Thursday, December 17, 2009

High and Dry

The epoch of water scarcity has begun, and more strategies that rely on local holistic water management are now necessary. The big water projects have proven to have their limits and downside in the environmental damage they create. An article from Planetizen discusses the shift in water supply and management that will need to place conservation and watershed integration front and center in the southwestern USA. This massive population growth and need for water has created a distinct issue with respect to the finite limits of water resources. We are now built out beyond the capacity of these big systems to provide adequate water to the cities that currently exist.

Other low-key strategies that work effectively at small scales, away from the big brute-force engineering approach are being applied in other countries. A good example is the use of check dams in India for retention of rainwater. This has refurbished the aquifers and provided the water needed for the trees to stay alive and grow, providing shade, oxygen and humidity in hot climates.

This concept has its application in myriad ways in suburban and urban environments. It's entirely possible to do and is actually a necessary approach in order to capture the rainfall we do get. There are all kinds of creative and pragmatic approaches to this at the small scale, and city zoning regulations can be tweaked to encourage less paving, smaller building footprints and more landscaping. Pocket parks are a good way to integrate this function and provide access to natural environments for people, famously championed by Thomas Hoving in NYC during his tenure as a NYC Parks Commissioner.

California's Central Valley and Sierra has lost a lot of water over the past six years and is heading for "high and dry" very quickly. This data has been traced by GRACE satellites. UC Irvine engineering professor James Famiglietti states that drought and excessive pumping of groundwater have combined to cause the water loss. This kind of issue, created by overengineered systems as well as climate change, can be mitigated by using the approach of replenishing aquifers using both low-tech and high-tech methods.

Postscript: This has triggered a critical reaction against pending water legislation that will make the problem far worse by allowing water agencies to profit from subsidized water sales:

The alarming new findings also demonstrate the urgency of stopping Dianne Feinstein's Water Transfer Facilitation Act of 2009 (S 1759), a dangerous piece of legislation that will enable corporate water contractors to make even more profits than they are now by marketing subsidized water. The bill will allow the federal government to approve water transfers and fast-track the environmental review process at the expense of collapsing fish populations.