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The Commons
Voices / Letters from readers

Water is meant to soak into the earth

Originally published in The Commons issue #416 (Wednesday, July 12, 2017).

I was dismayed by the image of the Whetstone Brook in full roar after the June 19th storms.

Such a volume of water after only 4 inches of rain reveals we have yet to learn all the lessons of Tropical Storm Irene. It was ironic, actually, that the front page of the same issue heralded the opening of Red Clover Commons, risen from the muck of one of the Whetstone’s past victims: Melrose Terrace.

For many of us, such an image after a storm is just normal. Now I recognize the swollen, churning, sediment-laden waters as a sign of improper water management upstream.

I owe this new perspective to my participation in a little meeting of local people who come together once a week in Westminster West to share their concerns for the well-being of our Earth.

We quickly settled into a deep concern for the health of the soil, which gives us food and the water that makes all life possible. We recently heard from Slovakian hydrologist, Dr. Michal Kravcik. He was on a U.S. speaking tour to share his insights from decades of work re-hydrating his beloved homeland.

His astonishing thesis: one of the major factors responsible for severe climate change is humanity’s passion for keeping soil and water apart. We pave. We divert. We drain. We channel. Anything and everything to keep water moving elsewhere.

But that is not what water is meant to do.

Water is meant to soak into the earth.

As Michal puts it, we send rainwater speeding to the oceans rather than letting it soak into the land, where it can be respired locally by plants and trees and “return to God.” That is his charming phrase for the more scientifically named “small water cycle.”

These small water cycles act like pressure-relief valves, moderating local climate, heat buildup, and rainfall. They keep water circulating inland. Without these checks, tremendous heat and water enter into the large water cycles, energizing them to destructive levels.

The failure of small cycles all around the world lead to urban heating, desertification, drying of continents, and generation of major destructive weather patterns.

The solution to restoring those lost cycles is empowering and simple — keep rainwater where it falls.

That simple step begins at the smallest rivulet running down your driveway! We can all individually tame the torrents by using rain barrels, permeable pavements, water gardens, and water bars. All these tactics can be scaled for towns, regions, and watersheds. This new understanding of water management can lead to a healthier and gentler local environment as well as help to reduce the forces that are at least in part driving global climate change.

To learn more, begin with the book Water, Land and Climate — The Critical Connection, by Jan Lambert. Even better fun, next rainstorm, get out in your yard or your street and watch the water. Ask: is it rushing to the ocean or soaking in? If it’s in a rush, indulge in a bit of childhood delight — play in those puddles!

Michael J. Daley

Westminster West

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