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 Change.org) 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.

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3 thoughts on “Blog Action Day 2010: Musings of a Recovering Hydrogeologist

  1. it’s already been pointed out to me that i’m one day early with my post; it’s a bit of incongruous timing that was actually in mind while i was preparing and publishing my post.

    at the risk of running afoul of the spirit of the collective online event, i’m left only with the letter of the matter as ally: it’s already october 15 somewhere. –dmb

    • Dave,

      I’m always blown away by your writing… (There are worse ways to celebrate your B’day, than writing this cogent offering, albeit a day early on this continent.)

      Your native state of Maine, has one of the highest percentages of forest ground cover, as well as the concommitent duality of surface and underground water resources, of any state on the continent, as you already realize. Other regions are not so lucky.

      The downside to large water resources in Maine, is that while they serve as holding tanks for prolific ecosystems, they also serve as basins for mercury-laced rainfall, due to being at the end of the nation’s coal-fired, jet-stream tailpipe of the weather’s pathways.

      As the ongoing studies of mercury at the U. of Me., Gorham show – all of Maine’s fresh-water fish are unfit for human consumption due to mercury contamination. Not unfit only for pregnant women, but levels high enough to be unfit for everyone.

      Your Maine ancestors were some of the best Maine guides for hunting and fishing, and were they alive today, they would be reduced to requiring their clients to use catch-and-release, at least when fishing.

      Planetary-wise, we are losing more topsoil to desertification than at any time in recorded history.

      Mercury-laced pollution from burning soft coal in China, changes rainfall patterns in the western North American continent and we are returning to drought-caused dustbowl conditions in the west today.

      Mercury pollution from the eastern side of the North American continent travels the jet-stream to the African coast, and rains heavily along the coastline, much like Maine, and leaves the interior regions of Africa in drought-driven conflicts of devastation and cruelty.

      We’re all in this together. Every one of us is affecting everyone else on the globe, 24/7, even though we are only focused locally. The big picture is not part of the way we think. When literacy rates are degrading, it may not portend for better thinking abilities in our future.

      Elizabeth Lowe
      WellNow!

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