Blog Action Day 2010: Musings of a Recovering Hydrogeologist

I’m an at-best sporadic personal blogger.

But having learned, strictly by happy accident, not only of Blog Action Day (a project of having been slated for October 15, but more importantly of the topic of focus — water — it was a no-brainer to find a few moments to toss in my two virtual cents.

It’s a subject that is close to me: my educational background and a big chunk of my professional life are rooted in the earth and environmental sciences, with an emphasis on water resources. While I’ve largely been removed from full-time, day-to-day work in the environmental field for the past several years, it’s never far from my thoughts.

A good chunk of my time during this week was spent on assisting an author who is putting together a book on sustainable design. My role was to cobble together a chapter on freshwater resources aiming to explain how the hydrosphere and aquatic systems function, and also how our activities damage them and reduce the value of ecological service that we would enjoy from unmolested natural systems. On the brighter side though, it includes an exploration of the opportunities that await within the choice of an alternate path, through rethinking the built environment to work with, rather than against, the functions of healthy, vital natural systems.

My last name is the French word for ‘wood’ or ‘forest;’ it would have been altogether too precious had I gravitated to the direction of forestry within the broader arena of environmental matters, as if I had, literally and figuratively, been born to do such work. In actuality, my knowledge of forestry is almost as thin as the remaining stand of trees on a fresh clear-cut.

The writing project that I got to work on this week made abundantly clear something about which I had previously a mere inkling of appreciation: if you care about water, you have to care about forests. You have to.

And this linkage, on one hand, can certainly be constructed on terms of the interconnectivity of all things; but with regard to forest resources and water resources, the interdependence is stronger and deeper than that.

For any so inclined, I’ll refer you to a 2009 article in the journal Hydrologic Processes (link to pdf ) lead-authored by Julia Jones of Oregon State University.

A cursory scan of the introduction tells in abundant, layperson-friendly clarity precisely how critical healthy forests are to our need for water: even though forests cover about one-third of the US land surface, they process and provide about two-thirds of our fresh water supply.

180 million people in the US owe the existence and safety and sufficient supply of their water supply to the hydrological processes that are performed by forested land.

Healthy forests, as they receive, process, store and release water through playing their role within the broader hydrologic cycle, provide key water quality and water quality regulation. Not only do they filter and purify, so too do forests store and help buffer the impacts of extremities in year-to-year conditions: they help to minimize flooding during unusually wet periods, and they can keep a steady release of fresh water that is truly boon during unusually dry periods.

The list of values certainly goes on, and at considerable length, but for which I’d need the assistance of someone whose understanding of forestry and of forested watershed hydrology surpasses mine. But the simple primer is what I’m capable of crafting here, and I’ll trust that it’ll suffice.

So then … in honor of Blog Action Day’s 2010 with its focus on water, and cutting, finally, to the chase, I’ll boil my humble two cents down to a simple plea:

When you think of water, without which life would not be possible, keep the trees in mind as well.

Photo of Tuolumne River along the John Muir Trail by flickr user dj @ oxherder arts.