The Problem with Watersheds

Human engineering rearranges landscapes to make water flow. This is a curious thing when a landscape is renowned for being short of water. Since the human carrying capacity of the Okanagan has already been exceeded, we need to get smarter, soon.

Seasonal Runoff Stream

Too Much Water Moving Too Fast

Why on earth do we want this stuff to flow? Is it because water engineering systems were developed for other conditions and no one bothered to make alterations? You’d almost think so. At any rate, the natural anti-erosion system of the streambed has a different goal:

Natural Streambed

Looking the other way from the eroded streambed above, we see natural processes attempting to hold on to water for as long as they can. When it moves, it moves as much through life as it does as elemental water.

That’s one way of holding on to water. There’s another:

Holding Water in Place

All you gotta do is freeze it. This is water that flowed slowly, over weeks, from the bank above it. Now it’s stopped dead in its tracks.

Our water reservoirs store water for about six months of every year. Ice does the same. Instead of letting our fall water pour away, we could keep it as ice and release it in the spring, when it might take a month’s pressure off of a 4-month irrigation resource — a potential saving of 25%.

This is not a new idea. Arrow-leafed balsam root, those beautiful yellow wild sunflowers of spring, thought of it long ago. Take a look:

Balsam Root Hoarding Moisture

The broad leaves of the balsam root, that prevent grasses from growing up in competitioin, wither away by midsummer to leave each balsam root in a small clearing of its own. When the snow falls, the balsam root gets its full benefit, released over time. The plants have effectively lengthened their winter and ensured a wet spring. The snow that fell on the surrounding plants, on the other hand, has already started to move downhill.

Maybe it’s just a matter of words. Our word for an area in which the land collects water and funnels it off through a stream or river system is called a watershed. The German word for the same thing is Wassereinzugsgebiet, or a water catchment area. If you call it a catchment, you concentrate more on holding on. We need that.

After all, it’s a gift. Let’s keep receiving it with grace.

Tomorrow: The amazing story of vole gardens.

3 replies »

  1. Hurray! I’m so happy to have discovered your blog! You seem like a like-minded, fellow Okanaganite!
    have you ever heard of a group called Waterlution? google brings it up. they are focused on facilitating cross-sectoral dialogue abotu water in all regions of Canada. I’ve been impressed with some of their work.

    where in okanagan are you?


    • Hi, Lauren,

      I’m in Vernon, with longer-term roots throughout the entire valley, and into the Cariboo. I’ll check out waterlution. It sounds exciting. There’s so much that we could do. Hopefully we can do some of it together. It is also a pleasure to hear from a like-minded Okanaganite. Where are you?

      Yesterday was vole garden today. Tonight I’ll put up my pictures of what I call Marmot City. Those guys have a cool volcanic formation as home, and they’re doing cool things, too. They even have flowers, blooming, now.




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