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With All of this Rain We’re Still in Need of Water

May 15, 2011

As the rain comes down, stretching across our landscape, our world seems like its coming to a breaking point. Now, more than ever, our world is experiencing major floods. Like the doom that transcribed across Australia this December, North America has been experiencing major floods in the US state of Tennessee and just a few days ago in rural Manitoba. With all of this downpour, ironically enough, we as a species are experiencing a water crisis.

This is partially due to the dirtiness of our urbanized environments. Let’s face it, people are dirty. Unlike other earthly species, most of our waste is not truly “recyclable”. It doesn’t naturally break down. And a lot of our human “necessities” like motor vehicles & gasoline, pollute our ground with heavy metals like lead, cadmium, chromium, silver & mercury.

Let’s follow a raindrop on its journey through a regular urban water system:

1. The raindrop drops onto a rooftop and drips into an eaves trough and rushes through the drainage pipe into your grass.

2. Maybe this raindrop will absorb itself into your lawn or garden, but he & many of its friends may continue the journey to the sidewalk and then onto the road. And as I mentioned before, the sidewalks of our cities, streets & parking lots are filled with heavy metal pollutants.

3. This water will drain into our sewer system, flow through contaminated sewer pipes until it reaches our city’s sewage treatment center, also known as our “waste”-water treatment facility, to be filtered into “drinking” water.

4.Some of our water will continue its cycle into our household pipes, but much of our water is seen as “waste” and will drain into our rivers, lakes or the ocean.

As you can see this system is not sustainable but there are methods to conserve our water.

Sure, we hear about water conservation all of the time. The basic rules like “Turn off the tap when you aren’t using it” or “Take shorter showers”, but this is so small in comparison to the larger issues.

Cities, like the Portland, are taking water conservation into account and funding initiatives to rebuild their city with natural water cleaning systems.

Bio-swales or Bioswells: Water treatment isn’t all that technical. When we look at the natural systems of the earth itself we can see that there are reasons for our stone covered beaches and for our wetland marshes — they filter water.

By creating “false” wetlands, we are ensuring that contaminants are removed as water is filtered through a series of wetland plants before reaching the sewer system. Companies like Sustainable-water Management LLC in Grand Rapids, Michigan, create bio-swells that help reverse the adverse effects of storm-water including pollution, erosion & flooding.

A beautiful "false" wetland bio-swale in Portland, OR -- with educational signage

Rainwater Harvesting is probably the most well-known type of water conservation. These barrels have become more and more popular amongst city-folk, especially with the price of household water gradually increasing.

Instead of wasting water, rain-water gathers in an  inexpensive water barrel that can be attached to your home’s downspout. Or, like any good design system, this method can be increased & rainwater can become the main source of water at your home or business. Riversides, Toronto Home-Owner’s Guide to Rainfall, has a great article on harvesting in inter-urban environments. If you can harvest your own water in an urban center, you can do it anywhere.

Another education sign in Portland, OR

Eco-Rooftops or Green-Roofs: Imagine filtering water as soon as it hits your house, garden shed or 27-story office building . Not only does a building have the opportunity to look cool, it also acts as a major water conservation tool.  Check out Green Roofs for Healthy Cities for more information on the bio-technology of green-roofing.

Yet another education sign in Portland, OR-- gosh I love Portland

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