Flipping through the paper this week, I came across an article about getting water off our properties as quickly and directly as possible. It reminded me of something my permaculture design buddy, Kenton Zerbin, describes in his courses. We treat water as a pest rather than the resource, or more strongly, the requirement for life that it is.
I am grateful there are folks who have challenged this ‘pest’ mentality. Our weather is becoming more erratic with extended dry spells sometimes followed by record-breaking rain events. As Kenton would say, we need to slow our precious water down and allow it to touch as many points on our property as possible so it can soak in, deeply nourish our landscape and recharge our ground water.
Rain rushing off our property gushes quickly over roadways picking up de-icers, oil, fertilizer and sediment before hitting the storm water reservoirs. From there, it needs to be treated in an intensive, resource-heavy system to be used again. Thirty to 70 per cent of this treated water (depending on the household) will be used to water our lawns and gardens.
What? We received this free, local, chlorine-free resource as it fell from the sky and we shunned it?
We need our soil to act like a sponge so it must be rich in organic matter. This can be accomplished easily by mulching versus bagging grass clippings, by sprinkling compost on our lawns and gardens, and avoiding chemicals that will harm the soil ecosystem. As a bonus, this organic matter also contributes to productive, healthy plants.
We also need ‘vertical lakes’ (trees) to buffer heavy water events and droughts. As depicted in the sweet allegorical tale The Man Who Planted Trees, vegetation affects the local water cycle. Without trees and plants to absorb water from the soil and pump it up to leaves where it transpires back into the air, desertification and flooding become issues – with all the impending damage and insurance hassles.
St Albert’s wonderful, subsidized rain barrel program encourages us to reduce treated water consumption and our plants love to receive these soft, warm and microbe-friendly drinks between rainfalls. Rain barrels help, but they can only handle the first few minutes of a rainfall, a fraction of what usually falls.
Flipping through Edmonton Horticulture Society’s magazine, I saw an intriguing ad from Alberta Environment and Low Impact Development Partnership requesting folks to step forward to be educated, inspired and ‘rain gardened’ this summer!
Rain gardens are shallow depressions built at least three metres from your house foundation to capture and absorb rainwater. They can be planted with attractive vegetation adapted to handle short periods of standing water. Rain gardens soak in hundreds of litres of water while filtering pollutants before the water eventually reaches ground water or natural water bodies.
There are many simple and effective ways we can build a resilient landscape and nurture our life-giving water cycle. This summer, consider inviting water to stay awhile.