Sunday, May 17, 2015

Water We Should Use

Stormwater-harvesting expert Van Clothier, who spoke here a week ago, says things so just-plain-sensible that most of us (and most of our local leaders) – don't quite get 'em.

We live in a desert. We're in a drought that could last awhile. We need water.

Stormwater is water.

It falls on our roofs. If we have rain-barrels, or have prepared our land properly, we catch it and use it to grow vegetables, flowers, and trees. Trees help shade us and cool us; veggies feed us; and flowers lift our spirits.

Rain falls on our streets and sidewalks, too. Storms can create a bit of a safety hazard, as water rushes along our streets and into our storm drains and out of town as fast as possible. Doing us no good. Needing water, we watch water rush past.

We could use that water. With little or no extra cost. So says Van, along with Brad Lancaster, who spoke here last April. Van spoke at a City-sponsored Lush N Lean workshop, one in a series on water-related topics.  "Stormwater harvesting could save Las Cruces thousands of taxpayers money and water, while keeping our city beautiful and attractive," City Councilor Gill Sorg commented. 

Under the right conditions, just cutting into the curb so that some of that storm-water runs into your yard, could give your trees or garden abundant water. Free. (Don't ignore “under the right conditions”: if your land is higher than the street, it won't work, 'cause water flows downhill; or if your house is lower than your land and the street, you could draw the water right to your house.)

Cutting into the curb is illegal, in most places. You can get a permit now in Tucson, where Brad lives, largely because of how well his methods have worked. I think that's true now in Silver City, too, where Van lives. His company, Stream Dynamics, Inc., consults with people – and with cities and towns.

Van starts by observing the land very, very carefully. His method features diverting water early, into places where it can sink in rather than flow past or pond extensively (and evaporate). You start at the highest point you can, because water flows downhill, and has smaller force and volume at the top.

Tuesday, Stream Dynamics received exciting news: the New Mexico Environmental Department has given it the okay to proceed with a $138,000 grant involving 80 water-harvesting projects in and near Silver City. Van was stoked, saying that the work could serve as “a practical model for other urban streams in New Mexico.”

“Turning nuisance storm-water into a community resource, through innovative water-harvesting techniques, will improve water quality and riparian health, reduce flood and fire dangers, and modernize storm-water infrastructure,” he added.

I've wondered whether these methods could help with the problem of decrepit dams and resultant floods in our County. Could ancient and more natural principles be used to slow down rushing arroyos at their sources?

It's an inviting idea. By starting at the top, could a finite group do work within a reasonable time that would make a significant difference in flood control? It wouldn't cost that much to find out. Meanwhile local governments are nowhere near having the budget or funding to repair or replace dams, a much more expensive (and sometimes environmentally undesirable) solution.

Van was guardedly positive, saying that in theory I was on the right track, but that this sort of work “is extremely site-specific. It's like asking me how a dress would look on a woman I've never met and know nothing about.”

If you missed their talks, check out Van's and Brad's web sites. (URL's on my blog today.) More importantly, urge your city councilor or county commissioner to implement some of what Van and Brad have done.

[The column above appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News this morning, Sunday, 17 Mary, 2015, sub nom Stormwater Harvesting Makes Common Sense -- and will also appear today on KRWG's website.]
[ As promised, here are Van Clothier's website and Brad Lancaster's.  Too, here's the column I wrote last year introducing Brad.  The column summarizes how Brad happened to get started doing what he does. ]
[ Glancing at the column on Brad takes me back a year.  Dael and I had somehow taken on the chore of making it all happen -- procuring a venue, scheduling it, coordinating with Brad, trying to get the word out, etc.; and since the venue was the Rio Grande Theater (thanks to the City), with plenty of seats, getting the word out seemed all the more important.  Ultimately, it was a great event -- all thanks to Brad, who was both informative and incredibly funny -- and we heard a lot of praise for him from people who'd attended and some lamentations from people who hadn't heard about it or hadn't been able to make it.  I remember the effort (Dael's more than mine!) and how much we enjoyed Brad's talk.  And we met Van that night. ]
[By the way, the Lush N Lean series runs programs 6-8 p.m. at the WIA Building on the East side of Pioneer Park.  Free.  The next topics include Trees (21 May) and Irrigation (28 May), but I think that may be the end of the program this year.]

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