Sunday, November 06, 2016
Four Out of Ten. Hey, That's Still Less Than Half.
We know that as climate change steadily closes in around us, our resilience as communities, societies even as a civilization will be tested. Droughts, floods, severe storm events of increasing frequency, duration and intensity are already setting in.
Then there's the environmental threat Maude Barlow warns is almost equally threatening as global warming, the global freshwater crisis. We're running out of clean, fresh water. We're consuming more than there is to hand and in many places that's not very much to begin with. Then there's our now broken and still deteriorating hydrologic cycle that has shifted precipitation patterns into a "feast or famine" mode. Normally wet regions appear to be getting wetter whilst dry regions are getting ever more arid and hotter.
Where people have the means they may choose to make good shortages of surface water, precipitation, by turning to ground water. In some cases that means wells. In others it means tapping into ancient aquifers. The problem is that when we go after groundwater, we become dependent on it even as we tend to draw down the resource many times faster than its recharge rate. In places like California's San Joaquin valley it's resulted in subsidence in excess of 30-feet over the past decade.
The latest research suggests that, by 2030, just 14-years down the road, forty per cent of humanity will not have access to safe, clean water. There are several technologies becoming available that will make filtration viable and others that will free up groundwater. They're all needed and very important but, for all of the good, they're still bandaid solutions. They don't build sustainability. They don't repair the broken hydrologic cycle.
At times it seems as though we're in some environmental lab experiment. We're being subjected to changing impacts, new "normals". As I sit here watching yet another deluge outside my window I'm reminded that we may be getting a lot of rain but we're not getting the winter snowpacks that the local ecosystem hinges on. Without that snowpack there may be insufficient fresh, cold water in our rivers and streams to encourage the salmon to come upstream to spawn in the summer months. Without salmon spawning, bears, wolves, eagles and other creatures are deprived of the fatty flesh they need to survive. Without salmon-stuffed predators the forests lose out on essential fertilizer. The forests also become prone to drying out during the hot summer months, inviting more fires. It really is the circle of life.
And you folks back East have your own water problems. This summer's drought was pretty nasty. What's often overlooked is how your warming temperatures play into the hydrologic cycle. The greatest change is not in daytime temperatures or heatwaves. It's in night time temperatures that aren't dropping as they once did. Hotter night times mean more overnight evaporation, surface moisture lost to the atmosphere.
While Canada's water situation, due mainly to our northern latitude, may seem insignificant compared to what's facing the populations of tropical and equatorial nations, we are far from being secure.