Better Decisions About Water
To the Editor:
I do not believe in ownership of the natural world. However, we live in a society where the understanding is that if you own land, then the water that falls upon, runs beneath it, and soaks into it, also falls under your jurisdiction. This is a huge responsibility to shoulder in the face of climate change and associated droughts, floods, storms, and the overall health of the earth. So, what should landowners (water-owners) do to ensure the health of these resources?
Through my experiences as a water resource engineer-in-training and a volunteer with the Vermont Healthy Soils Coalition, I have come across several interventions worth sharing widely and quickly with every landowner in Vermont and beyond.
First and foremost, check the regulations for the municipalities in which you own land. Ensure that, as a landowner, you do in fact have the “power” to intervene in the water processes that occur on your land.
Second, critically think about the way you are currently managing water on your land. Do you have a drain pipe that connects to your roof gutters and discharges directly into a stream or waterway? Do you have a garden that you water with a hose connected to a centralized water distribution system managed by your municipality? Do you have a steep slope or ravine on your property that is eroding away when it rains? Do you have large patches of open area without any vegetation or grass? Do you have large areas of concrete or other impervious area, such as a patio or long driveway? Do you have a river or stream running through your property? Think big and small, think hard.
Third, manage your land and water better. The benefits of improved management are countless. Some include: more consistent micro-climate conditions in terms of drought and humidity, healthier soils and growing potential, cleaner drinking water, cheaper water bills, better habitat, and on an even larger scale, we could cool the planet and reverse climate change. In order to do this, here are some practices that you should think about and investigate; see if they will work on your land.
Disconnect your roof gutters from a drain pipe and instead direct the water across a broad landscape - allow it to infiltrate down into the land as opposed to adding volume to the river banks around you.
Use rainwater catchment systems to capture water that falls on your roof or in open areas to store water for plants and other inhabitants of your gardens. You do not need to pay for water that has been treated to a level acceptable for human consumption by your municipality just to keep your roots wet.
Install check dams made out of natural materials like logs, clay, and other organics to hold up and slow down water that is rushing across steep banks and eroding soil along the way - sending current and legacy nutrients into our waterways at rates that cannot be sustained.
Plant your land with living vegetation. Plant species with deep roots. Plant a variety of species. Leave leaves on the land to decompose. Nourish the soil with compost amendments.
Un-pave your land. Make your driveway smaller and end it closer to the road. Make a garden where your patio used to be. If you’re planning an addition to your home, think up, not out!
Take care of streams. Plant native riparian species along the banks. Don’t use area all the way up to the edge of the river for agriculture or other activities. Try to reconnect your land to act as a floodplain. Let the stream meander and move throughout your property, they are dynamic features that move over time.
What we collectively need to do is recognize water as a common resource that we have mistreated, poisoned, and wasted for all living beings. We need to make reparations to the land and water by allowing water to soak in, slow down, and cycle. We need to make reparations to the indigenous people whose land we have stolen and destroyed. Water can cool the planet, provide life for all of Earth’s creatures, and sustain human economies, societies, and lives if we just start valuing it for what it’s truly worth. As landowners and people who know landowners, it is our responsibility to start taking care of water or choose to own the consequences of our inaction. Because it is us, we are the ones who have decided that humans own water.
Therefore, we are the ones responsible for it.