments, actions to reduce impacts need to be attuned to place-based social norms, cultural values, hydrological conditions and local knowledge systems.

“Our hotspot basins can help guide such community-driven local action to help conserve freshwater resources that are most under threat and mitigate the ripple effects of these threats on people and ecosystems.”

More at the Conversation, here. See also this Christian Science Monitor post about water drying out in Egypt and all around North Africa and the Middle East. Neither site has a firewall.

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Oh, the ingenuity of our species when we put our minds to a problem! Lack of water in the Canary Islands seems to have inspired problem solvers to pull water from thin air.

Colette Davidson at the Christian Science Monitor writes, “On a clear day, the tiny hamlet of La Vega, stacked up high on the hillsides of northern Tenerife, offers spectacular views of the rugged Atlantic coast. But this afternoon, the thick mist spiraling through Jonay González Pérez and Sara Rodríguez Dorta’s farmland sets an eerie Alfred Hitchcock filmlike scene. Nearly ripe for fog harvesting.

“ ‘There’s almost enough fog to start collecting it,’ says Mr. González Pérez, trudging through ankle-high grass in rubber galoshes as he snaps dead leaves off an artichoke plant. ‘But we need to wait a little longer, until the fog is at the same level as the catcher.’

“Since 2018, Mr. González Pérez and his wife have relied solely on fog collecting to water their 3.7 acres of farmland – which includes lemon and plum trees, artichoke plants, and 50 chickens – when rain is in short supply in the summer months.

“On a good day, the couple’s 435-yard-long wall of collectors – vertical U-shaped nets cemented into the ground by metal poles – can harvest 475 gallons of water. The suspended fog droplets fall from the nets and flow through 220 yards of black tubing, which snake down the back of their property into a 95,000-gallon storage tank that resembles a giant waterbed.

“Their system – which the couple built with their bare hands over the course of a year – was entirely paid for through government subsidies, after they won a local award for the best initiative in rural farming.

“But this isn’t just a pet project for small-scale farmers. In 2020, the European Commission partnered with the local government in neighboring Gran Canaria to fund the Life Nieblas fog-collecting project, which aims to reforest areas decimated by drought or forest fire. Harvested fog water meets the World Health Organization’s standards on drinking water safety and has provided isolated communities with a much needed resource for decades.

“As the Canary Islands and regions around the world look to combat the effects of climate change, fog collecting is becoming an increasingly viable technology for communities facing soil erosion and water supply challenges.

“ ‘Fundamentally, we depend on our groundwater in the Canary Islands and water is always scarce,’ says María Victoria Marzol Jaén, a retired climate scientist at the University of La Laguna on Tenerife and one of the pioneering researchers into fog collecting in the Canary Islands in the 1990s.

“ ‘Fog water alone can’t supply this, but it can be useful for reforestation purposes, like in the case of forest fires. But for rural zones, where water consumption is much lower, [fog collecting] is more than just helpful. It can be the solution to water problems.’

“The first documented experiments into fog as an alternative water resource can be traced to South Africa in the early 1900s. In 1963, Chilean physicist Carlos Espinosa’s invention of ‘mist traps’ were patented and offered to UNESCO for free use around the world. Since then, researchers have made significant developments into the green technology, and research sites can be found in Chile, Peru, South Africa, Morocco, China, the United States, and the Canary Islands. …

“Apart from the initial materials and building costs, fog collection is a low-energy operation, whose structures, like netting, can blend more seamlessly into natural environments than wind turbines or solar panels. Upkeep involves merely clearing away overgrown plants and cleaning the filters.

“ ‘Fog collecting doesn’t consume any energy and doesn’t affect any other natural resources,’ says Ricardo Gil, a technical architect in Tenerife who runs the Nieblagua company. He has installed around 100 fog collectors across the Canary Islands, mainland Spain, and Portugal. ‘It also takes the pressure off extracting water from aquifers or desalinating ocean water.’

“Each of Nieblagua’s catchers can withstand winds of up to 62 mph, and use four sheets of netting to collect up to 8,000 gallons of water per year in optimum conditions. In several of the Canary Islands, which benefit from around five hours of fog per day, this translates to almost one person’s entire water needs. …

“For thirsty, drought-stricken regions, that can mean the difference between survival and desertification – especially when multiple catchers are set up in one area. In Arafo on Tenerife, 12 of Nieblagua catchers provide an estimated 26,000 gallons annually to new almond tree plantations.

“ ‘It’s not a fantasy. We’re using up our natural resources all around the world,’ says Mr. Gil. … ‘Here we have a natural resource right in front of us. We need to take advantage of it.’ ”

More at the Monitor, here. No firewall.

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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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In my last batch of photos, I showed a piece from an Art League of Rhode Island exhibit to which my friend Ann Ribbens had contributed. The show, “Below the Surface,” had a humanity-versus-water theme, and the quilt I shared in that post featured a warning about toxins in fish. Today I’m displaying Ann’s lovely “Undersea Tapestry” and two other pictures from “Below the Surface.”

Now I’m wondering if there’s something in the water that New England artists are drinking. The next group of photos is from a recent exhibit at a Massachusetts gallery, and the subject is “Undercurrents: Water and Human Impact.” If artists are to be believed (and they are), things are not looking good for water and it’s all our fault.

At “Undercurrents,” I especially liked Henry Horenstein’s photograph “Cownose ray” and Joan Hall’s “The New Normal,” which hints at manmade items that wash in with the tide.

Still on the subject of art, I want to mention that yesterday I checked out the new mural on the Boston Greenway, where I used to love walking when I worked downtown. There are many post-Covid changes in the area (I felt like Rip Van Winkle gazing around in wonder after a long nap), but the Greenway is still hiring artists to paint the wall of the giant Air-Intake building over the Big Dig. The latest painting, of a little boy with a boombox, has a wistful feeling about it.

The mural photos are followed by several local scenes, including a look at the bright cherries next to John’s front porch.

I end with a picture that Ann took last month while traveling in France. I couldn’t resist. It looks so utterly French to me.

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Photo: Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff.
Ida Joe tries out her new sink with running water, which the nonprofit DigDeep installed in her home in Smith Lake, New Mexico. About 30% of those living on the Navajo [Diné] reservation do not have indoor plumbing or running water.

In Navajo Country, water is precious, and running water is sometimes nonexistent. Golly. I shouldn’t complain. Renovations at our house have left us without hot water since May 18, but at least we have cold water and friends with showers. Some Navajos [Diné, as they call themselves] trek periodically to the nearest town and rent a hotel room to take a shower!

Henry Gass, a writer at the Christian Science Monitor, reported the story from Smith Lake, New Mexico. “Ida Joe flinches a little as the tap sputters, then spurts water into the sink. Cautiously, tentatively, she pushes her hand under the faucet. She feels the water soak her skin and run through her fingers – first cold, then hot. After a few seconds, she starts to laugh.

“Outside the one-room house she shares with her two daughters and granddaughter, a cold breeze rolls across the dusty, arid plains of the Navajo Nation. A few hundred yards away, wild horses drink from a small, briny lake.

“Ms. Joe has lived on the Navajo Nation for all of her nearly 50 years. This late February day is her first with running water in her home. Until now, her family would drive to Thoreau, 10 minutes away, or Gallup, 45 minutes away, to buy gallon jugs of water.

They would drive to town to do laundry, and rent a hotel room for the day to use the shower. …

“Water is sacred on the Navajo Nation, and scarce. About 30% of the roughly 173,000 population lack running water, according to a report from the U.S. Water Alliance and DigDeep, an international nonprofit with Navajo employees who have been installing running water systems in homes on the reservation since 2014. The size of the reservation, the large distances between homes, scarce natural water sources, jurisdictional issues, and contamination from industries like uranium mines have all contributed to restricting access to running water here for generations.

“But according to those working to improve water access on the reservation, the COVID-19 pandemic has heralded a bittersweet turning point. … The pandemic drew widespread attention to the fact that many Navajo didn’t have enough water to thoroughly wash their hands, which was core advice of health experts at the time. … New coalitions have formed, funding has increased, and innovations from organizations like DigDeep have helped expand water access here more than ever before.

“ ‘This has been a silver lining for us,’ says Crystal Tulley-Cordova, principal hydrologist for the Navajo Nation Department of Water Resources. …

“A pickup truck, a trailer towing a backhoe, and a gleaming white water truck nicknamed ‘Big Ernie’ make up the DigDeep convoy. …

“The region has been in various forms of drought for over 20 years, and is currently experiencing severe and extreme drought. … There are also problems with water quality. Arsenic and uranium, both left over from a century of mining on the reservation. …

“Meanwhile, piping water onto the reservation is challenging because of how spread out the population is. Some areas are a checkerboard of public and private land, presenting right-of-way issues. On top of that, funding has typically been limited, according to Capt. David Harvey, deputy director of the Division of Sanitation Facilities Construction at the federal government’s Indian Health Service. …

“Through the CARES Act – a pandemic relief funding package passed by Congress in March 2020 – the Navajo Nation received over $5 million specifically for increasing water access on the reservation. …

“The [DigDeep] crew were here 18 months ago to install one of their foremost pandemic-era innovations: a ‘suitcase’ – a 4-cubic-foot box filled with a water pump, heater, filter, expansion tank, and battery installed outside homes to provide tap water from a 1,200-gallon underground tank. …

“During the pandemic, 100 of these suitcase systems have been installed by DigDeep crews on Navajo lands, at no cost to residents.

‘People [were being told], “Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water.” But how can they do that if they don’t have running water?’ says Cindy Howe, the project manager for DigDeep’s New Mexico office. …

“Ms. Joe and her family wait in their car while Kenneth Chavez and Brian Johnson assemble the sink and Erving Spencer maneuvers the backhoe. …

“Ms. Joe likes living here, she says. She feels safe, and she wants to raise her kids and grandkids here.

“ ‘It’s one of the most important things that I would probably want to do before I go,’ she says, ‘teaching them the foundation of our culture.’ …

“As they finish their work at Ms. Joe’s house, ‘Big Ernie’ refills the 1,200-gallon tank that now supplies her indoor sink. …

“Lacking water ‘is just normal for a lot of people,’ says Ms. Howe of DigDeep. Her grandparents would melt snow for water. Her parents hauled water throughout her childhood as well – always on Sundays, so she could have a bath before school on Monday.

“ ‘It was really heartbreaking to see,’ she says. ‘Fifty-five years later, it’s still happening. We’re all helping each other [but] there’s still a lot of people that don’t have any water.’ ”

More at the Monitor, here.

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Photo: Randall Hyman.
The Christian Science Monitor: “Activist Nicole Horseherder, who heads a nonprofit that seeks to protect water supplies on the reservation, stands on a ridge near Black Mesa in northern Arizona, the site of past disputes over coal mining.”

I’m grateful for the environmental leadership of indigenous people. They were environmentalists centuries before anyone used that word, and I think that paying attention to them will help us learn how to protect our planet.

Randall Hyman reports at the Christian Science Monitor about Navajo women who instinctively understand the importance of the natural world and their community’s place in it — and who don’t give up.

“One who has a master’s degree in linguistics,” Hyman says, “has made green energy a crusade on a reservation where coal, gas, and uranium have reigned supreme for decades, leaving tainted groundwater in their wake.

“Another returned to the Navajo reservation from Chicago to find that fracking had marred large sections of her native land – something she now works to stop in one of the largest methane hot spots in the United States. 

“A third was so distraught by the lack of ballot access on the reservation that she organized getting voters to the polls on horseback – her version of saddle-up democracy. 

“Two others have immersed themselves in politics directly – one as the youngest member of the Arizona State Legislature and the other as one of three women on the 24-member Navajo Nation Council. …

“Their efforts come at a particularly fraught time. Last year, from the vermilion sands bordering the Grand Canyon to the oil-rich scrublands east of Chaco Canyon, the Navajo Nation was hit by a perfect storm – a convergence of soaring pandemic deaths, dwindling energy revenues, and rising unemployment. Amid the chaos, Native women stepped up in what some see as an unprecedented wave. While one COVID-19 relief group raised $18 million in a matter of months, other women redoubled efforts to dismantle policies that have left Navajo (Diné) people vulnerable. 

“ ‘I think that you’re actually seeing a return to the way that Diné society has always been,’ says Nicole Horseherder, executive director of Tó Nizhóní Ání (Sacred Water Speaks), an organization pushing for new energy policies and water protection across the Navajo Nation. ‘Women are coming forward and saying, “I am a leader too. I can make these decisions. I can make better decisions.” ‘ …

“Underneath all the narratives is another factor – the dominant presence of women in Navajo society, where taking charge is rooted in a matrilineal culture. 

“ ‘When you see the destruction in your community, you realize you have to do something,’ says Wendy Greyeyes, assistant professor of Native American studies at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. ‘So, women are empowered. A lot of that harks back to our own creation stories. Changing Woman was a very powerful deity who reflected thinking about the longevity of our existence, of the Diné people. This ideology is baked into our DNA as Navajo women – our need to care and nurture and protect our communities, our families.’ …

“A year ago, on a chilly December morning, Nicole Horseherder marked an explosive turning point in her long battle against coal mining. Standing on a slope overlooking the towering smokestacks of the coal-fired Navajo Generating Station in northern Arizona, Ms. Horseherder set her cellphone on livestream and gazed at the 775-foot monoliths glowing in the sunrise a mile away.

“The stacks had been a landmark of the high desert for nearly half a century, symbols of fleeting prosperity and persistent pollution. The power plant serviced major cities of the Southwest and ran the huge Colorado River pumps supplying much of their water, but was among the top 10 carbon emitters in the United States. At precisely 8:30 a.m., a thunderous rumble shattered the clear morning and clouds of smoke mushroomed as 1,500 pounds of dynamite collapsed the stacks. …

“When I caught up with her last August on the Second Mesa of the Hopi reservation deep within the encircling borders of the Navajo reservation, [Horseherder] recalled her journey’s start. Driving to an overlook, she pointed north toward distant Big Mountain. For her, it stirred painful memories. 

“Ownership of the hardscrabble land surrounding Big Mountain, called Black Mesa, had long been an unresolved intertribal treaty issue. It remained in limbo until the 1950s and ’60s, when a Utah lawyer named John Boyden persuaded a minority of Hopi litigants to take it to court.

“True to its name, Black Mesa is underlain by rich coal seams. It is also sacred to the Navajos and Hopis, many of whom opposed outsiders tapping their minerals. But the lawsuit prevailed, eventually forcing the removal of some 10,000 Navajo residents while dividing mineral rights equally between the tribes. Boyden subsequently leased land and mineral rights for Peabody coal company. A half-century of coal mining and environmental controversy ensued. 

“Ms. Horseherder’s epiphany came when she returned home from Vancouver, British Columbia, with a master’s degree in the 1990s and discovered that her dream of leading a pastoral life had turned to dust. The springs that her family’s livestock depended on had run dry. ‘My whole attention and focus shifted,’ says Ms. Horseherder. ‘It became, “How am I going to protect the place where I live – how am I going to bring the water back? And where did the water go in the first place? ” ‘

“Ms. Horseherder became a vocal activist and founded Tó Nizhóní Ání, or Sacred Water Speaks. At the time, Peabody was pumping billions of gallons of water from deep aquifers, mixing it with pulverized coal, and sending the slurry through 273 miles of pipeline to a Nevada power plant. It assured tribal officials that the technology was safe, and many supported the operation because coal mining was a pillar of the Navajo and Hopi economies for nearly 50 years, providing tax revenues and well-paying jobs. 

“But environmentalists contended that depressurizing the aquifer was lowering the water table. While Ms. Horseherder fought Peabody for years – and others lost scores of animals to stock ponds they said were tainted by slurry – the power plant and related activities were only closed when the economics of the operations no longer worked. Wells never recovered, and impacts endure to this day, critics say. ‘What we’d like to see them do first,’ she says, ‘is fully reclaim those lands that they’ve mined, and reclaim the water as well.’ “

More at the Monitor, here.

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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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062120whitefish20lake

Photo: Doug Struck
Access to streams in Whitefish, Montana, was threatened by development, so the town used the increasingly popular strategy of buying rights to the forest.

People can change their minds.

That’s what happened in Montana as property-rights advocates began to see that their water bills would be cheaper if they let government entities buy rights to forests on private lands.

Doug Struck writes at the Christian Science Monitor, “When the appetite for high-priced housing threatened the water source of [Whitefish, Montana], the residents raised taxes and spent money on forests. Three years later, when rising tourism upped the summer demand for water, more money was raised to buy more forests.

“The equation used by local and state officials, nonprofit groups, and private residents was straightforward: It’s cheaper and easier to have the forests cleanse the water than to throw chemicals and machinery at the task.

“ ‘Protecting forests of watersheds makes economic sense,’ says John Muhlfeld, the mayor of this town of 7,000 nestled in Montana’s Rocky Mountains. ‘And it’s a much different way of traditionally looking at a public water supply infrastructure.’ …

“As town planners look at the high cost of building water filtration plants and operating them year after year, the thought of letting the trees do it becomes a budgetary no-brainer.

“And the trees do it well. The natural filtering process that rain and snow undergo in seeping through forest canopies and forest beds, slowly toward streams and lakes, is so effective that five major cities in the United States – New York, Boston, Seattle, San Francisco, and Portland, Oregon – can pump unfiltered water from distant pristine watersheds to customer homes.

“New York is the poster-city example in this country. Twenty years ago, the city engaged in a wrenching political battle over whether to build a $6 billion water filtration plant that would cost $300 million per year to filter water for the city. Instead it gambled and spent $2 billion to protect the forested watershed in the Catskill Mountains, 125 miles away, the source of 90% of the city’s water. It was a bold and controversial decision – and it worked.

“ ‘Here we are, 20 years later they have been meeting the safe drinking water standards through tropical storms and superstorms,’ says Paul K. Barten, one of the junior architects of the original Catskills program who now chairs a current National Academy review of the system. …

‘People are not necessarily doing it because they love trees. … ‘They are doing it because it’s a lot less expensive.’ …

“The state and national park programs that began to emerge in the U.S. 150 years ago, and evolved at the prodding of such visionaries as John Muir, Frederick Olmsted, Gifford Pinchot, and Teddy Roosevelt, now preserve 13% of U.S. land, according to the World Bank. Another 56 million acres are held by various forms of private or public ‘trusts’ that allow some use but prohibit development, according to the Land Trust Alliance in Washington, D.C.

“In the case of Whitefish, that meant keeping land for logging. The Haskill Basin northeast of town was forestland owned for more than a century by the Stoltze lumber company. …

“Over the years, development pressures loomed larger as Whitefish blossomed into a high-end, expensive resort town sprouting multimillion-dollar second homes. … Stoltze ‘could have gotten an offer that they couldn’t refuse,’ says Kris Tempel, a biologist at the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks agency. …

“The Trust for Public Land … helped bring together $9 million from federal conservation funds. And Stoltze agreed to take a $4 million cut on the $21 million price of giving away development rights to its 3,000 acres in Haskill Basin. …

“That left a shortfall of $8 million. City residents had balked before about increasing the town’s ‘resort tax’ on restaurants, lodging, and retail. But in 2015, after a ‘Vote Yes for Water’ campaign by the mayor and others, residents gave an overwhelming 84% approval to a 1% tax increase. Late last year, the purchase of another 13,000-acre property helped protect a watershed for Whitefish Lake, a secondary source of water for the town.

” ‘The public support is a change in a place where encroachment on private land is viewed with suspicion, says [Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks resource conservation manager Alan Wood]. ‘Twenty years ago there was a lot of opposition’ to these proposals.’

“But this deal ‘gave everyone what they wanted,’ says Mr. Wood. The town kept its access to clean and cheap water. Stoltze can keep harvesting timber on the land, employing an average of 110 workers.”

More at the Christian Science Monitor, here.

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2019-5-act-ph1-wb

Photo: Jen Siska
Shreya Ramachandran holds workshops on how to install graywater systems.

I know we shouldn’t be leaving up to kids the solutions to our intractable problems, but sometimes it seems that they’re the only ones showing leadership. At least, they’re the ones who focus their leadership on a single issue. Thanks to their focus, energy, and not knowing what’s impossible, they them seem more likely to succeed than political leaders who must address a million issues at once. I think of David Hogg on the issue of gun violence and Greta Thunberg on climate change.

Here is a Sierra Club story on Shreya Ramachandran, who started very young with big, practical ideas on water conservation.

Wendy Becktold writes at Sierra, the Sierra Club magazine, “When Shreya Ramachandran was in sixth grade, she became obsessed with water scarcity. It was an unusual preoccupation for an 11-year-old, but when visiting California’s Central Valley for an archery competition, she had learned about the historic drought then underway that was devastating the area’s farmers. Not long afterward, she visited her grandparents in India and encountered taxi drivers who’d been forced to abandon their farms when the annual monsoon had failed to arrive.

“Ramachandran began researching water conservation online. She grew fascinated with graywater systems–plumbing designed to reuse household water by redirecting water from washing machines into lawns and yards, for example. ‘It’s water conservation on a whole different level,’ she says.

“But Ramachandran also learned that toxic chemicals in some laundry detergents can render water unsuitable for reuse. She started to experiment with soap nuts – the berry shells of Sapindus mukorossi (a tree in the lychee family), which release a natural cleaning agent and are traditionally used for shampoo in India – and determined that they were safe to use in graywater systems. She presented her findings at various science fairs, and people were intrigued.

“By the time she was in eighth grade, Ramachandran had built her own graywater system; her parents let her drill a hole in the side of their house to install the PVC piping that channels water to the plants and trees in their yard. Shortly after, she started the Grey Water Project (thegreywaterproject.org) to teach others how to install their own systems.” More at Sierra, here.

And in case you want to learn more about soap nuts, the Australia-based environmental group 1 Million Women has a post about them, here.

“They’re really simple to use, you just pop them in a small fabric bag, chuck them in with your load of washing, the berries contain saponin which is a surfactant that can be used like soap. …

“[But] here is one little point that planet friendly women have pointed out and that is that they only work in hot water.

“Most of us self-proclaimed eco-warriors have never washed a load of clothing in hot water in our life, or for at least a very long time. The amount of energy that is takes to heat up a load of washing seems pretty wasteful and pointless, but for without hot water soap nuts don’t turn soapy.

“Some have figured out that by adding the soap nuts to a cup of boiling water and then pouring the water into the wash eliminated the need to waste … However a few have expressed that this step was inconsistent and made switching to soap nuts from their current homemade, planet-friendly laundry detergent not worthwhile.

“While the warm water and make-your-soap-nuts-into-tea step may be a deterrent for some, others have made another valid point, soap nuts are better for your skin. They’re all natural and non-toxic, which makes them especially good for sensitive skin and those prone to allergies. Also, due to the very gentle, mild detergent they produce they’re safe for your delicates. (Excluding dry-clean only items.) Read next: 9 Ways to lower the carbon impact of laundry day.

No perfect answers, I guess.

 

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Water for Congo

Photo: Ideo
Asili, an enterprise designed by the American Refugee Committee (ARC), IDEO.org, and the people of Kabare in the Congo, has distributed millions of liters of clean water to people who didn’t have any. In the photo, a prototype offers sample cups of Asili water outside a Sunday church service. 

One of my favorite organizations is the Minneapolis-based American Refugee Committee, which does good work all around the world. In this story about bringing clean water to people in the Congo, they demonstrate the importance of asking the local people what they want, consulting with them on how work should be done, and enabling them to take charge.

In the Congo’s Kabare region, ARC partnered with residents and USAID to create a community-run business called Asili, and Asili partnered with residents and the design firm Ideo to launch a clean water initiative.

The project is described at Ideo.

“The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has been beset by decades of war, deep poverty, and an underdeveloped infrastructure for international development projects. Yet Asili — a community-run business delivering essential services in the Kabare region — is flourishing, thanks to the pride, strength, and ingenuity of the Kabare locals.

“[It] offers clean water, agricultural services, and a health clinic to area communities. Designed by the American Refugee Committee (ARC), IDEO.org, and the people of Kabare themselves, Asili has distributed millions of liters of water, seen local farmers’ incomes and outputs jump tremendously, and had thousands of patients at its three health clinics since they were established in 2014.

“Perhaps what’s most important, especially in a landscape of failed international development projects, is that Asili was born from — and is run by — the people of Kabare.

“In 2013, the American Refugee Committee (ARC) approached IDEO.org with a bold challenge: How might we build a community-owned, for-profit business in eastern DRC to support better health and improved livelihoods? …

“The early results have been truly remarkable. Since Asili was launched, 60 kilometers of pipeline have brought 5.3 million liters of clean water to previously overlooked villages, and this influx has helped cultivate a new local agriculture ecosystem. In addition, world-class healthcare has been delivered to over 3,000 people in some of the most vulnerable communities on earth….

“The Asili team have totally embraced human-centered design, and Congolese staff are hard at work building prototypes, iterating on what’s working, and using a design approach to build the next steps for this remarkable organization.” Wow.

In my ESL volunteering, I have had the privilege of meeting many Congolese refugees. To say that life in Congo is hard would be a gross understatement. Projects by Asili represent hope.

More at the American Refugee Committee website, here, and at Ideo, here.

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Is the neighborhood of the future going to be on the water? A growing number of architects around the world seem to think so.

Eleanor Ross and Laura Paddison write at the Guardian about some pluses and minuses.

“Architects and city planners across the world are starting to look beyond the traditional confines of the city, towards building on water as one of the answers to reducing inner-city population density and also developing flood-resilient designs. Global damage to cities from flooding could amount to $1tn a year by 2050 if no action is taken, according to a World Bank report. …

“Building on water isn’t straightforward, however. The recent collapse of the Makoko Floating School in Lagos, one of the most famous examples of floating architecture, shows some of the complexities. …

“There are also environmental concerns. The need for foundations of many floating buildings to go deep into the river bed, for example, will have an impact on the environment, says Phillip Mills, director of the Policy Consulting Network, and a specialist in water construction.

“ ‘Foundations or structures within the river could also alter the river bed with silt erosion and deposition elsewhere in the river. The same thing already happens around bridge piers,’ he says. …

“However, Lucy Bullivant, adjunct professor of history and theory of urban design at Syracuse University, thinks there are greater environmental consequences building on land – such as the tendency to be more car focused – than on rivers. ‘Floating designs will create a good anchor point for plants to help foster biodiversity and create habitats for fish and birds.’

“Building on ‘bluefield’ sights can be environmentally friendly, according to Mark Junak, director of Floating Homes. He says floating structures such as those at Noorderhaven in the Netherlands have recently been subject to underwater drone surveys to observe whether their construction has negatively affected the ecosystem.

“According to the research project, the underwater footage ‘revealed the existence of a dynamic and diverse aquatic habitat in the vicinity of these structures, showing that floating structures can have a positive effect on the aquatic environment.’

“For London architect Carl Turner, who has designed a pre-fabricated, open-source amphibious house specifically designed to float on floodwater, called the Floating House, climate change means needing to work with water.

“ ‘You either protect the house or protect the land,’ he says. ‘Creating large-scale flood protection zones is expensive and in itself potentially harmful to the environment. Once breached, homes are left defenceless, as opposed to floating homes that can simply rise with flood waters.’ ”

More.

Photo: Mark Junak 
The Chichester prototype floating home designed by Baca Architects.

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A friend from my childhood called Caroline has been following this blog, sometimes making comments related to her field, which is architecture.

Today Caroline sent me a link that she knew would be a perfect fit here. The story is about a design competition to address New York City’s rising seawater.

Kayla Devon wrote about it at Builder Online, “In the next 30 years, roughly 30% of Manhattan is expected to sink below sea level, according to a climate study by the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies. Instead of trying to stop the inevitable, Brazilian architect Walmir Luz focused on embracing it.

“After studying climate predictions from the United States Landfalling Hurricane Probability Project and the history of Manhattan’s edge, Luz designed a utopian/dystopian future for New York (depending if you’re a glass half-full or half-empty kind of person).

“Luz’s NYC 2050 concept makes flooding a part of city life by taking inspiration from Venice. Luz designed structures as levels that could allow water to move through lower levels as the sea rises. Streets would become permeable so water can wash over the roads instead of flooding them, and more barriers would surround the city’s edges.

“Luz completed the concept as his thesis for his Bachelor of Architecture degree from Cornell University, and won a Silver award in the urban planning and urban design category at the A’Design Award & Competition. He now works as an architect for Gensler.” More at Builder Online.

I love it when people who read the blog come upon topics that they know will fit and then send them along. I like being able to share the cool stuff with a wider audience. Thank you, Caroline.

Design: Walmir Luz
Luz won a design award for a concept making the best of rising sea levels in New York City.

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OK, here’s one I bet you don’t know about. Like a couple super fathers I know, the sandgrouse father is devote to parenting. But when the fathers I know give thirsty children some water, it is likely to arrive in a bottle or sippy cup. The sandgrouse papa delivers water in his feathers.

Rick Wright and Mary McCann report at Public Radio International’s Living on Earth, “Sandgrouse – pointy-tailed relatives of pigeons – live in some of the most parched environments on earth. To satisfy the thirst of newly hatched chicks, male sandgrouse bring water back to the nest by carrying it in their feathers. It sounds incredible, and for decades, scientists thought it was just a myth. But it’s not. In the cool of the desert morning, the male flies up to twenty miles to a shallow water hole, then wades in up to his belly.

“The water is collected by ‘rocking.’ The bird shifts its body side to side and repeatedly shakes the belly feathers in the water; fill-up can take as long as fifteen minutes. Thanks to coiled hairlike extensions on the feathers of the underparts, a sandgrouse can soak up and transport 25 milliliters of liquid. That’s close to two tablespoons.

“Once the male has flown back across the desert with his life-giving cargo, the sandgrouse chicks crowd around him and use their bills like tiny squeegees, ‘milking’ their father’s belly feathers for water they so desperately need.”

Listen here.

Photo: Ian White, Flickr CC
The Feathers of Burchell’s Sandgrouse carry water for miles back to the nest.

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There’s been a lot in the news lately about water shortages in the West. In the search for any help they can get, some concerned citizens are turning to the oft-maligned beaver.

Living on Earth‘s Steve Curwood gets to the bottom of the story with Sarah Koenigsberg, the filmmaker behind The Beaver Believers.

“In the drought-ridden West, some people are partnering with beavers to restore watersheds, where, before trappers arrived, the large rodents once numbered in the millions. Filmmaker Sarah Koenigsberg captures various efforts to reintroduce beavers to their former habitat in her documentary The Beaver Believers and tells host Steve Curwood why beavers are essential for a healthy ecosystem. …

Koenigsberg: We feature the stories of a biologist, a hydrologist, a botanist, an activist, a psychologist and a hairdresser. So these are all very different people who share the common passion of restoring beaver to the west. Some work within the federal agencies, the forest service, others are just average citizens who stumbled upon to the cause accidentally …

“What struck me with all of these beaver believers is that they are working on the problem of water, which is one of the biggest problems of climate change, but is very tangible. They’re working at the level of their own watershed. And while they do work very hard, they’re finding great joy and satisfaction in this work. …

Curwood: There’s a finite supply of water in the drought-ridden American west. Beaver can’t increase that water supply. What can beaver do to help the water situation? …

Koenigsberg: What they do is they redistribute the water that does fall down onto the landscape, so if you picture spring floods — all that water that comes rushing down in March or April just goes straight through the channels and out to the ocean — what beavers do is they almost act like another snowpack reserve, whether it’s rain or snow runoff, all of that water can slow way down behind a beaver pond and then it slowly starts to sink into the ground. It stretches outward making a big recharge of the aquifer and then that water ever so slowly seeps back into the stream throughout the rest of the spring and summer as it’s needed so that we end up with water in our stream systems in July and August when there is no longer rainfall in much of the west.” More here.

Photo: Sarah Koenigsberg
The Beaver Believers live-trapped a beaver family including this kit in Aurora, CO, and relocated them into the forest on a private ranch.

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Fred Pearce of Yale Environment 360 (a publication of the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies) had a post on some positive change in Kenya recently. It came to me by way of the Christian Science Monitor Change Agent e-mail.

“In Kenya, local farmers are replacing state officials and forest wardens …

“Kenya’s five main ‘water towers’ — the Aberdare Mountains, the Mau forest complex, Mount Kenya, Mount Elgon, and the Cherangani Hills — cover just 2 percent of the country. But their elevation means that they intercept clouds blowing off the Indian Ocean, capturing most of the country’s rains. These places are the sources of all but one of Kenya’s major rivers. …

“Emilio Mugo, the acting director of the Kenya Forest Service (KFS) … says an important factor in [the process of reclamation] was the popularizing of the phrase ‘water towers.’ It unlocked a recognition about the nation’s precarious ecosystems and water supplies, and their link to forests.

“ ‘The new terminology galvanized public attention,’ he says. Calls to revive the towers became a national priority, culminating in the creation in 2012 of the Kenya Water Towers Agency to coordinate government activity.

“We are now looking at the towers as national assets,” says Francis Nkako, the CEO of the new agency. In the past five years, 81 square miles of the Mau forest system have been repossessed from illegal settlers for ecological rehabilitation …

“Control of the forests is being systematically given to democratically elected community forest associations (CFAs) that manage the forests under agreements with the KFS. …

“Under the agreements, CFAs are tasked with ensuring sustainable use of the forests, preventing illegal activity in them, managing and raising fees for grazing of livestock and firewood cutting in the forests, and starting new economic activities based on forest resources. No members of the community are allowed to live in the protected forests, but they can use them.” More here.

Photo: Fred Pearce
Sarah Karungari shows beehives set up by the community forest association (CFA) in Kimunye village in Kenya. Management of mountain forests is being systematically given over to democratically elected CFAs.

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