Saturday, February 22, 2014

Water, Water Everywhere, but Less and Less of It

The snow is melting. It's running in slushy streams down the roads. Small creeks are coming off roofs and wearing away the porches on old houses. If I was a poet I'd write a poem in honor of the water cycle. To me there's nothing that sounds as alive as the slow drip and then roar of the first melt of winter in February, nothing that feels as good as that hint of spring on a sunny day after weeks of snow and arctic vortexes with the radiant heat rising off the bottom of a south facing hill and the icy road that has suddenly and magically turned into a soft silty confection and for the first time you can step along without gritting your teeth and thanking God for your coat wrapped tight. We live here in a moist region despite being on the wrong side of the continent, thanks to the Gulf Stream and the jet stream, the two conveyor belts driven by solar energy and convection that cook the weather for us and give us in an average year about 44 inches of precipitation. In the last two decades, we've been above average for fourteen of the years, which fits the computer models for our climate in a warming planet scenario. Much of the world is not so lucky. The West Coast is facing an unprecedented drought, as is the Southwest and much of the agricultural middle of our continent. I am grateful every year when I have to get down to the compost pile after a snowstorm and wade through the drifts up to my crotch. The deep snow means a wet spring, and the rivers will flow full and the fly fishermen and the kayakers will be happy. But so will our gardena as a good soil under mulch can hold the deep spring melt with an occasional April, May and June shower even through the long dry weeks of August without irrigation. It's one of the things we take for granted, but in the future many will have to cope with growing scarcity as mountain snow packs that provide drinking water and agricultural water around the world continue to thin and recede.
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